Thursday's Brexit vote about whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union is about the economy, for one thing. But it's also about what kind of nation the United Kingdom wants to be: one that is open, diverse, and multicultural—or closed and homogenous.

It's a turning point that some historians say have parallels to other tumultuous times in European history, especially the period of the late 1920s and early 1930s which led to the rise of radical regimes in nations like Germany and Italy, said Nancy Koehn, an historian at the Harvard Business School.

"The Brexit vote and the fear that's stoking opposition to Britain's remaining in the European Union really has parallels in, say, the late 1920s-early 1930s when a variety of circumstances had again some rough proximity to this moment," said Koehn.

She points to economic downturn, social change, and changing technology as factors that historical moment has in common with today.

"In those moments, when the forces seem so big and change seems to come so dramatically and so rapidly, people get nervous. They get anxious. And it's not surprising that that stokes a new kind of politics...an embrace of people who promise to restore the country, restore the region, restore a given group of people to what is purportedly a former glory," Koehn said.

That's an anxiety that goes beyond economics, Koehn explained.

"I think what's really going on in Britain right now is not just about immigration. It's not primarily about the economy, as important as that is. It's about the rise of a very turbulent politics that I think, as a historian, has never in its past parallels or rhymes ended well," she said.

To hear more from Nancy Koehn, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.