A Revolutionary Year: Centering and Globalizing 1958

AHA Session 55
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Rashid I. Khalidi, Columbia University

Session Abstract

In 2002, historians William Roger Louis (University of Texas) and Roger Owen (Harvard University) edited a volume entitled A Revolution Year: The Middle East in 1958. Its contributing authors focused on the coups and conflicts of 1958 in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, including the positions of regional hegemons, such as Egypt and Israel, and global powers, like the U.S. and Soviet Union. Collectively, the volume asserted 1958 as a watershed year for the region within the Cold War landscape. However, the volume alone was unable to dethrone the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1948 or 1967 as the cornerstones for understanding the 20th century Middle East. Furthermore, in the subsequent years since publication, and seventy years since 1958, there has yet to be an endeavor meant to put these crises of the Middle East in conversation with equally momentous events unfolding across the globe.

This panel, and the individual case studies at the center of each paper presentation, expands upon A Revolutionary Year, centering the importance of this year and truly globalizing 1958. On one level, to center and globalize 1958 means incorporating new areas of research, including the constitutional coup in France over its colonial Africa policy, and the place of land reform in Cuba leading up to the revolution. On another level, this panel refocuses the approach to events of 1958 in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Cuba and France by globalizing them. In other words, these events were not merely national. These papers show that multiple ideologues, stakeholders and combatants within these crises conceived of their causes as global, and their impacts as extending beyond the nation-state.

More precisely, the papers take different angles to analyzing the transformations that moved through the pivotal year of 1958. They include a focus on the ideological development of global decolonization vis-à-vis Algeria, the discursive power of sovereignty in Lebanon, the significance of ultra-local agrarian revolution in Cuba, and the impact of regional counter-alliances in Iraq and Jordan. While each paper is unique in context, source approach, and level of analysis, in all the outcome of local mobilization and superpower reaction—ranging from absolute force to ambivalence—produced new realities in 1958 with cumulative, global repercussions, whether a war, revolution, coup or transnational movement was the manifestation.

As a whole, this panel seeks to accomplish three things. First, by extending beyond the Middle East, this panel shows that 1958 was a radical year in the history of the global Cold War, and hence is as crucial as 1948 or 1967 within the history of the modern Middle East. Second the panel works towards a global geography of this integral year in the Cold War, connecting the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and beyond. Finally, and as a point of departure from our respect for, and loyalty to, Louis and Owen’s volume, this panel hopes to broaden the ways we study watershed events in the global Cold War. More specifically, we look to develop cultural, social and transnational approaches to understanding global disruptive politics.

See more of: AHA Sessions