AP® European History

Making a mountain out of a Churchill.

  • Practice questions: 34
  • Practice exams: 3
  • Pages of review: 83
  • Videos: 37

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Whatever happened to the first Defenestration of Prague? How many Napoleons are too many Napoleons? Why does Shmoop remain convinced that Winston Churchill jokes are the best jokes ever? Uncover all these mysteries and more in our guide to AP® European History.

In this guide, you'll learn

  • why it's a terrible idea to start a land war in Russia in the middle of the winter (yes, Napoleon, we're looking at you).
  • why an important moment in the French Revolution took place on a tennis court.
  • why starting a new church might be the most melodramatic response ever to a bad marriage.

And much more! Plus you'll get to enjoy all of our favorite European history jokes. For example, what do champion historians like to have for breakfast?


The Details

Historical Thinking Skills

The nine historical thinking skills are grouped into four categories: chronological reasoning; comparison and contextualization; crafting historical arguments from historical evidence; and historical interpretation and synthesis.

Period 1

Religion and monarchs and war, oh my! There's a lot going down during this time period. Try focusing on a few underlying ideas and see where they pop up throughout the content. Just to be nice, we've listed the major themes this period covers.

  • Europe's transition from a dependency on religion and tradition to an emphasis on inquiry and observation
  • Competition for control between clerics, nobles, and monarchs that resulted in the centralization of power
  • Rising tensions and conflicts between religious groups as religious reformation spread across Europe
  • Global exploration resulting in new cultural interactions, competition, and cooperation
  • Economic changes ushered in by new methods of banking and farming, along with the movement of peoples toward urban centers

This period includes a lot of shifts: shifts from religious to secular, from local to international, from loosely organized to centralized. Watch for these transitions while exploring this 200-ish year span of European history and try to pinpoint the causes and consequences of main events.

Period 2

Ready to get pumped about this period? Here are some of the main ideas covered in this section.

  • Absolutism was the standard form of government adopted by major European powers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Though absolutism was most common, alternative models of government developed in England and the Dutch Republic.
  • European states worked expand their own dynasties while struggling to maintain the balance of power.
  • The French Revolution turned French society upside-down as it overthrew the French monarchy, ended the manorial system, and opened the floodgates for future revolutions.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte used the French Revolution as a stepping-stone to obtain absolute authority over France and its territories, encouraging reform and nationalism within his empire.
  • Overseas trade and new farming and commercial practices, combined with Enlightenment support for free trade, led to the development of a market economy.
  • Colonial expansion brought conflict and cooperation to Europe, increasing global interaction while fueling competition for resources, land, and power.
  • The Enlightenment applied the rationalism and empiricism of the Scientific Revolution to human society and interaction, leading to a more secular, tolerant European worldview. 
  • The effects of the Enlightenment spilled over into the Arts; some artists continued the tradition of order and structure while others emphasized passion and sentimentality. 
  • Innovative farming tools and methods led to increased agricultural output, encouraging population growth that was slowed by patterns of delayed marriage. 
  • Better production methods, improved standards of living, and increased personal wealth spurred demand for luxury goods in a phenomenon known as the Consumer Revolution.
  • Increases in the food supply, along with improvements in medicine, extended life expectancy and reduced the mortality rate.
  • As changes from the Agricultural Revolution displaced farm workers, more people migrated from rural areas to cities, looking for economic opportunity.

Sit back, relax, and watch as European society shakes off the old influences of religion, tradition, and agricultural society like a Polaroid picture.

Period 3

Oh, industrialization, how didst thou impact Europe? Let us count the ways.

  • The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and slowly made its way to continental Europe.
  • Eastern Europe lagged behind Western Europe in industrialization, remaining largely agricultural for most of the 19th century.
    Industrialism created new social classes, such as the proletariat and bourgeoisie, that became increasingly self-conscious and at odds with other groups.
  • Population growth and the promise of industrial jobs caused many Europeans to migrate to cities, both domestically and abroad.
  • The Industrial Revolution modified family structures by creating separate spheres for men and women.
  • Mass marketing and increases in disposable income boosted the demand for consumer goods.
  • New political forces—such as liberalism, conservatism, and socialism—formed in response to industrialization and the changing social and political atmosphere.
  • To deal with the challenges of industrialization, governments created bureaucratic states to provide infrastructure and reform.
  • Europeans formed unions and political parties to respond to the problems of industrialization and to advocate for their respective causes.
  • Industrialized states, well equipped with new, deadly weapons, were a greater threat to one another and especially to non-industrialized countries.
  • The unifications of Italy and Germany, which came about in part because of industrialization, offset the balance of power and threatened European stability.
  • Industrialization increased demands for raw materials and markets for export, fueling a new wave of European imperialism.
  • Imperialism increased competition and tension between European states.
  • Some groups reacted against the forces of industrialization, challenging the status quo through politics, art, and literature.

And...that's the short list. 

Period 4

As Europe transitioned from large empires to smaller independent states, there were suddenly a lot more countries, leaders, and organizations to keep track of. Worried about keeping it all straight? Here's a snapshot of the major topics discussed in this period.

  • From 1914 to 1918, Europe and many other regions of the world engaged in a devastating, violent conflict known as World War I.
  • In 1917, Russia pulled out of World War I as a result of internal conflicts that led to revolution and a new communist government.
  • The Treaty of Versailles, which was extremely harsh on Germany, set the stage for World War II.
  • The interwar period was marked by economic crises and the rise of totalitarian governments, such as that of Adolf Hitler in Germany.
  • World Wars I and II were two of the most destructive conflicts in history, largely due to the introduction of powerful weapons technology.
  • The devastation of the two world wars and the global depression led to a loss of optimism and confidence for many Europeans artists and writers, who conveyed their anxiety and frustration in their work.
  • During the Cold War, a period of competition and conflict between communist and noncommunist forces, the Soviet Union and United States dominated European nations.
  • European governments on both sides of the Cold War played a greater role in citizens' lives through the establishment of welfare states and regulation of the economy.
  • Postwar cooperation among Western European nations, encouraged by the United States, led to the formation of the European Union in 1993.
  • After World War II, many European holdings in Africa and Asia sought independence with varying degrees of success.
  • Nationalist movements in the wake of the Cold War often included violent clashes and ethnic cleansing.
  • Activist movements—such as the feminist, gay rights, and environmental movements—fought for recognition and rights for groups that had been ignored for years.

That's a lot to think about, but we can handle it. Besides, if we don't make it out of the 20th century, how are we ever going to catch the new season of Game of Thrones? We'd better get started, 'cause winter is coming…

What's Inside Shmoop's Online AP European History Test Prep

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our Test Prep resources will help you prepare for exams with fun, engaging, and relatable materials that bring the test to life.

In the AP European History guide, you'll find

  • a diagnostic exam to figure out where you're struggling before you even begin.
  • two full-length practice exams that mimic the look and feel of the exam.
  • answer explanations to figure out where you went wrong…or right.
  • test-taking tips to help you break down a lengthy exam.
  • loads of practice drills.
  • review of colonialism and imperialism, industrialization, scientific and technological developments, and more.

We have online Test Prep for each and every AP Exam!

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