Week Eight: Signs of Crisis in a Guilded Age

Dawson’s definition of revolution is interesting. He states that “revolution is a claim of ownership on history” and “an attempt to shape a view of the past that organises power in the present” through inheritance or attributing meaning. Before the American Revolution, “revolution” was a much more literal word. Revolutionaries would want to “revolve” or revert back to the old method of operations because they were unhappy with a new government. I’d like to argue that American revolutionaries redefined this term as their government did not revert back to British rule pre-reforms that caused the revolution in the first place. This form of revolution took global hold, as France, Haiti, and eventually Latin America revolted under this new definition. To my understanding, in Latin America, the goal of revolutions was to create new governments that would better represent the population (or at least the population in power); whether they achieved this is a different question, but I’d say in the context of Latin America, revolution is definitely more of a “claim of ownership on history,” or on a time period in history where the revolution and its leaders is the most significant aspect, than Dawson’s other argument.

I believe some themes we brought up early in the term appear here again. Continuity vs change, for example, can be applied to revolutions. Earlier in the term we discussed if revolutions really change anything. Dawson argues in the lecture that politically, revolutionary governments often revert back to the past, but socially and economically a new order emerges. So perhaps both occur. The theme of “a past that hasn’t passed” appears here as well. Dawson’s evidence for this argument is the Mexican PRI, which claims an ongoing revolution through a series of reforms. Dawson also doesn’t want to outright state when the revolution happened, its beginning, its ending. He doesn’t want to limit it to within a certain time-frame as the ideologies still exist even today. “The claim ‘land and liberty’ never goes away” and is still a very dear part of many Latin American peoples’ values and heritage, though we may tend to otherwise see it just as history. This brings us back to another question: what is a revolution? Is it bloody and violent? Is it sudden and significant? Or is it a less dramatic, constant process of bureaucracy, protests, and reform? Are revolutions more common than we think, if we give the term a less rigid definition?

3 thoughts on “Week Eight: Signs of Crisis in a Guilded Age

  1. Carolina Miranda

    Hi Kelsey,

    I like how you related topics of this reading with past concepts we’ve discussed in class. I would suggest that after revolutions there’s a continuity of change; meaning the ideas and/or achievements of the revolutionaries continue to influence future generations and bringing more change. I think that not only both continuity and change occur like you said, but they occur because of each other (at least in some cases). I thought about that after today’s class in which we discussed when or how revolutions end, and if they and at all; I came to the conclusion that they don’t.

    (Did that make sense? I hope so)

    Great job 🙂

  2. elena faraci

    Hi Kelsey,
    I agree how revolutions are difficult to define, and how common they are depends on the definition one chooses. Before this class, I would’ve said that revolutions involve large, relatively fast changes to a government, such as a rebellion or war like the American War of Independence. But there are also revolutions such as the Scientific Revolution, which was a slow process that took place over decades or centuries, but was no less revolutionary in how it overthrew the old scientific methods and ways of thinking. I suppose any process that causes significant change to at least one area of society could in a way be called a revolution, whether that area is political, social, scientific, etc. Given that definition, revolutions could be considered very common.

  3. Magalee

    Hey Kelsey, Nice post- I enjoyed reading it! Just to play devil’s advocate, here is another way we could think about the intentions of revolutions in Latin America: while I do think that the intentions of the revolutions were PARTIALLY to better represent the people’s needs, maybe they were mostly about creating a kind of “power role reversal”. As in, instead of making things more equal for everyone, select individuals from disenfranchised groups wanted to be the ones benefitting from corruption, etc. as opposed to eliminating it in the first place. Maybe this is just what it evolved into, but I do feel that those might have been the underlying intentions all along.


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