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See also: Timeline of the 20th century Map of the British Empire as of At its height, it was the largest empire in history. Nationalism became a major political issue in the world in the 20th century, acknowledged in international law along with the right of nations to self-determination , official decolonization in the mid-century, and related regional conflicts.
The century saw a major shift in the way that many people lived, with changes in politics, ideology, economics, society, culture, science, technology, and medicine. The 20th century may have seen more technological and scientific progress than all the other centuries combined since the dawn of civilization.
Terms like nationalism , globalism , environmentalism , ideology , world war , genocide , and nuclear war entered common usage. Scientific discoveries, such as the theory of relativity and quantum physics , profoundly changed the foundational models of physical science, forcing scientists to realize that the universe was more complex than previously believed, and dashing the hopes or fears at the end of the 19th century that the last few details of scientific knowledge were about to be filled in.
It was a century that started with horses , simple automobiles, and freighters but ended with high-speed rail , cruise ships , global commercial air travel and the Space Shuttle. These developments were made possible by the exploitation of fossil fuel resources, which offered energy in an easily portable form, but also caused concern about pollution and long-term impact on the environment. Humans explored space for the first time, taking their first footsteps on the Moon. The map shows the flag of the Austrian Empire but in that did not exist, only the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Advancements in medical technology also improved the health of many people: the global life expectancy increased from 35 years to 65 years. Rapid technological advancements, however, also allowed warfare to reach unprecedented levels of destruction. World War II alone killed over 60 million people, while nuclear weapons gave humankind the means to annihilate itself in a short time. However, these same wars resulted in the destruction of the imperial system.
For the first time in human history, empires and their wars of expansion and colonization ceased to be a factor in international affairs, resulting in a far more globalized and cooperative world. The last time major powers clashed openly was in , and since then, violence has seen an unprecedented decline.
Summary[ edit ] Technological advancements during World War I changed the way war was fought, as new inventions such as tanks , chemical weapons , and aircraft modified tactics and strategy. After more than four years of trench warfare in Western Europe , and 20 million dead, the powers that had formed the Triple Entente France , Britain , and Russia , later replaced by the United States and joined by Italy and Romania emerged victorious over the Central Powers Germany , Austria-Hungary , the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
In addition to annexing many of the colonial possessions of the vanquished states, the Triple Entente exacted punitive restitution payments from them, plunging Germany in particular into economic depression. Ukraine, early days of the Nazi invasion.
Meanwhile, Japan had rapidly transformed itself into a technologically advanced industrial power and, along with Germany and Italy, formed the Axis powers.
After some years of dramatic military success, Germany was defeated in , having been invaded by the Soviet Union and Poland from the East and by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada , and France from the West.
After the victory of the Allies in Europe, the war in Asia ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan by the US, the first nation to develop nuclear weapons and the only one to use them in warfare. In total, World War II left some 60 million people dead. After the war, Germany was occupied and divided between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. East Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe became Soviet puppet states under communist rule.
Western Europe was rebuilt with the aid of the American Marshall Plan , resulting in a major post-war economic boom , and many of the affected nations became close allies of the United States. Allies during the war, they soon became hostile to one another as their competing ideologies of communism and democratic capitalism proliferated in Europe, which became divided by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. The period was marked by a new arms race as the USSR became the second nation to develop nuclear weapons, which were produced by both sides in sufficient numbers to end most human life on the planet had a large-scale nuclear exchange ever occurred.
Mutually assured destruction is credited by many historians as having prevented such an exchange, each side being unable to strike first at the other without ensuring an equally devastating retaliatory strike. Unable to engage one another directly, the conflict played out in a series of proxy wars around the world—particularly in China , Korea , Cuba , Vietnam , and Afghanistan —as the USSR sought to export communism while the US attempted to contain it.
The technological competition between the two sides led to substantial investment in research and development which produced innovations that reached far beyond the battlefield, such as space exploration and the Internet.
Albert Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics. In the latter half of the century, most of the European-colonized world in Africa and Asia gained independence in a process of decolonization. Meanwhile, globalization opened the door for several nations to exert a strong influence over many world affairs. Britain also continued to influence world culture , including the " British Invasion " into American music , leading many rock bands from other countries such as Swedish ABBA to sing in English.
