“Revolutions are the locomotives of history,” wrote Karl Marx.

As the ongoing turmoil of the Middle East reminds us, revolutions have the power to reshape the political order of the world more than any other social, economic, or cultural forces. Most states today were born out of a revolution. But what exactly is a revolution? Is it, like Marx believed, the inevitable result of a social conflict? Or does it take determined revolutionaries to make a successful revolution? To have a revolution, do you have to call it “a revolution”?

To answer these and other questions, this course will take students back to the early revolutions of seventeenth-century England, and the revolutions of America and France. We will then make our way through the revolutions of the nineteenth century, to the great revolutions of the twentieth century in Russia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, and Iran. We will conclude by considering the recent revolutions in the Middle East.

For their papers, students will have the opportunity to study one revolution in greater detail, or compare a set of revolutions. They can also explore the description of revolutions in literary or artistic works.