Historical anniversaries in 2024

Published: 2nd January 2024

It’s the start of a new year – what can we expect?

As we don’t have a crystal ball we can’t tell you what will happen, but as historians we can tell you about some of the things we will be remembering or marking over 2024. We think there will be lots of focus on the anniversaries of the 20th century, including the start of the First World War (we are using that as an excuse to have a short course, so I guess we can’t complain) and the Second World War battles of Monte Cassino and the Normandy landings.

However, we are hoping that won’t negate the medieval anniversaries including 1174 when William I of Scotland was captured by Henry II’s forces at Alnwick on 13 July; or the 700th anniversary of when Mansa Musa, the most prominent ruler of Mali, Africa made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.

It might also be a year for celebrating some literary moments. 2024 is the 400th anniversary of the first folio of Shakespeare’s works appearing. How many people know their history through his plays rather than through documents and records? Poor Richard III will always be the man prepared to swap his kingdom for a horse.

It is also an anniversary of a more recent literary great, as it is 20 years since Andrea Levy’s groundbreaking novel Small Island was published in 2024. Telling the story of postwar Britain through the story of migration, race and societal intersectionality, it is now one of the texts studied on exam syllabuses. We intend to mark this event with a series of talks and workshops – watch this space.

Some anniversaries remind us of things we definitely don’t want repeated, such as the start of the Crimean War on 28 March 1854 when France and Britain declared war on Russia. Although it did lead a team of nurses under the authority of Florence Nightingale to set up a hospital in the Crimea helping to revolutionise attitudes to, and methods of, nursing.

There will also be some reflection on previous political elections as we head towards a General Election here in the UK, as well as thoughts on how to build societies after conflicts – ‘is it possible to learn lessons from the past to make a better future?’ – well, every year is an experiment in that.

Whatever key anniversary you mark this year or decide to share with us, we hope that 2024 will be a year that future historians look on with hope not disdain.