Predicting history is a notoriously tricky business, but our team of historians, experts and thought leaders have come up with lessons of the past to help us understand the future. So, what’s next for 2018?
Inequality: In 2014 the French economist Thomas Piketty became a global sensation with his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which argued that aggressive taxation is the only way to both stimulate economic growth and lower inequality. But in 2017, the Stanford economic historian Walter Scheidel argued in “The Great Leveler” that the history of civilization demonstrates that equality is impossible to achieve without creating human catastrophe. Since President Donald Trump ran on a policy of helping the “have-nots” and “left-behinds,” 2018 will be the year when people start asking the hard questions.
Climate change: Scientists are predicting that drastic changes to the climate and the environment will start to provoke wars and civil unrest in various parts of the world. History is full of examples of civilizations that collapsed due to climate change. Even the collapse of the Roman Empire was caused in part by environmental pressures beyond its control: Vast population movements due to a great drought in central Asia brought instability and massive incursions into Roman territory.
MLK, Coretta Scott King and The King Center: I will be spending next year commemorating the past to build a better future. As my father, Martin Luther King preached, you can accept the environment, even though it disturbs you, or you can change it. Next year will see the 50th anniversary of the founding of the King Center, by my mother Mrs. Coretta King, to promote my father’s philosophy / methodology of nonviolence as the most effective means for nonviolent social change. My mother is the untold story: she was an activist before my father, she was the first to be exposed to Ghandi’s teachings before my father—and she was the one whose efforts turned my father from one of the most hated men in America, following his assassination, into one of its most loved. All that while raising four children. And when I talk about my father I will be celebrating him as a real man—a real husband, father and pastor—as well as a prophet. If you pick up his writings today you can see that it is all coming true. As Time magazine once proclaimed it, he is the architect of the 21st century.
Political crises and troubled presidencies: Given what has transpired in just 11 months of the Trump administration, it seems very likely that major political turmoil lies ahead. (Indictments? Resignations? Pardons? Impeachment?) Even if there’s no legal action, discussion and debate about these matters will dominate. As a consequence, it will be very important for Americans to have some way to evaluate these incidents. How do they compare with past troubled presidencies and political crises like Watergate, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome and the Whiskey Ring? What safeguards and mechanisms did the founders include in the Constitution for handling these crises?
Media, “fake news,” and freedom of the press: The mainstream media faces escalating accusations of being both biased and under the control of corporate interests. And yet, investigative reporting by mainstream stalwarts like The New York Times and The Washington Post seems to be experiencing a revival. And, of course, there’s the actual, documented fake news linked to Russia and other sources. This problem has generated intense scrutiny and criticism aimed at digital giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, the preferred platforms for fake-news disseminators. Are these companies merely “platforms” (as they claim), or major media companies (as their critics charge) that need to exercise greater editorial control over the content they distribute? As these debates rage, Americans would benefit from a deeper understanding of the role of media in U.S. history and the many controversies that have accompanied it—including those tied to new forms of media technology.
The “Second Gilded Age”: As more studies reveal increased levels of wealth inequality in American society, there will be talk in 2018 of the onset of a “Second Gilded Age,” in which the rich get richer and everyone else either stagnates or gets poorer. By invoking a Second Gilded Age, these critics are connecting our current woes with the first Gilded Age, the period from roughly 1870 to 1900. As a consequence, Americans need to know more about this original Gilded Age to judge for themselves whether trends in contemporary U.S. society do indeed suggest a troubling rerun of sorts. Even a casual observer will see many similarities between the two eras. In addition to surging inequality, both are marked by weak presidents, intense political partisanship, fear of corporate power (especially its influence in politics), vehement anti-immigrant sentiment and efforts to restrict voting rights. And this comparison raises another intriguing question: Given the fact that the first Gilded Age was followed by a period of unprecedented reform of society, politics and the economy (the Progressive Era), what will follow the Second Gilded Age?
September 11-27, 2018: One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the city of Chicago hosted the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, where a white American convert to Islam, Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb, delivered lectures titled “The Spirit of Islam” and “The Influence of Islam on Social Conditions.” The long and diverse histories of Muslims in America will continue to be critical for a better understanding of America’s religious heritage.
Sexual Harassment: I hope we will see yet another milestone for civil rights as the uprising against sexual harassment is at the forefront as we head into 2018. Women and men are coming forward not just by themselves, but in a chorus, in an effort to change attitudes toward sexual harassment. The victims are finally being heard and many of those who abuse their power are being undone. But the question is whether this nascent movement will force action from our country’s top political leadership to business boardrooms, universities, and shop floors. What’s happening today reminds me of the words of Bobby Kennedy’s “Ripples of Hope” address, delivered 52 years ago at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966, during the height of apartheid. ‘It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up (or a woman stands up) for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…and those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ That’s what’s happening now and hopefully it will continue so that women and men will feel safe, secure and respected in the workplace.
