Category: September 6

Whose Revolution?

One of the primary questions for this class is, “What constitutes a revolution?” I would like to take this question a step further by asking, “Who gets to say what constitutes a revolution?” Professor Cohen had the slides at the ready, prepped for the inevitable questioning of the Eurocentrism of his presentation. While he may have minutely quelled the intrigue, the question remains: Who gets to say what constitutes a revolution? What revolutions do we teach and who are the leaders of said revolution? Professor Cohen resolved that what really came from the Scientific Revolution was “a revolutionary metaphor,” and he admitted that “winners get to write history,” but with this reflection, do we not have the control over how we get to teach history? Why allow the non White Christian men to be sidelined when there is the potential to center them? As we delve into the question of “What is a revolution?” I think it is only proper to examine the current Academy’s potential for revolutionary acts of pedagogy. Will we revolve around the Eurocentric pedagogical approach, or will we revolt against the continual erasure of Othered thinkers?

In my examination of revolutions, identity, pedagogy, and power in this presentation, I want to underscore the danger in assuming an “objective body of knowledge” without asking the key questions of “whose revolution?” and “whose world view?” After all, what is modernity and who claims it? Growing up, my education centered the Medieval world view without much acknowledgment of the multiplicities of world views. There continues to be an assumption that the Medieval world view is “our” world view, is the world view; what is more, these assumptions birth ethnocentric comments that the “West is the best” and so on. I believe Professor Cohen subtly highlighted these assumptions as he spoke of the attempts to overthrow Aristotle. In this dissection, it is clear the intellectual hierarchies as Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo sought to become the “great authority.” They presented what they believed to be “objective bodies of knowledge.” Moreover, as we think about the ways power shaped the Scientific Revolution and our perception of it, I would like to point out the Biblical underpinnings of Professor Cohen’s presentation. As Professor Cohen articulated, we speak of the Scientific Revolution as if it is unique–like a creation story. It serves as this period of 1572-1704 in which we often think of the current dominant understanding of how the world works to be invented, and thus the inventors or creators of these stories become a prophet. Newton is  Adam. These great authorities deliver the laws, as if some greater force thrust the knowledge (and thus the power) onto them.

Yet, if what Professor Cohen is true–that the fundamental background came from Pagans, Jews, and Muslims–then when are we going to dismantle the creation story as it stands? When are we going to give credit where credit is due? And why are we still upholding hierarchical historic academia when we have the potential and the capacity to at least question the benefits of giving and seeking “great authority” because of academic discovery? Ultimately, as we study the Scientific Revolution I find it helpful and important work to think about the revolutions that have not happened. Those that are imbedded in the creation stories, the scientific stories, the exclusionary stories. Those that have the potential to be, to create new metaphors and new meanings, if only we are willing to admit that none of us exist in a vacuum, and to use the term a “great authority” may be neglectful of all the collaboration and creation inherit in knowledge making.

The Revolution Continuum

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….

                                             a revolution.