In the 1970s, the Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai was asked to assess the outcomes of the French Revolution of 1789. He supposedly answered: "It is too soon to say." Though this story has a somewhat apocryphal status, it captures a fundamental truth about the world in which we live: it is a world which has been shaped by revolutions, and their legacies are always difficult to evaluate.
In this course, you will gain a better understanding of the modern world by studying some of the most important political revolutions that took place between the 17th century and today. You will seek to understand the causes of each revolution, analyze the ideologies that inspired the revolutionaries, examine revolutionary uses of violence, and consider how historical revolutions still shape contemporary politics. Close and critical readings of historical sources will be crucial in this process.
The course begins with a theoretical analysis of revolutions and a careful examination of pre-revolutionary Europe and the Enlightenment. Subsequent units examine the English Revolution of the 17th century; the American and the French Revolutions, which are often described as the crucible of modernity; the Mexican Revolution, which changed the history of Latin America; the Russian and the Chinese Revolutions, which sought to create Marxist states; the Iranian Revolution, which created an Islamic Republic; and finally, the Eastern European revolutions of 1989, which brought about radical changes without recourse to violence.
By the end of the course, you will be able to identify commonalities and differences among these revolutions and understand how--individually and collectively--they transformed the modern world.