What to expect from 2018: historical anniversaries, books and exhibitions

From the centenary of the end of the First World War to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, 2018 marks a number of significant historical milestones which will be marked with exhibitions and events. Here, we take a look at what lies ahead…

Crowds celebrating the signing of the armistice at the end of the First World War. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)


The end of the First World War


One of the biggest historical events of 2018 will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The November 1918 armistice, which took effect on ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’, ended the four-year conflict and marked a victory for the Allies. So far, there have so far been a variety of exhibitions and events announced to commemorate the centenary, including a UK-wide ‘ribbon of poppies’ installation and an art exhibition that celebrates female photographers from the First World War.

Second battle of the Somme

Another notable event from the First World War – the second battle of the Somme – will be commemorated on its 100th anniversary in 2018. During the battle, which began on 21 March 1918 and continued for 15 days, the German offensive obtained the single largest territorial gain on the western front since the early months of the war in late 1914.

The Spanish Flu outbreak

Early 2018 also marks 100 years since the beginning of one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. The outbreak of Spanish influenza in March 1918 signified the start of a global pandemic: some 500 million people became infected over the following years, with an estimated death toll of at least 50 million, and perhaps as many as 100 million deaths in total.

Women’s right to vote

Meanwhile, a major anniversary in the history of democracy in Great Britain and Ireland is set to take place in February: the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 meant that women who were over the age of 30, property owners and graduates from British universities were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time. The same Act gave the vote to all men over the age of 21. The law was later extended ten years later, in June 1928, to include all women over the age of 21.

The Good Friday Agreement

In other political anniversaries, spring 2018 will herald 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement – a political end to the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as ‘the Troubles’. The legislation, which set out a framework for future political progress in the country, was signed in April 1988 and ratified in both Ireland and Northern Ireland by popular vote on 22 May.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy

The 50th anniversaries of the deaths of two major political figures will also be commemorated in 2018: Martin Luther King Jr, on 4 April; and Robert F Kennedy, on 6 June. Dr King, a key player in the civil rights movement whose 1963 ‘I have a dream’ speech threw a spotlight on race in America that resonated throughout the world, was fatally shot by convicted criminal James Earl Ray while standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A senator and presidential candidate at the time and younger brother of John F Kennedy (who had been assassinated in 1963), Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian, was convicted of Kennedy’s murder in 1969.

The Meiji Restoration

This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which some consider to be the birth of modern Japan. The event, which took place in 1868, ended 250 years of self-imposed isolation, restored imperial rule to Japan under Emperor Meiji and brought about the ‘westernisation’ of the country.

Other anniversaries in 2018 include the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force and the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook setting sail from England on board HMS Endeavour.


Our staff writer, Ellie Cawthorne, highlights some of the most exciting upcoming book releases of 2018…

With the new year fast approaching, a bunch of intriguing books are already in the publishing pipeline.

From Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up Women! to June Purvis’s biography of Christabel Pankhurst, the centenary of women’s suffrage promises a plethora of new titles. I’m looking forward to Patricia Fara’s A Lab of One’s Own, on female scientists in the First World War.

Those interested in the Second World War should look out for Antony Beevor on Arnhem and James Holland’s take on how one Big Week in February 1944 shaped the battle for the skies. For a more literal bird’s-eye view of the conflict, I’m also curious to read Gordon Corera’s fantastically titled Secret Pigeon Service.

Come springtime, two new books from Civilisations presenters Mary Beard and David Olusoga promise to be as ambitious and wide-ranging as the BBC TV series they accompany, and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for In Pursuit of Civility, the latest offering from historical game-changer Sir Keith Thomas.

We’ll have a much more detailed guide to the books worth your time and money in every issue of BBC History Magazine.



Our deputy editor, Charlotte Hodgman, gives us a sneak peek of some exhibitions to look forward to in the first half of the new year…

Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian Medicine

Wellcome Collection, London
Until 8 April

Taking its title and inspiration from the Ayurvedic Man – an 18th-century Nepali painting that depicts the organs and vessels of the male body according to the traditional Ayurveda system of medicine – this exhibition explores how both Ayurveda and Indian medicine have been shaped by multiple cultural encounters over thousands of years.

One of the main principles of Ayurveda medicine is the connection between mind and body, with the former having the power to heal and transform the latter. The exhibition showcases a range of relevant objects from the Wellcome Collection including Sanskrit, Persian and Tibetan manuscripts, vibrant gouache paintings (a type of watercolour), erotic manuals and animal-shaped surgical tools.

Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6 

The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Until 22 April 

In October 1875, the future Edward VII set off on a four-month tour of the Indian subcontinent during which he was presented with a wealth of exquisite gifts and objects. Many of these pieces are now on show at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, including perfume holders, golden fish and precious jewellery.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic

V&A, London

Until 8 April

One of fiction’s best-loved characters, Winnie-the-Pooh comes under the spotlight in this V&A exhibition, which explores the inspirations behind his character, as well as the
storytelling talent of his creator, AA Milne. Among the items on show are original drawings of the lovable bear, on display for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Celebrating Nursing Diversity

RCN Library and Heritage Centre, London 

Until 10 March

Using photographs, letters and personal items, this exhibition explores the contributions of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) nurses, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) nurses, and nurses with disabilities, from the First World War to the present day.

Dartmoor: A Wild and Wondrous Region

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

Until 1 April

This exhibition features a large collection of landscape art and explores how 18th and 19th-century artists helped shape the way we see Dartmoor today. Oil paintings, watercolours, engravings, early photographs and postcards will be on show, many of which have rarely been displayed to the public.

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 2018…