Seminar Topics

Session to explore the genealogy of other seminar “keywords” including rights, liberty, sympathy, and equality, tracking the evolution of these concepts through time and across space.

  • Doris L. Garraway (Northwestern), “On Liberty and Sovereignty in the Haitian Revolution and the Early Haitian state"
  • Eliga Gould (University of New Hampshire), “The Greater American Revolution and the Problem of Dual Sovereignty”
  • Lynn A. Hunt (University of California, Los Angelese), “The Invention of Revolutionary Time”

Explores the where of revolution in North America, the Caribbean, and France. To what extent was each revolution, as is often asserted about France in particular, an urban phenomenon—indeed a pedestrian affair that unfolded on streetscapes and in coffeehouses? What did the revolutionary cities of Boston, Paris, London, and Cap François share and how did they differ? In what ways did the upheavals of the late eighteenth century reshape relations between ports and their hinterlands around the Atlantic? We will explore as well the imagined geographies of revolution in visual culture, fiction, and the press.

  • James H. Johnson, Boston University
  • Mark Peterson, University of California, Berkeley
  • Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Virginia

Field trip exploring the contemporary residue of eighteenth-century Boston and the presentation of the public history of the American Revolution. To what extent do attractions such as the Freedom Trail and the Boston National Historical Park present the “Cradle of Liberty” as an Atlantic and imperial city—with connections to Britain, France, and the Caribbean—versus an incipient crucible of United States nationalism?

  • Martin Blatt, Inez Wolins, Eric Hanson-Plass, National Park Service
  • Nathaniel Sheidley, Bostonian Society/Revolutionary Boston

It is a critical commonplace that late-eighteenth-century revolutions were enabled by an emergent public sphere of print and conversation in forms as diverse as journalism, broadsides, pamphlets, and engravings and in institutions from the coffeehouse and the club to the theatre. This session will invite us to consider the materiality of circulation as well as the circulating material itself. What kinds of texts, words, and images gained revolutionary traction? How did revolutionary leaders manipulate public opinion, and how did the public in turn re-direct the terms of engagement? How have literature, art, and film reshaped our understandings of the age of revolution over the past two centuries? And what can we learn by considering the parallel role of social media in today’s revolutionary movements?

  • Marlene Daut, Claremont College
  • Trish Loughran, University of Illinois
  • Jeffrey L. Pasley, University of Missouri

Symposium followed by seminar session, to explore the figure of the heroic individual in stories of revolution from the eighteenth century to the present. How have the eighteenth-century revolutions been populated (with heroic martial men, for example), depopulated (of children, the enslaved, most women, and other dependents), and repopulated over time? How and why do certain figures stay in focus—George Washington and Marie Antoinette, for examples—while others crucial at the time recede? Centered on the intersections of biography and history, this session asks big questions about the relationship of the individual to longue durée historical events. We also investigate the age of revolution on a human scale, exploring new ways to recover the intimate history of empires and nations. Will begin with an afternoon public panel discussion.

  • Kathleen A. DuVal, University of North Carolina
  • Amy Freund, Texas Christian University
  • Emma Rothschild, Harvard, Cambridge University

The revolutions of the eighteenth century touched virtually every aspect of public and private life from the pursuit of knowledge to the marking of time to the rearing of children. This session will ask how revolution changed everyday life, often in lasting ways, and indeed how daily life was pursued under the multiple pressures of war, scarcity, and fear, on the one hand, and fervor, solidarity, and possibility, on the other. We will also ask how ideas of nature and natural rights informed the revolutions and fostered new scientific projects from pyrotechnics to metrics to mechanics and consider why so many leaders of revolution from Franklin to Marat were also scientists. We will look at primary materials from life stories to recipes to understand the material necessities and ingenuities of the time.

