In all the analysis of Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union, much of the focus has been on the economy—from the swift dive of the British pound to unstable stock markets around the globe.

But by focusing so narrowly on economics, we're losing sight of why the European Union was formed in the first place—to rebuild a continent that had been devastated by fascism, nationalism, and war, says historian and Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn.

"The EU was not formed primarily to foster economic unity," she explained. "It was put together as a way of keeping Europe united in the wake of two cataclysmic World Wars."

"The economics was the glue. But the larger point was about stability in Europe as a ballast for an uncertain world," she continued.

The past few decades of peace and stability have been a welcome aberration in Europe's tumultuous history. But now that cracks have begun to appear in the European Union, Koehn worries the continent may be slipping back to its former self. What could follow, history warns, could be catastrophic.

"When I reach out to my historian friends...we never expected in our lifetime to see what we read about in all those textbooks, in all those years of our professional lives happening," Koehn said.

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