Early Modern European Revolutions (Prompts, Questions, & Additional Bibliography) EIU His 5250, Fall 2011, Newton Key
7 pm, Coleman 2750
Syllabus as pdf (brief version)

week 1. Riot, rebellion, revolution
a. Introduction: Beyond Modernization (and Westernization)?

  • Questions
    • Why early modern? What is early? What is modern? (Does the early modern revolution exist?)
    • Why Europe? Compare and contrast westernization with modernization? (Is there a peculiar European or Western revolution?)
    • Why Revolution? Compare and contrast revolution and riot/rebellion/evolution? (Are historians comparative?)

week 2. Searching for definition

  • Response essay prompt
    • "Politics is a world of unintended effects, and our own century is littered with instances of counter-effective revolutions, so to speak: seizures of power designed to be popular entrenching the privileges of a ruling caste....
    • "The sober truth is that modern theories of revolution by now fail to account for many or most of the instances. Our theory of revolution is a fantasy of revolution. Perhaps all that helps to explain the waning fashion of the word itself." George Watson, "How Radical is Revolution?," History Today 38, 11 (1988): 43
  • Question for response essay
    • Are theories of revolution (as read or read about) necessarily progressive? If so, do their definitions of progressive differ? If not, how do they differ on this issue?

[ Arab Spring/London Summer Riots and Revolutions, 2009-2011: Metaphors for study of Early Modern European Revolutions?


week 3. The emic and the etic of early modern Revolution

  • Response essay prompt
    • "World history is filled with coups, revolts, and rebellions. It offers, by way of contrast, relatively few revolutions. The first is arguably the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish crown, beginning in the late sixteenth century....
    • "Three propositions have guided the comparative study of the five revolutions. The first asserts that political repertoires have included the phenomenon of revolution since the seventeenth century....
    • "The second proposition is that the use of power is more important than the seizure of power.... [R]evolutions go well beyond the seizure and consolidation of power....
    • "Thirdly, whether revolutions ever are completely finished, there are criteria
      by which a revolution may be considered a 'success' or a 'failure'.... A 'successful' revolution..., should do the following:
      1. it should provide for individual liberty;
      2. it should result in a flexible and open political system that can deal with economic, social, and cultural changes; and
      3. it should generate improvement in the well-being of those it affects." Michael D. Richards, Revolutions in world history (Routledge, 2004), 1
  • Question for response essay
    • Compare and contrast Tilly's and Zagorin's (to the right) definitions of revolution? Which might be more useful to analyze/understand the pre-modern (pre-1789?, pre-1689?) revolution? Which might the English during the 17th century deploy?

"A divine right of names does not exist, and definitions of phenomena are to be judged entirely by their clarity, utility, and convenience. For the comparative study of revolution...[,] I therefore propose to use the following:

A revolution is any attempt by subordinate groups through the use of violence to bring about

  1. a change of government or its policy,
  2. a change of regime, or
  3. a change of society, whether this attempt is justified by reference to past conditions or to an as yet unattained future ideal.

"In this definition, government refers to personnel, such as monarchs and ministers; regime, to the basic form and institutions of government; society, to social structure and stratification, system of property control, and dominant values....

"Far more revolutions have failed than succeeded, and, even when revolutionaries have gained power, they have rarely retained it for long or built durable regimes." Perez Zagorin, Rebels & Rulers 1500-1660 (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1984), 1: 17.

week 4. Running Riot

  • Response essay prompt
    • "Apparently in order to distinguish the American from the European crowds of the eighteenth century, historians have usually emphasized the middle-class character of the colonial mobs. 'It is evident,' Carl Bridenbaugh has written, 'that in American cities those who constituted the mob, so called, were far from being a mere "rabble" seeking bread....' Indeed, 'the contrast with the still medieval English mob is striking in that the colonial variety had in them always a majority of middle-class citizens and the approval of many more.'...
    • "[Yet,] George Rude..., [in] The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, I730- I848..., found the eighteenth-century English and French crowds to be unusually rational with a 'remarkable single-mindedness and discriminating purposefulness.' 'In fact,' he writes, 'the study of the pre-industrial crowd suggests that it rioted for precise objects and rarely engaged in indiscriminate attacks on either properties or persons.'" Gordon S. Wood, "A Note on Mobs in the American Revolution," William and Mary Quarterly 23, 4, 3rd sers. (October 1966): 636-8
  • Question for response essay
    • Does the concept of "moral economy" help link our concept of the crowd riot with revolution or separate the two?
week 5. Peasant revolts and popular politics in France and England
  • Response essay prompt
    • "Sometimes deliberately, but more often unconsciously, the crown drove a series of additional wedges between its potential opponents, through its manipulation of the machinery of privilege and exemption. This operated as between different towns and provinces, and between social groups. The ultimate result was a society full of anomalies and injustices. These, rather than the absolute burden of taxation, were the prime causes of revolt – yet they were also the reason why it could never succeed on a large scale. For all the tremendous bitterness and hostility royal policies aroused, their opponents mistrusted one another as much as they did the government. They also disabled themselves in advance, by using the convenient fictions of the king led astray by evil ministers and robbed by dishonest officials, which left them with no defence against direct assertions of the royal will." Robin Briggs, "Popular revolt in its social context," Communities of Belief: Cultural and Social Tensions in Early Modern France (1989), 175
  • Question for response essay


from M. Guizot, A Popular History of France (Boston, n.d.)

