How to stage a revolution

Revolutions tend to be monumental personal upheavals that can remake whole nations, dismantling — often violently — old paradigms. Nevertheless the tales associated with the epic struggles that leave their mark on the world’s history are frequently delicate, precarious, and idiosyncratic in their details, leaving some crucial concerns just partially grasped: the reason why and exactly how do individuals overthrow their governments? How come some revolutions succeed as well as others fail?

These are not easy concerns, and, for 12 years, MIT students and professors have actually attempt to answer them in a study program that covers hundreds of years and continents.  

Course 21H.001 (How to Stage a Revolution, or Revolutions for quick) is an MIT history course that examines the origins, drivers, and complexities of exactly how governments fall. Co-taught the 2009 autumn by three historians — History Section mind Professor Jeffrey Ravel, connect Professor Tanalís Padilla, and Lecturer Pouya Alimagham — the semester is divided in to three components, with each instructor addressing, respectively, the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, in addition to Iranian Revolution.

Within a blend of lectures and breakout conversation sessions, students explore the reasons, techniques, targets, and considerable factors of each and every revolution, attracting insights from songs, film, art, constitutions, declarations, plus the writings of revolutionaries by themselves.

A wide-angle approach

The subjects covered this present year span hundreds of years, from the near-mythic French Revolution (1789–99) into the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) to activities which have emerged in students’ very own lifetimes, like the Arab springtime (2010-12). Alimagham brought the semester up to a close having a concentrate on the Iranian Revolution; having students start their exploration because of the roots of American input in Iran the second half of the 20th century, and tracking advancements to today’s western news narrative of Sunni/Shia conflict.

“Revolutions really are a amazingly great way to learn about a tradition,” says Quinn Bowers, a first-year student who took the chance to deepen their understanding of record being a parallel to his intended double significant in mechanical manufacturing and aerospace engineering. “Revolutions draw attention toward values the tradition keeps. This class did a lot to dispel assumptions I didn’t even know I had.”

For the next first-year student, Somaia Saba, the supplying leapt aside at the lady as she browsed this course catalog to prepare the woman first semester at MIT. By having an intended major in calculation and cognition (program 6.9), she was interested in the course by a fascination with major governmental transformations, “especially due to the tight political climate by which we’re currently residing.”

The freedom and exploration in essay-writing was a transformative knowledge for Saba; article prompts and composing assignments had never already been her preferred aspect of the class room. But, snagged by a brief mention in class about women’s roles through the Mexican Revolution, she found herself composing extensively about them, attracting on the personal attentiveness to women’s problems and functions in history.

“I did not realize the degree that these issues mattered for me until [seeing the professor’s] feedback on my article.” She also notes your course gave the woman means of thinking and analyzing that enable this lady to be more involved with existing governmental occasions.


How to Stage a Revolution can also be a chameleon training course in that its subject material fluxes from year to-year with respect to the expertise of this faculty trainers — an agenda that enables a venerable training course to cover numerous revolutionary records. 2 yrs ago, as an example, when Alimagham initially taught the program, working alongside MIT historians Caley Horan and Malick Ghachem, the course contains segments in the Haitian Revolution, the US Civil War (as America’s second change), and also the Iranian Revolution.

Not merely may be the training course continuously changing, Alimagham notes, but its three co-instructors are often adapting besides. “When you are involved in a team-taught training course which includes product in which you aren’t the main expert, you evolve being an instructor. It keeps you on the toes.”

Ravel agrees: “One advantage of co-teaching is the fact that we study from both. It’s a fantastic conversation among the three people.”

Ravel at this time functions as your head for the MIT History part, as president regarding the American community for Eighteenth-Century Studies, so when a co-director for Comédie-Française Registers Project, which is making a collaborative, considerable history of one of France’s iconic theater groups. “Co-teaching reminds me personally of just what it is want to be students once more,” reflects Padilla. “It tends to make me more sensitive to how students tend to be taking-in information that, in my situation, is second nature.”

Padilla is just a historian of Latin America as well as a factor to varied magazines and volumes surrounding the Mexican Revolution. Her existing guide project focuses on exactly how outlying schoolteachers “went from becoming agents of condition combination to activists against a federal government that progressively abandoned its commitment to personal justice.”

The technological contexts of revolutions

Like a quantity of other humanistic classes at MIT, how exactly to Stage a Revolution can be a hands-on “maker course.” Along with classroom lectures and discussion sessions, students produce posters on MIT’s Beaver hit, a student-built reproduction regarding the wood, handset printing presses on which the truly amazing documents of this Renaissance, the Reformation, and Scientific Revolution had been imprinted.

Carving linoleum publishing plates and inking all of them yourself, students use their academic understanding of various revolutions to create and create colorful pro- and counter-revolutionary posters. In a single printing, the evocative picture of the Mexican worker raises the Olympic rings between their hands like chains. An additional, the guillotine appears prepared with its victims nearby, showing a mounting demise cost, each head labeled correspondingly with Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.

Historic revolutionary narratives possess particular urgency in an MIT classroom: from dissemination of revolutionary emails via an eighteenth century printing press to changing fuel technologies on global social media that shaped the Arab Spring, the technological contexts of revolutions are intrinsic to comprehending all of them.

“Whatever we wind up performing within post-MIT everyday lives and careers will likely to be into the context of complex, real-world issues,” states Bowers. “This course sheds light on a number of the world’s many volatile issues.”

Tale by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and design manager: Emily Hiestand
Writer/reporter: Alison Lanier