Five years that profoundly shaped the world

CBC Radio, 

A man stands in front of a convoy of tanks in Beijing
A Beijing citizen stood in front of military tanks on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, June 5, 1989, during the Tiananmen Square uprising. The year 1989 is one of five hinge years in history, explored in a series of IDEAS episodes. (Arthur Tsang/Reuters)

Two world wars, the collapse of empires, the birth of new nations — the 20th century was nothing less than a reset of the existing world order. Political and social orders of the past were replaced by new shapes and structures.

In this special series of panel discussions recorded at the Stratford Festival in July 2023, IDEAS focuses on five specific years of great upheaval during the 20th century, examining the remaking of social life, the civil rights movement, new gender roles, and the corrupting effects of power.

The Year 1919: Dividing the Spoils

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1963 - 1945, left), French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (1841 - 1929, centre) and American President Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924, right) on their way to the Versailles Peace Conference.   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (L), French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (C) and American President Woodrow Wilson (R) head to the Versailles Peace Conference, at the Palace of Versailles, June 1, 1919. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images )

After the First World War, the Western powers create new borders and carve out spheres of influence, leaders from the Global South fight for self-determination and a new future, unrest in China foreshadows the future, and the League of Nations and the Communist International are formed.   

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Guests in this episode:

Amitava Chowdhury is a historian and chair of the department of history at Queen's University. Much of his research is about global histories of diasporas within the British Empire, colonialism, identity and nationalism.

Renée Worringer is a professor of Islamic and Middle East history at the University of Guelph. She is the author of Ottomans Imagining Japan and A Short History of the Ottoman Empire

Oleksa Drachewych is an assistant professor of history at Western University, focusing on the history of international communism, transnational human and civil rights movements, and transnational anti-imperialism.


The Year 1938: The Winds of War

Picture dated 1938 of a Japanese soldier, during the Second Japan-China war.
A Japanese soldier during the Second Sino-Japanese war, which began in 1937 and ended in 1945 with the surrender of Japan. (Japan Photo Library/AFP via Getty)

On the eve of the Second World War, Hitler annexes Austria and escalates antisemitic persecution, Japan wages war on China, and the parallel collapse of democracy in both the East and West sets the stage for war. 

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Guests in this episode:

Deborah Neill is an associate professor of history at York University, specializing in the histories of Germany, France, European colonialism in Africa, and the history of colonial medicine.

Joseph Wong is a professor of political science and serves as the Vice President, International, for the University of Toronto. His books include From Development to Democracy: The Transformations of Modern Asia.

Tomaz Jardim is an associate professor of history at Toronto Metropolitan University, where he teaches courses on the World Wars and the Holocaust.


The Year 1963: Social Revolutions

Civil rights Leaders hold hands as they lead a crowd of hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was led by civil rights leaders and activists including Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and James Meredith, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. It's estimated that over 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to protest racial discrimination. (Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images )

Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a march on Washington, the Pan-African movement ushers in a new era for Africa, President Kennedy is assassinated, and the war in Vietnam heats up. 

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Guests in this episode:

Candace Sobers is an associate professor of Global and International Studies at Carleton University. She is a historian of Cold War international relations and intellectual history.

Paul Lawrie is a historian of Afro-America, whose research examines the intersections of race, labour, disability, urbanism and time in modern America.

Andrew Cohen is a professor of journalism at Carleton University. His latest book is Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.


The Year 1973: The Dictators

Chilean soldier and politician, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte
In 1973, Augusto Pinochet led a military coup which ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende. Pinochet then took over the presidency. (Keystone/Getty Images)

Augusto Pinochet comes to power in Chile, and dictators rule Portugal, Greece, Uganda and beyond. The OPEC oil embargo sets the world on a new path. The American Supreme Court legalizes abortion in Roe v. Wade, 50 years before it would be overturned.   

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Guests in this episode:

Luis van Isschot is an associate professor of history and director of Latin American studies at the University of Toronto.

Akila Radhakrishnan is the former president of the Global Justice Center, where she leads its work to achieve gender equality and human rights. 

Randall Hansen is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. His latest book is called War, Work, and Want: How the OPEC Oil Crisis Caused Mass Migration and Revolution