The Haitian Revolution and the Origins of Modern Democracy was presented by Jeremy D. Popkin is the William T. Bryan Chair of History at the University of Kentucky. He focused on the years 1776, 1789, 1804. The events he described are over two hundred years ago yet the term “Haitian Revolution” has been used only in the past few decades. From the Haitian revolution we learn that how significant the Haitian Revolution is and how we consider revolutions when comparing it to American and French revolutions. What truly stood out to me throughout the lecture was Bryan’s ability to relate the events discussed to today’s classrooms.
The first lecture of the Continuing Revolutions seminar was about “The Scientific Revolution”, by Dan Cohen. The main idea of the lecture was actually proof-checking whether that event that we so proudly call the scientific revolution was that special after all. In order to answer this question we primarily have to actually be sure we know what do we mean by the term revolution. Revolution represents a sudden radical change in absolutely new direction that affects an enormous number of people who are not interconnected. Now, what Cohen successfully explains in his lecture is that we should not take things we hear for granted, but question them, not for the sake of the argument or just to spite the others, but in order to check if a certain statement is true or not. Even John Stuart Mill has come to this conclusion in his book “On Liberty”. He states that if something that is taken as a truth is not questioned or is protected from questioning, it becomes a dead dogma where the truth actually loses its strength because the ones who believe in it, believe in it without actually understanding why they think that is truth. It is important to notice that here we do not talk about the revolutions that might exist on the personal level and whether they can actually be called revolutions, as that is a completely different discussion.
So, was “The scientific revolution” the, scientific or revolutionary?
As it was shown during the lecture, many scientific parts of this revolution were not exactly that scientific. The scientists of that time had many bigot perspectives and have actually not made any experiments (something essential to any scientific process), but just tried to support the hypothesis they had in any possible way. They actually even ridiculed the scientist who, as we can see now, were right the whole time. That was the time when it was more important who you were and who supports than what you were saying. Continuing further, we can see that there were many different events in our history that can be seen as more important for the scientific community than the one we call “The one”. The difference does exist between them: Only The revolution took place in the western world, while when the major mathematic discoveries were created together with incredible advances in medicine much before this revolution in Arabic world, for example, nobody even thought of calling that “The one”. Following this argument, one can say that The scientific revolution was not even that revolutionary, as some of the things were only rediscovered by the western scientists – in other parts of the world knowledgable people knew about those things long time before that.
Nevertheless, The scientific revolution was definitely an important time in the history of mankind, but was not necessarily the only time when changes of that kind were made, or when the changes of that size were made. The truth is, however, that the history is written by the winners and we all know who colonized the rest of the world – white male christian western European. Thus, what these people have considered to be the most important remained written in the history books that we read now as the most important, even though it did not have to be. Hopefully, we learned from that and are ready now to appreciate revolutions wherever they are, just for the sake of their utility and impact.
Dr. Kerry Emanuel’s talk on Revolutions in Climate Science showcased the many individuals whose efforts contributed to the development of the field. His collection of little revolutions made me question the limitations of the word ‘revolution.’ If the field of climate science came about due to multiple simultaneous revolutions, can one concrete set of revolutionary criteria explain all of the changes in the field?
Emanuel traced the roots of modern climate science back into the 19th century through multiple other fields. Advancements in fields including geology, physics, and chemistry all contributed to the development of climate science. Taking out any of those important contributions would render the future of climate science in a different way, but can each moment be counted as revolutionary? Is it possible to pinpoint one discovery or contribution as THE revolutionary moment, the spark of the revolution?
Perhaps a revolution is best considered on a large timescale, something like 300 plus years. Viewing the development of climate science as one continuous revolution means that it is in a constant revolutionary state. How does one pinpoint the exact moment of revolution? After all, each discovery is built on the thoughts, ideas, and coincidences that came before, building up a sequence of knowledge.
According to theorist Thomas Kuhn, paradigm shifts occur in scientific theory after a critical mass of new data or ideas constitute enough evidence to overturn the previously held beliefs. Under this conception of science, the development of any field is a series of revolutionary changes. If we apply this mode of thinking to climate science, what are the paradigm shifts? It is difficult to identify them from the overview that Dr. Emanuel gave, although he undoubtedly would be able to identify them.
In contrast to the increasing specialization of many fields, it seems that climate science is continually dependent on information from many different disciplines. In order to account for all of revolutionary moments in climate science, one would have to document all of the small moments in all of the fields that lead to the intellectual growth of the scientists and the public growth of perception surrounding the information.
Dr. Emanuel really made me think about all of the small moments that went into the lives of all of the scientists who collectively developed the field. Perhaps pinpointing a revolution is beside the point. A revolution does not need to have a distinct beginning or end. The climate scientists of today have a vast history to look back on, a long, revolutionary history, which gives legitimacy to their field in the face of the doubts that some have against their work. It truly is a continuous revolution. Who knows what the next phase of the revolution will hold?