Confederate Monuments & Slavery: We will continue to be vocal about the fate of Confederate monuments, with a special emphasis on how other statues and monuments representing other causes are getting caught up in the slippery slope that we have created. We will also be planning to commemorate in 2019 the first people to be enslaved in the U.S. in Jamestown, Va., in 1619, with an effort to have all states commemorate a ground zero for enslavement.
Were the 41 slave owners who signed the Declaration of Independence, the 25 slave owners who signed the U.S. Constitution and the 12 slave-owning presidents white supremacists? How will institutions of higher learning that owe their existence to slavery continue to acknowledge or deny that aspect of their history?
CRISPR: The new gene-editing technology known as CRISPR is slowly seeping into the public’s consciousness. But centuries from now it could be heralded as a breakthrough akin to the printing press and the computer. Individual genes can now be changed with speed and precision. And the rate of advance might mean that 2018 will be the year that humans start debating, in earnest, our power to control our own evolution.
1968 Miss America Pageant: In 2018 a number of dramatic events that took place 50 years earlier in 1968 are likely to strike a particular chord. These include the protest at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. The protest was against sexism and the overall objectification of women that had so long been seen as acceptable. There were also powerful uprisings against police brutality and racism that erupted in cities across the country and internationally in 1968, and an upsurge of prisoner protests against horrendous living conditions in penal facilities such as Folsom and San Quentin that same year.
Immigration: In 2018 we will surely keep talking about immigration. This invites renewed study of the history of America’s Chinese Exclusion Act, both for its foundational place in the history of immigration restrictions and for its role in the history of racism in the United States. The U.K. Aliens Act of 1905 also deserves fresh examination. More broadly, I think that the increasing use of DNA ancestry tests for private use has the potential to unsettle present ideas about nationality and race, and ought to invite continued historical investigation of the ways that race, nationality, ethnicity and gender have been codified by the state and in law.
Of great significance will be 1918, the year when World War I ended, and an attempt to establish democracies began. Namely:
When democracies collapse: A review of interwar Europe 1918-1939 with an eye to the European Union—and the U.S.—will also help us understand events happening today. Soviet-influence operations: Beginning with Operation Trust in the 1920s and going through operations in Germany in the 1970s, the U.S.S.R. sought to directly influence decision-makers and decision-making in Western countries. The details are extremely colorful and the facts largely unknown. I don’t need to stress how this will resonate in 2018.
Man as machine: After World War I, men were wearing prosthetics and using other mechanical tools by the millions. This prompted a first wave of art and thought about the merger of man and machine. In 2018, in more peaceful circumstances, we will be doing much the same.
The Marshall Plan, 70 years on: Once, the U.S. pitched in to help Europe recover and integrate. It was at once an act of great generosity and political wisdom. Now the U.S. and Europe are withdrawing one from the other. What does this mean?
Globalization 1.0 and Globalization 2.0: The first globalization took place a century ago, with much the same rhetoric of hope and optimism as our own. It ended with World War I and the Great Depression. Facing a similar turning point, how can we avoid a second globalization collapse?
Midterm Elections: On November 6, 2018, Americans will go to the polls in one of the most consequential midterm elections in the nation’s history. We must remember the sad legacy of how the right to vote has been withheld from large segments of the population. And we must be vigilant against new efforts at voter suppression. Elections are a checkup on the health of a democracy, and the health of the American experiment will soon be more apparent.
The Crusades: As HISTORY’s new drama “Knightfall” rolls out, the show is helping provoke a thirst to explore the real history of the Middle Ages—just as we saw with “Game of Thrones.” But it’s not just about peering behind the curtain of TV drama. For years the Islamic State has been framing its attacks on Western nations as a continuation of the crusades, calling the men and women who serve in the Middle East “crusaders” and referring to the U.S. president and other Allied leaders as crusaders-in-chief. The long view on Western involvement in the Middle East, from Syria and North Africa to Persia and beyond, is essential if you want to understand what we’re doing there, and why our enemies want us dead.
Reconstruction: It will be the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War when the laws and Constitution were rewritten to institutionalize the end of slavery, define American citizenship and establish the principle of equal civil and political rights for all, regardless of race. The year 1868 also saw the ratification of the 14th Amendment, the key measure in transforming the Constitution. Many of the issues of that time—who is entitled to citizenship, what the rights of citizens are and who is responsible for enforcing them, who should be able to vote, how to deal with terrorism (then, the Ku Klux Klan and kindred groups)—are still on our agenda today. And Donald Trump’s election has already sent people scurrying to look for reasons why Reconstruction failed, why the expansion of rights seems always to produce a backlash and how rights seemingly institutionalized can be taken away.
