Author: Sarah Taft

The Final Lecture: Defining a Revolutionary

Our final lecture this semester was given by Marcos Perez, a Professor of Sociology here at Colby. Professor Perez continued to discuss the sociological and anthropogenic factors of a revolution that Professor Peterson mentioned the previous week, as he talked about what being a revolutionary means. His point that there are many ways of talking about what it means to be revolutionary really caught my attention, especially as we are at the end of the semester and these discussions about the word Revolutions’ meaning and reality. Early on in his lecture, Professor Perez reminded us that a social revolution is defined as a profound transformation in the way that a society is organized and ruled that creates change throughout history. This framework has appeared in multiple discussions this semester, but what he said about the experience of being revolutionary was especially unique. Professor Perez posed the question what is it like to be at the front line? Why do some engage and some not? I had yet to consider these ideas, and I’m now wondering if you really have to be at the front line to be revolutionary.

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Do We Really Want to be Revolutionary?

Colby’s Professor Kieth Peterson contributed a very unique and interesting perspective to what we already covered in the Continuing Revolutions talks this semester. The idea that “We Have Never Been Revolutionary” was definitely a fairly new one after looking at the different avenues that we have considered revolutionary this semester from scientific to social development. Although I found myself slightly lost, at certain times, in Professor Peterson’s substantial philosophical knowledge and analysis, I thought he made a lot of very interesting challenges to the concept of being revolutionary. The part of his lecture that stuck out the most to me was the point he made about the cultural aspects of being revolutionary. He made the point that, by definition, being revolutionary is considering yourself to be different, and better, than those who came before you. Specifically with westerners and expansion in America, it was definitely the case that westerners saw themselves as superior to the Native Americans, and even other settlers, in the country before them. The european settlers did completely go against and redefine the social institutions in place at that time, but is this mistreatment of others really something we want to consider revolutionary? How revolutionary is it to have a country like the United States resting on a foundation of violence and dominating of others?

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The Forgotten Revolution of 1804

The Haitian Revolution was not only revolutionary in its events and what it lead to, but also in how it was completely left out of historical records. This lack of consideration that surrounds the Haitian revolution embodies a powerful event that can completely redefine our modern notions of liberty and equality. Professor Jeremy Popkin from the University of Kentucky used the French and American Revolutions to compare and bring to light how equally important yet completely neglected the Haitian Revolution has been and still continues to be from general knowledge. Nobody even used the term “Haitian Revolution” until recently despite the fact that bringing this point in history into the picture would lead to a completely new way of thinking about the United States and what these revolutions all mean together.

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Defining Revolutionary (or not so revolutionary) Monuments

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp of Harvard University discussed monuments and how a monument can sit on a thin line between being a revolutionary or an uncomfortable symbol. In his research and evidence he presented multiple examples of monuments and set up his presentation in a way that made it clear where the room for error comes from with the huge physical structures that are most monuments around the world. Monuments, while not uniform in physical form or expressive content, have the power to express and memorialize something that is revolutionary to something. However the issue with the revolutionary power embodied in these structures that most individuals fail to consider is what kinds of revolutions should and should not be memorialized in these structures?

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Visual Value in the Data Revolution

The data revolution was defined by the changing of thinking about how scientific thought should be presented and justified. Professor Aaron Hanlon discussed the evolution of the literal word “data” and how its role changed from the 1600s to present day. Early on in his lecture, he explained how so much of data and scientific study goes back to Francis Bacon, the father of imperialism and the royal society. The Royal Society was created specifically for the advancement of experimental science and the changing narrative around scientific explanations. Individuals were combatting the social institutions in place by arguing that they needed to test and experiment things. They no longer could continue to simply shape what was known about the world they were living in based on arguments that individual scholars presented.

