The Russian Revolution
One of the biggest anniversaries of the year, 2017 will mark 100 years since the Russian Revolution. Heralding the collapse of the 300-year-old Romanov royal dynasty, a bitter civil war and the rise of communism, the revolution had a profound impact on the course of world history.
Battle of Passchendaele
As the centenary of the First World War continues, 2017 also marks the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele. Remembered for its unremitting bleakness and apocalyptic mud, the battle began on 31 July 1917. By the time the conflict had ended in November 1917 there were 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties.
US entry into the First World War
Another notable event from the First World War – US entry into the conflict – also happened 100 years ago, on 6 April 1917. US involvement marked a decisive turning point in the war, as more than five million American soldiers ultimately fought in the conflict.
This year also marks 500 years since the beginning of a huge – and tumultuous –change in the religious make-up of Europe. On 31 October 1517 (commemorated as ‘Reformation Day’), German protestant reformer Martin Luther published his 95 Theses condemning what he saw as the corruption of the Catholic Church. Luther’s Theses was quickly reprinted and shared across Europe, triggering a seismic shift in European religion with a legacy of lasting conflict.
June 2017 marks 50 years since the Six-Day War, when fighting broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in June 1967.
Other anniversaries in 2017 include the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen; the 150th anniversary of the publication of Marx’s Das Kapital (volume 1) and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which stated British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
Our reviews editor, Matt Elton, highlights some of the most exciting upcoming book releases of 2017...
The coming year promises to offer plenty of great new historical writing, whatever your interests – and with scores of titles released each month, this can only ever be a brief rundown of some of the highlights.
Kicking off the year in masterful style is Laurence Rees’ The Holocaust: A New History (Allen Lane, January). An admirable attempt to offer an authoritative, accessible guide to a complex subject in a single volume, this book combines first-hand accounts, many of them previously unpublished, with an analysis of the key players and major turning points. It’s clearly not the lightest of subjects, but a sobering reminder of what remains one of the most appalling crimes in human history.
Staying with new books from well-established historians, Robert Service’s The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution (Macmillan, February) is a welcome look at the end of a dynasty. A centenary after the bloody events of the Russian Revolutions, Service has valuable insights into the Nicholas’ character and wider social and political unrest alike.
Fast-forward a century and the global political situation is no more stable. In Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Allen Lane, January), Pankaj Mishra explores the roots of modern disillusionment, as expressed perhaps most vividly in the rise of nationalist populism and social tension. Drawing parallels between the 21st century and the Enlightenment, the west and the Middle East, it’s thought-provoking stuff.
Our fascination with all things Tudors shows no sign of abating, meanwhile, and Simon Thurley’s Houses of Power: The Places that Shaped the Tudor World (Bantam Press, March) promises to take readers right to the very heart of that world. From homes to palaces, sleeping arrangements to soft furnishings, it’s an illuminating look at the material world of the 16th century.
Also on the subject of domestic life, At Home with Jane Austen (St Martin’s Press, July) is Lucy Worsley’s look at the places that shaped the writer’s life and personality. Austen will be big news in 2017, the 200th anniversary year of her death, and Worsley is always spirited company, so this looks set to be a great combination.
The Women who Flew for Hitler by Clare Mulley (St Martin’s Press, June) chronicles the lives of two female pilots awarded the Iron Cross in the Second World War. Full of danger and glamour, their experiences show a different side of a period when a woman’s place was apparently in the home.
From writers to warfare, global history to intimate biographies, these are just some of the standout titles of the first half of 2017. We’ll have a much more detailed guide to the books worth your time and money in every issue of BBC History Magazine, so please do join us for that.
Deputy editor Charlotte Hodgman gives us a sneak peek of some exhibitions to look forward to this year…
There’s a wealth of historical events and exhibitions planned for 2017, at locations all over the UK, with many free of charge to visit.
The National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, will be exploring the story of an ancient Egyptian tomb built in Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in c1290 BC. Stunning objects from the tomb will be on show, including inscribed mummy bandages, mummy tags and coffins. The exhibition runs from 31 March to 3 September and admission is free.
Between 5 April and 1 October, Tate Britain will be marking the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales with an exhibition of material relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities – from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. The anniversary will be marked at other sites across the UK including the Red House in Suffolk, once the home of Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears, which will run an exhibition on the composer’s life between 1 February and 15 December.
The British Library has a number of exciting exhibitions lined up for this year, including ‘Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ (28 April–29 August), which marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The library will kick off the year with an exhibition on Jane Austen, bringing together for the first time in 40 years writings from Austen’s formative teenage years, in ‘Jane Austen Among Family and Friends’ (10 January–19 February).
Elsewhere, Ulster Museum will explore the medium of drawing between 10 March and 7 May, displaying works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo up to the present day. The exhibition will travel to Hull and Poole later in the year.
The British Museum, too, has big plans in store for visitors this year. September will see an exhibition on the Scythians, one of the great nomadic civilisations of antiquity, while in March the museum will stage ‘The American Dream: pop to present’, tracing modern and contemporary American printmaking over the past 50 years.
In February, the Wellcome Collection in London will examine mankind’s historic fascination with electricity, displaying a host of related objects – from one of the first batteries (c1800–24), to art and literature inspired by electricity.
The National Museum Cardiff will start 2017 with a stunning collection of traditional Chinese flower and bird paintings spanning 600 years, on show in the UK for the first time. ‘Nature's Song: Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings’ (21 January–23 April) will be free of charge to visit and will reveal the development of the art form in China from the late Ming dynasty.
Women in the Royal Navy will come under the spotlight at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with an exhibition examining the contribution of women working in the Naval Service over the past 250 years. The exhibition will launch on 8 March 2017, International Women’s Day.
There are many, many more exhibitions taking place across the UK this year – too many to mention here, sadly: from an exhibition on volcanoes at Oxford’s Bodleian Library to Scotland’s first ever exhibition of works by Caravaggio and his followers at the National Galleries of Scotland and an exploration of robot history over the past 500 years at the Science Museum in London.
Look out for more on these, and many other events and exhibitions, in the ‘Out and About’ pages of BBC History Magazine.
For now, though, have a great 2017!