  • Deborah Jenson, Duke University
  • Mary Ashburn Miller, Reed College
  • Ashli White, University of Miami

Boston’s extensive public art collections, particularly those of the Museum of Fine Arts, are rich in revolutionary-era paintings, artifacts, and engravings. We will organize a curated tour of these holdings with special emphasis on the extensive Colonial and Early Republic collections of the MFA’s new transnational Art of the Americas wing and on the French Revolutionary holdings in its European collection. This session will allow us to explore convergences and conflicts both between neoclassicist and romantic forms and between aesthetic and ideological aims as art became marked by the political struggles of the time. We will also consider the different ways that portraiture, caricature, and history painting figured in each revolution's distinctive iconography.

  • Erica Hirshler, Museum of Fine Arts

Symposium and seminar session to center on arenas where revolutionary thought and practice reached their limits, particularly where matters of race, class, gender, and religion were concerned. How did proponents of new world orders in France, Haiti, and the United States define and delimit the boundaries of citizenship? How did slavery shape ideas of liberty, and vice versa? When and where were the vaunted “rights of man” gendered as opposed to generic? Did the age of revolution expand or limit the freedoms of women, individuals of African descent, Native Americans, and other subject peoples? How were the limits of our three central revolutions replicated or revised by the revolutions that followed? Will begin with an afternoon public panel discussion.

  • Christopher L. Brown, Columbia University
  • Suzanne Desan, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Malick Ghachem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Counterrevolutions and Counterrevolutionaries. Jumping off from a recent burst of revisionist scholarship on loyalists in the American Revolution, this session focuses on those actors and ideologies that belie the overly neat binaries with which we commonly divide proponents from enemies of revolution. We will explore shades of radicalism and reaction in all three of our central cases, deconstructing the notion of “counter-revolution,” and analyzing the fate of revolutionary counter-narratives over the last two centuries. The session will also explore the contours and effects of revolutionary diasporas extending from Canada to the Caribbean to Africa

  • Ada Ferrer, New York University
  • Philip Gould, Brown University
  • Marie-Hélène Huet, Princeton University

The flood of scholarship and public fanfare around revolution during the U.S. and French bicentennials exposed distinctive and shared sticking points of revolutionary historiography and representation. Reminding us that “revolution” can still mean repetitive motion, this session will identify recurrent problems in the study of revolutions, not least the tendency of historiography to reinscribe the dynamics of revolution itself: oppositional thinking, partisan investments, the minimizing of contradictions, “class wars” around revolutionary legacies, and a tendency to make heroes and villains of the age’s complex figures. We hope to loosen some of these knots by drawing on our previous sessions and asking how new methods and new resources can change the terms of scholarship and perhaps redirect popular representation. This session will also investigate historiographic trends, asking, for example, why scholars have lately eschewed the study of causes in favor of the study of consequences.

  • Julia Douthwaite, University of Notre Dame
  • Edward G. Gray, Florida State University
  • Jeremy D. Popkin, University of Kentucky

This session will attempt a reckoning of the age of revolution, and of our three core revolutions, as seen from the multiple vantage-points of the proletarian movements of 1848 and 1917, the civil rights and student movements of the 1960s, and especially the current moment, where “Arab spring” and “Occupy” arguably constitute revolutions but where the word “revolution” has also been debased into advertising copy and heritage harmony. Most importantly, we will ask how the age of revolution did and did not reshape rights, representation, the global economy and the political map, and we will ask what cultural work eighteenth-century revolutions are performing today.

  • Howard G. Brown, SUNY Binghamton
  • Laurent Dubois, Duke University
  • Jill Lepore, Harvard University

By approaching revolutions comparatively and within their broader historical and international contexts, by addressing limits and sticking points and by shifting the tendencies of current inquiry, we hope the seminar will have been charting promising new paths for revolutionary scholarship that each participant can take up within the contours of her or his own field of interest and expertise. Rather than invite guests speakers, we will devote this session to the fruits of our individual and collective labors by featuring presentations from participating fellows, students, and faculty. These might be fleshed-out research projects or simply paradigm-shifting proposals, but they will offer a collective opportunity to test new work in a setting where participants will have created a cohesive as well as diverse intellectual community. Collaborative projects may also emerge from this session.