This is something that I've been researching for the past few weeks and have found a few answers, but I assume I'm missing a few of them.

Basically, the question is this:

In which ways have modern historians defined our current era?

Not sure how to tag this one if mods could do an edit that'd be great.

Edit: The duplicate that was proposed seems to be asking about the distinction between the classical eras historians have defined we are currently living in. Whereas I'm interested in any and all definitions that historians have proposed, which may be more esoteric and obscure than the obvious ones like 'modern' and 'information age'

  • The modern era (of course there was a brief period when we were living in the postmodern era, and I even saw mention of the postpostmodern era, I'd argue we're in the era of depressing politics,) Or the current era, which is the domain of politics, current events, or other non-historical studies. Why do you assume that historians would name the modern era? Why do you assume that a consensus has arisen over something that cannot be discussed? What is the mechanism by which you think historians name eras?
    – MCW
    May 28, 2016 at 1:08
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Early modern vs late modern vs post modern?
    – sds
    Jun 3, 2016 at 17:32
  • This is not a duplicate of that question. I'm not interested in people explaining that we're in the 'modern' era, and what modern means. That's the obvious answer that anyone would expect. I'm interested in someone defining more esoteric and obscure era definitions.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Jun 4, 2016 at 11:43
  • 1
    Noone will be able to enumerate all esoteric and obscure proposals. Nov 29, 2017 at 20:52
  • "Which eras have historians"... of what? Art historians might propose one label, while political scientists might propose another. Specialists in different histories use very different terminologies to refer to their subjects, and that extends to eras as well. I think this question needs to be more focused.
    – Shimon bM
    Nov 30, 2017 at 2:39

2 Answers 2


Our tags are actually a pretty good guide here.

The period of history roughly from the 15th century to the mid 20th century Contemporary history describes the period timeframe that is without any intervening time closely connected to the present day and is a certain perspective of modern history.

These are the categories used by historians.

Now of course people like to propose their own "Age"s to slot the contemporary period (and usually all or part of the modern period). The only one you are probably safe with is "Modern Age", which is essentially a synonym for "Modern Period" (usually with Contemporary thrown in).

Anything else you hear generally comes with a specific outlook or theory attached. Of those, ones I have heard are:

  • Renaissance - My Art history teacher in particular insisted we are still in the Renaissance.
  • Industrial Age - The idea behind this is that we are in a culture roughly shared with people born after the advent of steam power and the industrialization that came in its wake in the 1760's.
  • Information Age - This one takes the Industrial Age idea, but claims that that advent of global communications and computing since the late 20'th Century puts the Contemporary period itself in a whole different class. As a computer person myself, I'm kind of partial to this one.

(Discourse on the last bullet follows. Skip it if you like)

Douglas S. Robertson took the idea of the Information Age and went even further. He classifies all societies based on the amount of information, in bits, that a typical member has access to. I believe this is called "Informationalist History".

Where h is the amount of info one mind can hold, and is probably in the vicinity of 5Mb (5*106 bits).

  • Level 0 - 107 bits (h) - Pre-Language
  • Level 1 - 109 bits - Language
  • Level 2 - 1011 bits - Writing
  • Level 3 - 1017 bits - Printing
  • Level 4 - 1025(?) bits - Computers

The exponent on that number of bits is the important thing. How far one society outclasses another can be gauged by the difference in those exponents. This is why Native Americans, the most advanced of whom barely had writing, had no hope of competing with Europeans with printing presses, but under the right conditions could actually replace a society of Europeans with no printing press a few years earlier. Being a couple of orders of magnitude back can perhaps be dealt with. However, be several back and you're lucky if they bother to treat you as the same species.

An Informationalist would say we are in the Computer Age, and that further human progress to any new level is going to require us to find ways around our current limitations on information access (particularly combing through massive amounts of it in new and more productive ways)

  • 6
    The last half of this answer is perhaps a bit self-indulgent. However, its been noted on multiple other answers how I tend to trace nearly everything that went right for Europe back to the Printing Press. This seemed like a good opportunity to explain why.
    – T.E.D.
    May 28, 2016 at 2:40
  • I guessed that any answers I got here would take a more historic slant, but one 'definition' I came across in my research was the 'anthropocene' era, and that we're in the 'early stages of the anthropocene extinction event'. I found that one great from a macro scale.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Jun 4, 2016 at 11:48
  • 2
    @CanadianCoder That's a geologic epoch, rather than a historical era, but no less interesting as far as human history is concerned. Jun 8, 2016 at 20:42

This might not answer your question, but could be useful. Back in the school the history textbook contained a list of historic areas, something like this (I give you the Hungarian names I remember and the approximate English translations):

  • őskor (prehistory)
  • ókor (ancient age), -476 CE
  • középkor (middle age), 476-1640
  • újkor (modern age), 1640-1971
  • legújabb kor (newest age, most modern age), 1917-

Of course, this was a communist interpretation as you could guess from the dates. I'm not 100% sure about 1640, but as it was described as the start of the English civilian revolution in the textbook, the revolution-obsessed communist may have chosen this date to be more in line with their theories. So the short answer is some historians defined the (then current) age as "most modern age". I don't know what happened since the fall of communism, maybe we went back an age :-)

  • Very interesting insight into the Communist view of history. Yes, I could see where a history focused primarily on the relationship between the common people and their government would see the start of the English Civil War as an epochal event.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 29, 2017 at 17:33

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