week 6. Does the Model apply to the English Civil Wars?

  • Response essay prompt
    • "`The English Revolution' ought to be entombed. It is a term made out of our own social and political discourse.... It gets in the way of enquiry and understanding, if only because it requires that change of all these different types goes forwards at the same pace, the political pace.... There never was such a set of events as the English Revolution." Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost, 3rd ed. (1983), 206-9
  • Question for response essay
    • What are words worth? Do the Revisionists have a point? Does the term revolution get in our way of understanding what happened in the 1640s? Or do any of the models of revolution (or other term) used by Cressy, Hill, Gaunt, Morrill, Underdown, or Manning help us make sense of the events? What evidence would help prove this one way or the other?
Adriaen van Stalbemt with Jan van Belcamp, A view of Greenwich (c.1632, detail)

week 7. England is revolting?: The incipient and the vestigial in the English Civil Wars

  • Response essay prompt
    • "By 1647...[the] demolition of the skyscrapers that had dominated the English skyline and th[e] blueprint for a brave new world appeared to presage the creation of a new, libertarian (and in the aspirations of some, egalitarian) political, social and religious order. Although it was not to be, these mighty events have seemed to many historians to parallel the slaughter of kings, the abolition of monarchy, the assault on inherited wealth and prescriptive privilege, and the challenge to organized religion, that constitute the essence of the other great turmoils of Western Civilization which are unhesitatingly accorded the accolade of Revolutions." John Morrill, in The Impact of the English Civil War, ed. Morrill (1991), 8-10
  • Question for response essay
    • Are radicals popular? Are early modern non-elites political? What evidence from the 1640s would help make your case?
  • revolution assignment two due

week 8. From Civil War to Revolution?

  • Response essay prompt
    • "Revisionists also encourage us to discern not so much radicalism and progressivism–the urge for change and innovation–as traditionalism, moderation and conservatism alongside neutralism, inertia, even apathy as the enduring characteristics of the political nation and of the broad mass of the English people alike. Ideology is played down in extent and profundity. Real radicals are few and even their radicalism is mostly mild and backward-looking, seeking a return to a Golden Age usually deemed to have existed before a Norman Yoke descended upon free-born Anglo-Saxons (the English) and their time-honoured institutions....
    • Fair enough. Such attitudes will readily be found if sought. But so perhaps can others. There is evidence throughout the Interregnum of discontents, sometimes bursting into violence more than verbal, which called for betterment, not just the preservation intact of old standards." (Ivan Roots, "Preface to the 1986 Edition," Puritanism and Liberty, 1938, 1974, 1986)
  • Question for response essay
    • Did radicals matter in the Revolution of 1649? Did, say, Levellers or Diggers influence the events of Dec. 1648 and Jan. 1649; or should we be looking at the motivations of the likes of Oliver Cromwell to figure out why what happened did?

week 9. Glorious Revolution as an archetypal revolution

  • Response essay prompt
    • "I question if in all the histories of empire there is one instance of so bloodless a Revolution as that in England in 1688, wherein Whigs, Tories, princes, prelates, nobles, clergy, common people, and a standing army were unanimous. To have seen all of England of one mind is to have lived at a very particular juncture." An apology for the life of Mr. Colley Cibber, written by himself (1740), quoted in W. A. Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 (1988), 240.
    • "2d December, 1688.... Bath, York, Hull, Bristol, and all the eminent nobility and persons of quality through England, declare for the Protestant religion and laws, and go to meet the Prince, who every day sets forth new Declarations against the Papists. The great favorites at Court, Priests and Jesuits, fly or abscond. Everything, till now concealed, flies abroad in public print, and is cried about the streets. Expectation of the Prince coming to Oxford. The Prince of Wales and great treasure sent privily to Portsmouth, the Earl of Dover being Governor. Address from the Fleet not grateful to his Majesty. The Papists in offices lay down their commissions, and fly. Universal consternation among them; it looks like a revolution." John Evelyn, Diary
  • Question for response essay
    • Was 1688-89 just a continuation of 1640-1660? Was it new-fangled?
Roger L'Estrange, The Committee; or Popery in Masquerade (1680)

week 10. Glorious Revolution: a constitutionalist, an idealist, a materialist, or a revisionist explanation?

