Historians agree, 2016 election is one for the ages

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Historians aren't known for brevity, but 2016 seems to have left some with few words.

"Unusual, lets just put it this way," said Eric Foner of Columbia University.

"Robust, energetic, potentially carnivalesque," said Jim Downs, of Connecticut College.

"Unprecedented, in terms of American history," said Catherine Clinton of UT-San Antonio. "So many of us are mesmerized by the partisanship, the sectionalism, the unwillingness to see from the other side's point of view."

These experts on all things United States met at the Southern Historical Association's conference at the Tradewinds in St. Pete Beach to discuss the country and its current state a week before a historic election.

Many have asked Foner, a civil war historian, whether things have ever been so divided.

"I say [to those who ask], 'take it easy,'" Foner said. "I don't expect to have a civil war and three quarters of a million people killed. Politics has always been passionate in our society. We shouldn't think that up to this point, it has been a polite debating society."

Downs pointed out that social media has brought everyone into the debate.

"Most political campaigns, their biggest fear historically is never their opponents, it's apathy," he said. "We are still getting a kind of engagement that we haven't had before. I think more Americans now have an understanding and no more about their candidates than they did twenty or thirty years ago."

For as much as they know about the past, the historians will be watching election night with baited breath - living in the present just like the rest of us.

"I hope everyone reads the next generation of historians trying to... decode, reconstruct what has gone on," Clinton said.