Dictatorships: Given the growing tension in the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea, I believe we will see a considerable increase in discussions about dictatorial governments and dictatorial figures from our past. Although they do not have very similar governmental structures, parallels can be traced among Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and even Napoleon Bonaparte. It will be a good time to explore the structure of these governments, understand what the consequences were and how—and if—the traces left by them still affect modern times.
First Man in Space: We will also remember Yuri Gagarin. It will be 70 years since the death of the Soviet cosmonaut, the first person in space. In the wave of discussions about the colonization of Mars, it may be worth exploring the beginnings of space exploration and the space race. And it would also be worth talking about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
Tricentennial of New Orleans: The historical event I’m most anticipating is the Tricentennial Celebration of my hometown New Orleans. Ever since Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded the city in 1718, subsequent waves of arrivals have enhanced its flavor, like new ingredients being added to a gumbo pot, each adding to the mix while retaining their distinctive flavors. There have been French and Spanish, Haitians and Africans, slaves and gens de coleur, Creoles of every hue, Italians, Germans, Croatians and Vietnamese. From this mix you get savory music like jazz, born out of the mélange of cultures, as well as distinctive art and architecture and cuisine. The city and its history are a testament to the joys and creativity—and occasional friction—that come from diversity.
Midterm Elections: The midterm elections will drive a lot of the news in the next few months, and there are a lot of interesting historical parallels that can be drawn between these upcoming races and past elections. While making predictions can be tricky, there are some reliable patterns—especially when looking at how poorly parties in the White House do in the first midterms of a president’s term, and how presidential approval ratings affect results. The midterms serve as a huge test for both parties. How will Trump’s Republicans fare, especially in light of their shortcoming in elections this year? Will Democrats be able to turn anti-Trump enthusiasm into votes? The elections are also a test for the outer wings of both parties, as Steve Bannon threatens lawmakers with primary challenges from the right and progressive candidates do so on the left, reflecting a larger trend of ideological divisions inside both political parties.
Body Positive Movement: We’ll hear more about the history of beauty ideals as the “body positive movement” and even a body-diverse Barbie move into mainstream publications from niche social media. We will also see a new interest in the history of regulation within the beauty industry as “natural” non-toxic products become more mainstream.
Second Punic War: The 900-year anniversary of Hannibal’s Second Punic War, which began in 218 B.C., should inspire us to look at the places, people, landscapes and species that were affected. We should go to battle sites; talk to people in Rome and Tunis; cross a bit of the Alps with an elephant; talk to curators of elephants and snakes about the viability of the use Hannibal put them to; have wargamers re-fight Cannae; ask modern Fabians about the Cunctator; go to Punic, Iberian, Greek and Roman archaeological sites in Spain and Tunisia; and talk to Swiss nationalists. And do an experiment to see if Hannibal could really have unblocked an avalanche with vinegar.
Next year is also the 10th anniversary of the financial meltdown. A lot of people seem already to have forgotten the lessons that regulation is necessary and that fat cats need to be put on a diet.
Partisan Divisions: On March 31, 1968, a war-weary and increasingly unpopular Lyndon B. Johnson gave a televised speech to the nation announcing that he would not run for another term as president—setting in motion one of the most fractious presidential elections in modern history. Partisan divisions ran deep in 1968, as did divides within the two major parties, stoked by antiwar protest, racial fears, generational change, and new media—all things that will continue to make headlines in 2018.
Apple II: The Apple II was released on April 16, 1977, helping usher in a high-tech revolution that transformed how people work, create, and communicate. Thirty years later, Apple introduced the iPhone, putting a supercomputer in everyone’s pocket and further upending the way people live and play. The light-speed growth of high-tech products and markets—more than one billion iPhones have been sold to date—will only continue in 2018, as will the growing concerns about data, privacy, and the use of high-tech platforms for political disruption.
Presidential Scandals: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Tennessee Republican Howard Baker asked this question on June 28, 1973, at the Senate Watergate hearings. Presidential scandal—and what the president knew—is likely to again be in the 2018 headlines as Congress and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller continue the Russia investigation.
End of WWI: Anniversaries make it fairly easy to predict some of the topics that are likely to be revisited in the coming year. The big one is 1918, and the end of the First World War. The idea of making a peace between the bitterest of enemies, the importance of getting it right—and the awful consequences of getting it wrong, as so many observers at the time and since have thought that the victors began to do from 1918, will have great resonance. I suppose it’s worth pointing out that the Paris Peace Conference itself didn’t begin till 1919, so that anniversary isn’t strictly upon us.
