2016 'will be on history books' after 'remarkable' series of events

Donald Trump was confirmed as president-elect in November 2016.
Donald Trump was confirmed as president-elect in November 2016.
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The year 2016 will grace the cover of history books after a "remarkable" series of events, an academic has said.

It was the year that Brexit divided the nation, the election of Donald Trump shocked the world, and showbusiness lost some of its biggest names.

The last 12 months will go down as one of the most notable of the past 100 years or so alongside 1914, 1939, 1945 and 1989, according to a professor of contemporary European history at the University of Oxford.

Professor Martin Conway told the Press Association: "2016 will be seen as being a year that people can have in book titles and people will understand what it means. Just as you can publish a book saying '1914' or '1939' and people know what you're talking about. You could do that for 1945 and 1989, and 2016 I think will be the same."

He added: "2016 will probably come to be thought of as the year the twentieth century ended. Historians dislike, intensely, any attempts to predict the future, but the shapes of the past - including the recent past - are much more their territory.

"And, seen in that way, 2016 feels like a year, rather as 1914 must have seemed, when many things ended. The combination of events has indeed been remarkable.

"The re-emergence of political violence on the streets of Paris and Brussels, the intensification of the war in Syria, the Brexit referendum, the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA, and any number of forthcoming elections in 2017 in France, Germany and the Netherlands, all lend to the events of the present a sense of a historical break.

"Each of these events, and many others beside, indicates that something has ended, but more precisely what? The most obvious answer might be any meaningful sense of predictability.

"If, in Michael Gove's words during the Brexit campaign, the experts keep on getting things wrong, then we are all experts now. Very few of us would have predicted the SNP's electoral breakthrough in Scotland, the result of the Brexit referendum, or the Trump victory.

"That is not because we are stupid, but because the rules we tend to use to make such judgments no longer work in the same way."

Professor Conway said the real shape of 2016's significance will take 20 years to emerge, adding that in 1945 people did not predict a new era of democracy.

"It was only 10 years later that they actually realised that 1945 had had that shape, but they knew that something that was significant had ended. It's just it was going to take them a while to understand what they were walking into, and I think that must be true for us too," he said.

The academic added that 2016 is not really a turning point, adding: "History has many of these. But more profoundly, it feels like the maturing of a series of changes which have been in gestation at least since the end of the calendar of the twentieth century; what has happened this year is that history (and life) has caught up with the fact that that century has ended."