Sometimes a particular year can take on symbolic significance as a vector of meaning, to provide a way of thinking about changes in established patterns of life and accompanying factors which propel new circumstances. In fictional terms, but also providing a way of thinking about social change in fact, for many years ‘1984’ served this purpose because of George Orwell’s novel of that name. Other years having such resonance include 1914 and 1939 as the beginning of wartime conflagrations for a large part of the world. More specifically, 1066 has this symbolic resonance in British history. However, while specific events ‘caused’ the outbreak of wars in 1914 and then in 1939, these were part of circumstances with much longer and more complicated histories that existed regarding relationships between the so-called Great Powers in Europe. And similarly so 1066, when the Norman Conquest occurred within a longer trajectory concerning an Anglo-Saxon dynasty and contentions for its supreme power, and was not simply a dispute between William and Harold about who was heir to the throne.

And note the specificities in these examples: the symbolic resonance and signifying aspects come from the specificities of particular histories in particular places. Many people reading this, for instance, are likely to be bemused by 1066 having symbolic resonance, because this is as part of a specific cultural heritage.

Consider the year 1960 in the time-lines shown in two screenshots that accompany this blog. The key events of 1960 shown in these are largely parochial US ones, including Coca-Cola and Sprite, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, the first photocopier, Kennedy winning the US presidential election, the Greensboro protest about Southern segregation, with a nod or two in the direction of, for instance, testing the A-bomb. A time-line provides a chronology, about which two things need to be remembered. One is that chronology is not causation, and just because one thing follows another does not mean it is necessarily ‘caused’ by it. The other is that all time-lines are selections of things seen as particularly relevant and so involve exclusions as well as in inclusions.

A way of seeing is also and always a way of not seeing. Seeing 1960 from the viewpoint of places that are not Europe and not the USA, but Southern Africa, the year looks very different.

In a discussion of Harold Macmillan’s ’wind of change’ speech, given in Cape Town, Saul Dubow writes,

“The year 1960 began with prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd’s surprise announcement that a referendum would be held later in the year to decide whether South Africa should become a republic. Macmillan’s ’wind of change’ speech on 3 February was soon occluded by the Sharpeville massacre and Langa uprisings in March; by the UN Security Council condemnation of apartheid which followed; the attempted assassination of Verwoerd on 9 April; the state of emergency and banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC); the strongly contested republican referendum in October; and in December, the controversial World Council of Churches conference at Cottersloe.” [Saul Dubow (2013) ‘Macmillan, Verwoerd and the 1960 ‘wind of change’ speech’ in eds LJ Butler and Sarah Stockwell The Wind of Change: Harold Macmillan and British Decolonization. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p.21]

This provides a very different view of important events, seen as such from the viewpoint of South Africa and a succession of things which contributed both to the solidification of, and growth of challenges to, its apartheid racial order. And also of course these events are selections suited to the particular purposes of Dubow’s analytical discussion. This is a time-line from the viewpoint of South Africa, within the context of his particular consideration of Macmillan’s speech and its place in the scheme of things. It is a very interesting consideration of it and well worth reading.

Last updated:  26 July 2018