  • Response essay prompt
    • "Parts of what eventually became the modern Whig interpretation of the Glorious Revolution are nowadays rightly dismissed as incorrect, misleading, and even, here and there, absurd. The idea that the people of England were united, or almost so, in dethroning James II, putting William and Mary on the throne, introducing religious toleration on the basis of parliamentary statute, or leaving the matter of constitutional checks as it was left, is, as "revisionists" have argued since the 1960s, seriously misleading. These things were, on the contrary, thoroughly divisive.... Yet, in the final analysis, it is arguable that it was not the Whig historians, such as Thomas Babington Macaulay and G. M. Trevelyan, but the "revisionists" who were the more mistaken in their overall assessment of the Revolution. For all the errors in the Whig view, a great deal remains ... which is still sound and valid." Jonathan I. Israel, editorial introduction to The Anglo-Dutch Moment: Essays on the Glorious Revolution and its world impact (Cambridge, 1991), 9-10
    • "There were three different revolutions in 1688-9. In England, where James had managed to alienate Tories and Whigs, Anglicans and dissenters alike, political consensus was sustained and the revolutionary settlement that was forged in the early months of 1689 was a legally conservative one.... More far-sweeping reforms were on the agenda.... Nevertheless, what was achieved in 1689 was sufficiently moderate and ambiguous that the Revolution could be interpreted in different ways by different people depending on one's political and religious outlook.... The situation was very different in Scotland.... The situation was different yet again in Ireland." Tim Harris, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685-1720 (London, 2008), 486-7
  • Question for response essay
    • In some ways, Lord Macaulay fashioned the Whig interpretation of history to make sense of the Glorious Revolution. Can we maintain a theory of revolution for the events of 1688-89 that is not subsumed within the Whig interpretation?
cardsplaying cards, circa 1689

week 11. The French Revolution I: A Liberal Revolution?

  • Response essay prompt
    • "Eighteenth-century historians had arrived at a picture of the past as a succession of economic eras, each marked by one leading `mode of subsistence.' Marx elaborated this into a series of `modes of production,' and identified a specific ruling class as the chief beneficiary of each in turn, until overthrown by a successor.... The latest system to appear was capitalism, still in Marx's lifetime struggling to extend its sway over Europe, by dint of `bourgeois revolutions.' It seemed to him, and it has seemed to many historians until lately, not Marxists only, that the perfect model for these had been provided by the French Revolution of 1789. It replaced the dominance of one class and its mode of self-enrichment with another; a landowning nobility was supplanted by a rival capitalist class....
    • "[But t]here is too little evidence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie coming forward to seize power.... It might be more true to say that the Revolution created the French bourgeoisie, than the bourgeoisie the Revolution." Victor Kiernan, "Marxism and Revolution," History Today (July 1991): 39-40
  • Question for response essay
    • Should we jettison the idea of a liberal, bourgeoise phase of the French Revolution before 1792 or can we save a stadial (stages) model?
Symbolic representation of the night of 4 August 1789 (from Richard Cobb, ed., Voices of the French Revolution, 1988, 79)

week 12. The French Revolution II: The Revolution is Over? (a radical phase?)

  • Response essay prompt
    • "There have been violent political upheavals as long as there have been political communities.... But only from the time of the great French Revolution have there been revolutions that sought not merely to change the rulers, but to transform the entire social and political system.
    • "The French Revolution originated revolutions in the modern sense and it was not until after it that people knew what revolutions were like. Its events echoed down the corridors of history. There were to be new Reigns of Terror, new incarnations of Robespierre and many another Marat." A. J. P. Taylor, Revolutions and Revolutionaries (New York: Atheneum, 1980), 17

week 13. So was there an English Revolution? Really?

  • Critique of colleague's introduction, outline, and bibliography due
  • Response essay prompt
    • "The official version of English history encourages a more unitary view. At the Restoration the commencement of Charles II's reign was backdated to Charles I's death in 1649 to create a fiction of continuous royalist history. The official volumes of the Statutes of the Realm excluded all of the legislation passed by the Commonwealth in its 11-year history. The 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688-9–which was neither glorious nor a revolution–was pasted over the earlier, bloodier and more revolutionary episode to make England's copy-book look clean. But a study of the period exposes the rift of the great divide within this comfortable pretence to unity." D. E. Kennedy, The English Revolution, 1642-1649 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 7

week 14. Final reports from the front

  • 12-Minute Reports (with five-minute critique from respondent)
  • Research paper due



requirements, papers, and exams

office hours


last modified on November 14, 2011