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Conquering Ideological Thinking – The Next Revolution

Colby College’s Professor Judy Stone continued our conversation on Darwin’s revolution last week (10/25/) with her look at how Darwin’s iconic depiction of evolution is misleading in at least three core ways. The first being that the image (below) depicts evolution as ladder like rather than a branching system. Secondly, this image depicts evolution as a process that moves towards this ideal, perfect, end goal. Lastly, the iconic image defining darwin’s revolution reinforces typological thinking where this one individual is representing an entire species. Darwin overthrew central paradigms in developing his theories which was extremely revolutionary in itself. It’s very impressive how much scientists like Darwin during his time had to overcome to have their ideas be accepted. What was revolutionary was the power in darwin’s force interjecting into society to present these theories and push his work further despite the lack of acceptance and interest around it. Professor Stone’s findings and commentary on this depiction are revolutionary in that they not only bring to light the issues with such a  well-known and highly regarded depiction, but they also call to light the main streams of misinformation that are still present throughout our society today.

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ReThinking the Darwinian Revolution and its Connection to Others

So far in the continuing revolutions course we have heard a whole range of revolution stories from elements of the scientific revolutions, to environmental revolutions, and even social/artistic revolutions. All of the speakers have demonstrated how a revolution is no streamlined, cookie cutter event, but instead can embody an enormous range of social impacts, cultures, academics, communities,  results, etc. Janet Brown’s lecture last Thursday (10/6) on Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution not only embodied an enormous amount of detail and interesting conclusions, but it also brought to light a few common threads that have run through all of the speakers we have heard from so far.

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From Revolutionary Pamphlets to Social Media

The way of the future is that governments will be more fearful of social media’s power than that of the tabloids (if they aren’t already). Mr. Albaih, through different prompts and questions, explained how social media was revolutionary for people like him in the Arab world during a time of such isolation. He compared social media to the revolutionary pamphlets that were used in New England during the revolutionary war, and he explained how the internet was the only place people could find refuge from the propaganda surrounding them. The internet was the only door that the government had left open to individuals like Mr. Albaih, and as he said himself, they simply had no idea what they had done.

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Tele-Connectivity: A Potential Revolution

The idea of tele-connectivity that Professor Gillen D’Arcy Wood highlighted in his talks last week is one that has the potential to be revolutionary in today’s society. The Tambora eruption was a very significant event that didn’t just affect the island it was on. It spread and cascaded across the globe affecting an enormous range of human affairs and environments. The lack of connection between the eruption and the environmental events that followed left a looming gap of understanding, and the resilience and well-being of countries throughout the world suffered as a result. Professor Wood’s idea of tele-connectivity is one that pushes students and individuals to consider historic events in relation to the natural events that were happening around them.

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The Scientific Revolution: why we should change “the” to “a”

The 500 year period starting around the mid-sixteenth century that marks The Scientific Revolution should be considered a scientific revolution, the starting point for many revolutions to continue from, and not the singular scientific revolution. Most people have some idea of what The Scientific Revolution was, but they rarely question how revolutionary this period truly was. The Scientific Revolution created a foundation for scientific thinking that was profound in it’s development but was not the most revolutionary event to occur. The Scientific Revolution created a completely new approach to thinking and considering the world around us, but the way natural sciences have developed and evolved today is hard to compare to those of the first Scientific Revolution.

The Scientific Revolution should still be considered “a” revolution, because it both challenged the institution of thought in place and and created a starting point for revolutions to continue from. In his lecture, Professor Cohen highlighted how a revolution can be broken down into two aspects: a revolt against a certain institution or a revolving movement. Scientists during this period were not destroying a structure of scientific thought in place before them, but instead they were building it. They provided facts and evidence that, while not as adequate or impressive today, provided unimaginable information to the world. Galileo, for example, completely defied religious institutions when he proposed the heliocentric model. Scientists today have further developed Galileo’s findings and theories in ways that have stretched even farther (almost literally into the universe), and these developments in astronomy and other sciences are equally as revolutionary. Religious standards and institutions, as first scientific developments began to solidify, were not accepting to new logic that proved their reasonings and explanations incorrect. This defiance of religious institutions is what makes the revolt aspect of The Scientific Revolution.

Furthermore, The Scientific Revolution represents a central point in time that science now has continued to evolve from. The simple creation of new standards was extremely revolutionary about early scientists arguments like Aristotle. What was really revolutionary was how these scientists like Aristotle set legitimate  scientific arguments in stone. Many of the changes in science that made the period so revolutionary wouldn’t be considered very scientific by today’s standards, and that is why this period should be considered “a” scientific revolution that fueled many more singular spirals from it.