Women’s Suffrage: From a British point of view, 1918 is significant as the year that women got the vote, though only women over 30 who met the property qualification. I would see this as very much not a British story, with plenty of opportunity for discussion about the progress or lack of it of feminism on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world, taking the British anniversary as a jumping off point.
1968 Protests: We will also see the discussion of 1968 as a year of protest. I think it would be good to trace a chronology of these, from Poland in January through the expansion of the civil rights movement in the U.S. (and the death of Dr King) to Paris in May, to think about whether there was a sense of global protest. It might also be interesting to see how 1968 was a year of failure really for most of these movements, and it’s only in retrospect that, after many of the causes that were being fought for began to be recognized and more widely accepted, that they’ve been seen as an inspiration.
Microchip: Finally the anniversary of the invention of the microchip. It looks like 1958 and the invention of the integrated circuit was about the most significant milestone on the road to the computing power we all take for granted today. I realize that making this dramatic may not be easy, but it’s certainly pretty important!
Korea and Russia: At the center of the world conversation, Korea and Russia, and how their histories inform their politics will continue to be important to explore.
Native Americans: How have Native Americans and other indigenous people seen the world and how have they shaped our histories? Their stories will resonate in 2018.
Disease: The history of disease, dying and memory—how and why people have lived and died over time will be a preoccupation as we all attempt to live longer, die with dignity, and pass on our stories.
Ordinary People: Many stories of ordinary people will resonate in 2018. How have regular people, particularly women, risen to the occasion to become part of history and make change?
MLK Assassination: As we face the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, how can his vision continue to speak to us and help us solve world problems? We can and should return to his writings again and again.
Minimum Wage: Globally, the struggle for a minimum wage is critical. How can the history of labor movements and working people inform these conversations today? To me, the history of labor movements will be key in 2018.
2018 will be the year of women making history and confronting race relations. Some important anniversaries around these themes are:
- July 19-20, 1848 is when the first Women’s Right’s Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, where the Declaration of Sentiments was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men.
- January 1, 1808 was the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we will be celebrating it’s 210th anniversary.
- Although he did not know is exact birthdate, Frederick Douglass chose February 14, 1818 to celebrate this day. We will be celebrating the 200th anniversary.
- April 4, 1968 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
- On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave the “House Divided” Speech at the Republican Convention in Springfield, IL.
- It will be the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which was passed on July 9, 1868.
- On July 19, 1958, Ronald W. Walters of the Wichita NAACP Youth Council led one of the first lunch counter sit-ins in the country.
- It will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Women’s Rights Activist Lucy Stone born, born on August 13, 1818.
- On September 17, 1858, Dred Scott died.
- October 16, 1968 is the 50th anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power protest during the Olympic medal ceremony in Mexico City, Mexico.
The 50th anniversary of 1968: This will be a pivotal touchstone, especially given the tumult in society. It may serve as a useful reminder that as chaotic and divided as things feel now, they really haven’t gotten anywhere near as bad as 1968 when we had assassinations, riots, university student strikes and a seemingly endless and divisive war with hundreds of thousands of American ground troops in Vietnam.
Entertainment in politics: Donald Trump’s election marked a new chapter in the place of entertainment in politics, reshaping who we think of as a politician and opening the door for other potential celebrity political runs (i.e. the Kid Rock for Senate idea). Trump’s campaign and administration have also sparked prominent celebrities to lead the way in challenging his legitimacy. Finally, as recent revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood continue to cause waves, the entertainment industry will continue to be a flashpoint for political issues, especially surrounding sexism and racism.
The roots of the liberal international order: As President Trump and his allies attack everything from the structures of global governance to the principles behind them, champions of this order will inevitably start reminding Americans about their roots in the failure of the interwar era, and their successful role in building in the post-World War II world. We may end up hearing a lot about Harry Truman and Arthur Vandenberg in 2018.
The Presidential Word: Nothing charms, comforts, challenges or inspires like great oratory, and there are rich seams to explore in the oral histories of the last 45 inhabitants of the Oval Office. From tweets to secret White House conversations, public appearances to television addresses, there is much to explore in the way the president communicates with his people. The social-media postings of our current president only serve to highlight the power of the words of those who have gone before, and illustrate the changing nature of the president’s relationship with his electorate.
Women in History: More than 70% of history text books are written by men, and more than 70% are written about men. Just imagine what delights await in those so-far-untold stories of the women who shaped our world. As the culture wars unlock this, expect new light on events and people that have so far gone unexamined.