After the Soviet Union collapsed under internal pressure in , most of the communist governments it had supported around the world were dismantled —with the notable exceptions of China , North Korea , Cuba , Vietnam , and Laos —followed by awkward transitions into market economies. It enacted resolutions on such topics as the conduct of warfare, environmental protection, international sovereignty , and human rights. Peacekeeping forces consisting of troops provided by various countries, with various United Nations and other aid agencies, helped to relieve famine, disease, and poverty, and to suppress some local armed conflicts.
Europe slowly united, economically and, in some ways, politically, to form the European Union , which consisted of 15 European countries by the end of the 20th century. In many countries, especially in Europe, the movement was channeled into politics through Green parties. Increasing awareness of global warming began in the s, commencing decades of social and political debate. The computer is a major technological advancement in this century.
Nature of innovation and change[ edit ] Due to continuing industrialization and expanding trade, many significant changes of the century were, directly or indirectly, economic and technological in nature. Scientific research, engineering professionalization and technological development—much of it motivated by the Cold War arms race—drove changes in everyday life. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the beginning of the century, strong discrimination based on race and sex was significant in general society.
Although the Atlantic slave trade had ended in the 19th century, the fight for equality for non-white people in the white-dominated societies of North America , Europe, and South Africa continued. During the century, the social taboo of sexism fell. By the end of the 20th century, women had the same legal rights as men in many parts of the world, and racism had come to be seen as abhorrent. Earth at the end of the 20th century[ edit ] Communications and information technology, transportation technology, and medical advances had radically altered daily lives.
Europe appeared to be at a sustainable peace for the first time in recorded history. The people of the Indian subcontinent , a sixth of the world population at the end of the 20th century, had attained an indigenous independence for the first time in centuries.
China, an ancient nation comprising a fifth of the world population, was finally open to the world , creating a new state after the near-complete destruction of the old cultural order. With the end of colonialism and the Cold War, nearly a billion people in Africa were left in new nation states after centuries of foreign domination.
The world was undergoing its second major period of globalization ; the first, which started in the 18th century, having been terminated by World War I. Since the US was in a dominant position, a major part of the process was Americanization. Terrorism , dictatorship , and the spread of nuclear weapons were pressing global issues. The world was still blighted by small-scale wars and other violent conflicts, fueled by competition over resources and by ethnic conflicts.
Despots such as Kim Jong-il of North Korea continued to lead their nations toward the development of nuclear weapons. Disease threatened to destabilize many regions of the world. New viruses such as the West Nile virus continued to spread. Malaria and other diseases affected large populations.
The virus was becoming an epidemic in southern Africa. World population increased from about 1. The number of people killed during the century by government actions was in the hundreds of millions. This includes deaths caused by wars, genocide, politicide and mass murders. The deaths from acts of war during the two world wars alone have been estimated at between 50 and 80 million[ citation needed ]. Political scientist Rudolph Rummel estimated ,, deaths caused by democide , which excludes those killed in war battles, civilians unintentionally killed in war and killings of rioting mobs.
Most likely a comparable number of civilians died of war-induced disease and other indirect effects. World War I led to the creation of many new countries , especially in Eastern Europe. At the time, it was said by many to be the " war to end all wars ".
Industrial warfare greatly increased in its scale and complexity during the first half of the 20th century. Notable developments included chemical warfare , the introduction of military aviation and the widespread use of submarines. The introduction of nuclear warfare in the midth century marked the definite transition to modern warfare.
Civil wars occurred in many nations. Many  consider this war as a testing battleground for World War II, as the fascist armies bombed some Spanish territories.
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See also: Timeline of the 20th century Map of the British Empire as of At its height, it was the largest empire in history. Nationalism became a major political issue in the world in the 20th century, acknowledged in international law along with the right of nations to self-determination , official decolonization in the mid-century, and related regional conflicts. The century saw a major shift in the way that many people lived, with changes in politics, ideology, economics, society, culture, science, technology, and medicine. The 20th century may have seen more technological and scientific progress than all the other centuries combined since the dawn of civilization. Terms like nationalism , globalism , environmentalism , ideology , world war , genocide , and nuclear war entered common usage. Scientific discoveries, such as the theory of relativity and quantum physics , profoundly changed the foundational models of physical science, forcing scientists to realize that the universe was more complex than previously believed, and dashing the hopes or fears at the end of the 19th century that the last few details of scientific knowledge were about to be filled in.
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