Core vs. Derivative Revolution

The false opposition of core vs. derivative revolutions that makes some revolutions into “world-historical events,” which are seen to be the generators of ideas replicated on a more national level in other places

In introducing the term “core revolutions” we mean to denote revolutions that scholars working across a number of fields identify as being central to understanding a particular historical moment, political concept, or development in artistic or humanistic representation. The scope and identification of core revolutions changes according to the period or epoch in question. Thus, for historians of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, the core revolutions of the period are understood to be the trio of American, French, and recently, Haitian revolutions. A number of nineteenth century European and American revolutions also unfolded during this period, a fact that contributes to the period from 1763-1848 being defined as the “Age of Revolutions.” Yet these other revolutions are often studied and measured as derivations of the American, French, and Haitian revolutions. Thus, while there are variations in the geographical and temporal span of the “Age of Revolutions” concept, scholars who work on the period generally share the notion that the significance of the age comes from the global transformations that resulted from these three core revolutions. Similarly there was no shortage of revolutions in the twentieth century. Scholars of the twentieth century, particularly those working on comparative studies of revolutions, usually single out the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions as three revolutions that initiated alternatives to a capitalist vision of society and economics. These core revolutions are hence seen as originating a wide spectrum of historical concepts and developments that have come to define the twentieth century such as nationalism, human rights, communism, Leninism, and sovereignty.  Revolutions that come later are marked, though not explicitly, as derivatives of these original revolutions.

Here, we ask: To what extent is this division a historiographical one and to what extent is the division a product of political theory or sociological groupings? In other words, how might the division be a construct of disciplinary procedures and how might we approach the question from an interdisciplinary standpoint? Rather than try to deconstruct or dismantle this unspoken binary, the session will focus on avenues of inquiry that such a binary has both made possible but also closed. For example, our session will look at questions of revolutionary reverberations (such as those of Algeria, Bolivia, and Iran) and trace global concepts that were born out of these revolutions with an eye towards expanding our conceptual framework for studying revolutions.