Revolutions: The State of the Field

AHA Session 30
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Salon A (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
David A. Bell, Princeton University

Session Abstract

This panel of junior scholars aims to survey the current state of revolutionary studies in global and comparative perspective and to foster renewed conversations among specialists. Revolutions have been a key concern of historians and social scientists since the early nineteenth century. Indeed, important elements of modern social science and historical practice developed out of interdisciplinary, transnational attempts to understand and explain revolutionary movements. Yet even as interest in the history of particular revolutions has remained high—take the history of the Haitian Revolution, for instance, which has undergone tremendous expansion in the past decade—revolutionary studies as a cross-field discipline has become virtually moribund. The study of revolutions has in one sense been a victim of its own success: as a subject closely connected to the nation state, the secular shift away from national history has hit it especially hard. Yet the field has also suffered from the relative paucity of comparative work and the still-high barriers to cross-field conversations. This panel seeks to begin to address those absences.

The four junior scholars convened for this panel each have primary expertise in one of the revolutions that occurred between the middle of the eighteenth century and the early twenty first century. They are: Nathan Perl-Rosenthal (American Revolution); Katlyn Carter (French Revolution); Anne O’Donnell (Russian Revolution); Silvana Toska (Arab Spring). For the purposes of this conversation, each panelist has been asked to construe his or her topic broadly, i.e., to speak not only about the revolution on which he or she works but also about related revolutionary movements. Thus Toska will speak about revolutions in and after the year 2000; O’Donnell will speak about Communist revolutions; Carter will address the European revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; and Perl-Rosenthal will examine the “creole” revolutions of the Western Hemisphere.

The panel will have a roundtable format, with each panelist offering opening remarks, followed by general discussion and question-and-answer with the audience. The opening remarks will consist of a brief statement of ten minutes or so in which he or she names and analyzes the most important recent developments (themes, topics, methodologies) that have taken place in his or her field of study. Each will also speak briefly about the theoretical perspectives and scholarship on revolutions that have proven most useful to him or her. As the abstracts suggest, the opening statements will highlight surprising convergences among the panelists’ diverse fields while also offering a range of contrasting theoretical tools for thinking about revolution. The general discussion and question-and-answer period, moderated by David A. Bell, will offer a further opportunity to open dialogues across fields and extend or refine the panelists’ arguments.

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