This article gives an overview on recent theoretical progress in controlling the charge and spin dynamics in low-dimensional electronic systems by means of ultrashort and ultrabroadband electromagnetic pulses. A particular focus is put on sub-cycle and single-cycle pulses and their utilization for coherent control. The discussion is mostly limited to cases where the pulse duration is shorter than the characteristic time scales associated with the involved spectral features of the excitations. The relevant current theoretical knowledge is presented in a coherent, pedagogic manner. We work out that the pulse action amounts in essence to a quantum map between the quantum states of the system at an appropriately chosen time moment during the pulse. The influence of a particular pulse shape on the post-pulse dynamics is reduced to several integral parameters entering the expression for the quantum map. The validity range of this reduction scheme for different strengths of the driving fields is established and discussed for particular nanostructures. Acting with a periodic pulse sequence, it is shown how the system can be steered to and largely maintained in predefined states. The conditions for this nonequilibrium sustainability are worked out by means of geometric phases, which are identified as the appropriate quantities to indicate quasistationarity of periodically driven quantum systems. Demonstrations are presented for the control of the charge, spin, and valley degrees of freedom in nanostructures on picosecond and subpicosecond time scales. The theory is illustrated with several applications to one-dimensional semiconductor quantum wires and superlattices, double quantum dots, semiconductor and graphene quantum rings. In the case of a periodic pulsed driving the influence of the relaxation and decoherence processes is included by utilizing the density matrix approach. The integrated and time-dependent spectra of the light emitted from the driven system deliver information on its spin-dependent dynamics. We review examples of such spectra of photons emitted from pulse-driven nanostructures as well as a possibility to characterize and control the light polarization on an ultrafast time scale. Furthermore, we consider the response of strongly correlated systems to short broadband pulses and show that this case bears a great potential to unveil high order correlations while they build up upon excitations. (C) 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.