Experiencing Revolutions: A Comparative Perspective

AHA Session 43
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Gibson Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Gilbert M. Joseph, Yale University
The Experience of the Iranian Revolution of 1979
Naghmeh Sohrabi, Brandeis University
Revolutionary Emotions: A Content Analysis of Emotional Engagement for Revolution
Jean-Pierre Reed, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Trajectories of Fear in Syria
Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University
Gilbert M. Joseph, Yale University

Session Abstract

This panel seeks to re-examine some of the most important revolutions of the recent past--Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, and Syria--by taking a bottom-up and multi-disciplinary approach to the question of "revolutionary experience" and the role of emotions in mass mobilization.  Specifically, it asks what does a revolution feel like to those in its midst before the term is even used to define this great upheaval? And what role do emotions, as opposed to, for example, structural or ideological factors, play in people's decision to take part in these revolutions, sometimes at great cost?  Our panel hopes to answer these questions by bringing into conversation two historians (Iran and Cuba), a sociologist (Nicaragua), and a political scientist (Syria). 

The current historical study of some of the most prominent revolutions such as the French, American, and Russian, have been trending for some time toward capturing the elusive “everyday” experience through the existing historical records.  The revolutions examined in this panel have the advantage of being old enough (except for the Syrian case) to have a rich body of historical scholarship and young enough to benefit from various qualitative research methods, such as ethnography, that can capture the participants’ emotions and experiences of the revolutions.  This can be seen in the first two panels by Sohrabi and Reed who will lay out their findings about two simultaneous revolutions, Iran and Nicaragua in 1979, combining ethnographic and historical research methods.  While Sohrabi’s emphasis is on the question of experience of the Iranian revolution, Reed’s paper examines the role played by emotions in the Nicaraguan one.  Guerra’s paper will carry forward this perspective, focusing on the post-Cuban revolutionary period.  Specifically, she examines the ways in which revolutionary emotions and loyalty were both harnessed but also constructed to solidify the post-revolutionary state in Cuba in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Lastly, Pearlman’s work on the current Syrian uprising builds on the previous panelists’ methodology and questions in two ways:  First, by interviewing refugees who chose to rise up against the Asad regime against perceived wisdom, she too illuminates the role that emotions play in mass mobilizations.  Second, her work on such a recent case will undoubtedly enrich future historical work on the subject.

As can be seen from both this abstract but also the individual papers’ description, this panel takes seriously the theme of the 2015 AHA meeting.  In focusing on the concepts of revolutionary experience and emotion, it highlights a topic that has benefitted from, if not actually created by, the marriage of “History and Other Disciplines.”  By bringing together these various disciplines in the context of the AHA, it also hopes to give historians, particularly those interested in the question of the everyday and revolutions, new avenues of research and methodologies.

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