The Age of Enlightenment, the subsequent French revolution and the Napoleonic wars shaped the continent culturally, politically, and economically from the end of the 17th century till the first half of the 19th century.

Malta was considered an island of North Africa for centuries.

The first recorded usage of Eurṓpē as a geographic term is in the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo, in reference to the western shore of the Aegean Sea.

Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into three parts, Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the Phasis forming their boundaries—though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia.

The Book of Jubilees described the continents as the lands given by Noah to his three sons; Europe was defined as stretching from the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, separating it from North Africa, to the Don, separating it from Asia.

In some Turkic languages the originally Persian name Frangistan ("land of the Franks") is used casually in referring to much of Europe, besides official names such as Avrupa or Evropa.

The prevalent definition of Europe as a geographical term has been in use since the mid-19th century.

Both world wars took place for the most part in Europe, contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the Soviet Union and the United States took prominence.

During the Cold War, Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east, until the revolutions of 1989 and fall of the Berlin Wall.

Europe is taken to be bounded by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the southeast, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.