What to expect from 2016: historical anniversaries, books and exhibitions

From the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, to a revealing exhibition examining the history of underwear, 2016 looks set to be an exciting year. Here, we take a look at what lies ahead in the world of history...



Shakespeare’s death


One of the biggest history events of 2016 will be the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare on 23 April.

To learn the answers to seven of the most pressing questions about the playwright’s life, click here, and to find out more about Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, click here.

Battle of the Somme

1 July marks 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. Thousands are expected to attend a service of remembrance in Thiepval in northern France, and a number of exhibitions and events will be held across France and the UK.

To read more about the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history, click here.  

The Great Fire of London

The infamous Great Fire of London swept across the city over three days in 1666. The Museum of London will mark the 350th anniversary of the disaster with a show called Fire! Fire!

Roald Dahl’s birth

13 September marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of children’s author Roald Dahl.

Norman Conquest

14 October marks the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror’s invasion of England will be marked by a new contemporary arts festival.

Pearl Harbor

December marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

To read more about Pearl Harbor and other significant Second World War battles, click here.


Deputy editor Charlotte Hodgman gives us a sneak peek at the exhibitions to look out for this year…

2015 was an exciting year for historical anniversaries, with a number of landmark dates commemorated through a host of events and exhibitions. And 2016 looks set to continue the trend.

Windsor Castle, the British Library, King’s College London and the Royal Shakespeare Company are just some of the locations hosting exhibitions devoted to the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, in April.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon is also gearing up for a year of activity, including opening Shakespeare’s schoolroom and guildhall to the public for the first time. You can find out more at shakespeares-england.co.uk and shakespeare400.org

Elizabethan scholar, courtier and magician John Dee will come under the spotlight at the Royal College of Physicians, London, in January, with visitors treated to displays of his personal artefacts – from magic mirrors to crystal balls – on show for the first time since his death in 1609.

If new (and old) discoveries are more your thing, the National Museum Cardiff will launch its new gallery in January with an exhibition which tells the stories of adventurous archaeologists. Expect treasures from ancient cultures as well as recent discoveries from Wales.

The V&A will be sorting through its smalls in April for an exhibition that examines the history of underwear through the centuries. More than 100 men’s and women’s garments and accessories, as well as photographs, films, packaging and fashion plates, will be on show.

Elsewhere, May will see the Bowes Museum in County Durham celebrate nearly 500 years of English female beauty, from the court beauties of the 17th century to the society ladies of Edwardian England.         

Commemorations of First World War anniversaries will also continue through 2016, including an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum to mark the centenary of the battle of Jutland.

And in March, the British Museum’s landmark Celts exhibition will arrive at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Look out for more on these, and many other events and exhibitions, in the out and about pages of BBC History Magazine.       


Our books editor Matt Elton looks ahead to what is on offer in the world of history publishing in the coming months…

From epic, sweeping narratives to small-scale accounts of specific events and people, 2016 looks set to be another great year for history books. It’s impossible to do justice to the sheer volume of excellent titles due to be published over the coming months, but these are just some of the highlights…

Final Solution: The Date of the Jews 1933–1949 by the late David Cesarani (Macmillan, January) offers a challenging reinterpretation of the Second World War Holocaust, exploring a wide range of sources to ask exactly how organised the Nazi effort was – and whether it was more dictated by the demands of the conflict than deliberately planned strategy. This promises to be high-profile and controversial in equal measure.

At 1,008 pages – and spanning almost as many years – Peter H Wilson’s The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s History (Allen Lane, January) will undoubtedly be one of the most heavyweight titles hitting the shelves early in the year. A single-volume look at the empire that ruled much of central Europe for centuries, it’s bound to offer new perspectives on a foundational period of the continent’s history.

Simon Sebag Montefiore is another of history’s big names, and he returns in February with The Romanovs, 1613–1918 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson). This history of Russia’s famous (and infamous) dynasty is compelling, accessible stuff, covering its huge timespan and vast cast of characters in typically vibrant fashion. It’s insightful about the continuing legacy of the Romanovs in Russia today, too.

Similarly large in its scope – but small-scale in its approach – is Incarnations: India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani (Allen Lane, February). Khilnani suggests that India’s history has long been curiously underpopulated, and so sets out to chart the human story of the largest democracy in the world.

Kate Summerscale, author of the bestselling 2009 book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, again turns her eye to 19th-century crime in The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of Victorian Child Murderer (Bloomsbury, May). This tale of children swept up in a court case that shocked Britain promises to be just as gripping and meticulous as its predecessor.

The Tudors remain as popular now as they have ever been, but how much do we actually know about what went on behind closed doors? In The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Legacy (Hodder and Stoughton, May) Tracy Borman aims to find out, turning to the accounts of the attendants and courtiers who followed the monarchs in their most intimate moments.

Richard III remains one of the most controversial figures in British history, and Chris Skidmore will explore a pivotal period in the king’s life in Richard III: Brother, Protector, King (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, August). How did his contemporaries really see him? How much of what we think we know of the monarch is, in fact, myth? Skidmore’s book promises to be a refreshing, perceptive read.

That’s not nearly all, of course: there will also be new biographies of famous figures including Stalin and Catherine Howard; more pocket-sized guides to Britain’s kings and queens – including Edward III, Charles II and Richard II – in the ongoing Penguin Monarchs series, and much else besides. We’ll be offering expert reviews of all the major titles, plus in-depth interviews with leading authors, in the pages of BBC History Magazine each issue. 


For now, though, have a great 2016…