Revolutions are tumultuous and transformative events that attempt to change human society… for better or for worse. Let’s look at the word itself. According to dictionary.com, the origins of the word date back to 1350-1400 A.D. stemming from the Middle English and Late Latin words revolucion and revelutio meaning “a rotation or a turnaround.” Mankind is constantly expanding and transforming. If you think about it, at some level, we are constantly revolutionizing. Whether it be ourselves, our families, our schools, our towns, our countries, our political structures, etc. Throughout time, as mankind grows, many of the transformations evolve into revolutions, usually sparked by some sort of violent act. All revolutions challenge the existing societal order; for example, the American Revolution of the 18th century sought to overthrow political authority. Others, like the Industrial Revolution, seek economic growth. All revolutions are unique to their locations, causes, and times. Since the beginning of recorded history mankind has constantly revolutionized cultures, societies, political systems, etc. However, all of these revolutions have different connotations. Let’s take a look at that aforementioned timescale of human existence, starting the with modern day 15th and 16th Century Europe. During this time, mankind attempted to capture the glory of the Greek and Roman Empires of the past by thinking about their history. It was during this time that instead of working towards a future goal, they looked back at their past and tried to emulate history. This historical introspection caused a shift in the conceptual understanding of science in the 17th Century. In the 18th Century these ideas morphed into a national interpretation of science, dominating the political governances and cultural ideals of intellectual societies (still mostly specific to Europe). This cultural shift in Europe permeated the globe throughout the 19th Century as technologies advanced and revolutionized not only the lives of the intellectual, high class, but also the lives of the working class. Just like the course name, revolutions are a continuum of change; they are the revolving door at which mankind expresses the need for systematic change.
One of my favorite poems (written by a German American poet named Arthur Guiterman called “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness”) captures the reality of the juxtaposition of human (and animal) power and the passing of time:
The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of matedons, are billard balls,
The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is Ferric Oxide, known as rust.
The Grizzly bear, whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.
Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf.
And I don’t feel so well myself.
This poem shows that human power has a time constraint. It depicts mankind’s need for change; in turn, sparking rebellion and discontent….