Anniversaries in 2021

By Paula Kitching, published 6th January 2021

It is 2021 and time to look forward – though with so much uncertainty, perhaps looking back is easier? However, there is a half-way stage – to mark anniversaries of the past but in the present. That way we can look back with the satisfaction that we’re not living in the past but valuing its contribution to the present. Now each day is of course an anniversary of something but let’s pull out some of the big ones for this year, though of course there are many others that will and could be commemorated or marked.

In 2021 it is the 1250th anniversary of when King Alfred assumed the crown of England in 871. Does this matter? Well, it brings together an idea of what was early England and the early foundation of some of Britain’s national boundaries. What is more it is rather a pertinent reminder of the fragility of concepts around national identities.

Moving a long way forward in time but further away from the UK in geography, 2021 is also the 320th anniversary of the establishment of the Ashanti Kingdom in Western Africa in 1701. Consolidating a number of African groups under one nation, the Ashanti kingdom was extremely powerful and modern. The Ashanti kingdom produced many skilled craftsmen and women and was an exporter of cloth, gold, food and other goods across Africa and traded with Europeans. The Ashanti kingdom was left decimated after wars with the Europeans and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Retuning to British history the 16 April is the 275th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This battle was the final destruction of the Jacobite army and the clans of Scotland by English forces (although they were helped by Scottish groups as well). But this controversial and emotive battle provides a great insight into the facts and mythologies of the history of English vs. Scottish relations.

If people associate the 18th century more with the industrial revolution than with battles, then 2021 is also the 250th anniversary of when Richard Arkwright opened the first water-powered cotton mill at Cromford in 1771. This technological invention would help to change industrial production in Britain and help the UK to develop into one of the leading industrial countries of the world. However, this important development would in turn feed into other social currents of the time – not least the use of slave labour in the British colonies to produce raw cotton.

This last fact ties into the next anniversary of the year, the 190th anniversary of the publication of The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince in 1831. This is an autobiographical account of one woman’s experiences of slavery. Mary Prince was born enslaved in British Bermuda. After spending all her childhood and early adulthood being bought and sold she was able to escape her captors in Britain, although not legally freed for quite some time. Her story, written with support from abolitionists, is a ground-breaking book on the reality of slavery and was used to support legal challenges to slavery at the time.

And finally a modern anniversary. What would 2020 have looked like without this invention and how could we survive 2021 without it? – no, not medicine but technology again. On 6 August 2021 it will be 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee released files describing his idea for the World Wide Web; now that has been life-changing for our generation and something well worth reflecting on.