A Seventh Revolution Around the Sun

By Bryan A. Banks

There is no escaping the present as one studies the past. This is a lesson historians have learned at least twice this past year. The first came with The New York Times’ “Haiti Ransom Project,” which provided a signal boost to a historical atrocity that historians have known about for a long time – that is, that France held Haiti hostage until an indemnity was paid for the “properties” enslavers had lost. The result was an impoverished Haiti imprisoned by its own debt and held down by neighboring countries (the United States, especially). Historians responded. Mary D. Lewis complicated the picture the NYT painted by noting that it was the French merchants who first called for recognizing Haiti as a state, not the former enslavers. We might then understand the indemnity levelled against Haiti as a “bone” they threw to former colonists while they (re)built their “commercial empire.” While historians took umbrage with the historical facts, Paul Cohen added to the conversation in his Age of Revolutions piece by reminding readers of the virtues to which  a happy marriage between journalism and history can lead.

While the first flashpoint for the history discipline fore-fronted disciplinary incongruities at best and a deep indifference towards the expertise of historians and scholars of Haiti, the second was an attempt at calling out “presentism” in the field. American Historical Association President James H. Sweet bemoaned what he likely continues to see as the impact of identity politics on the historical discipline. The backlash was swift and came from a number of different directions, but what all of Sweet’s detractors shared in common was akin to the balance Cohen called for in his piece. Historians need to engage with the public and addressing present concerns is arguably the most fruitful way of doing so. Take these two case studies then. The first is a case of journalists ignoring and effacing historians in their pursuit to bring history to the present, and the second is a case of a leading historian telling those journalists that historians should not be consulted. Here, a disconnect exists that Age of Revolutions is built to bridge. Age of Revolutions publishes pieces meant to connect to the present and add some much-needed historical perspective, but we also publish significant research with contemporary connections that help advance the study of revolutions and shape specific questions related to revolutionary pasts. This past year, for example, we have published pieces on historical accuracy in video games (See Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall’s great piece on representations of Haiti in video games or Thomas Lecaque’s pieces on Empire: Total War, which dealt with the role of slavery and holy war).

Since many of our contributors are also educators, it has made sense to foster conversations about teaching too. We started our “Teaching Revolutions” series in 2016, and have continued to publish in it ever since. In this past year, we published five pieces on teaching, ranging from innovative classroom research projects (see Tom Ewing and his students’ work exploring US newspaper coverage of the assassination of Emperor Alexander II of Russia or my introductory assignment that teaches students to think spatially with Google Earth) to complete classroom overhauls (like what Jason Daniels did with his American Revolution course during the pandemic). AoR is a staple of classrooms at more than 250 universities around the world. Educators use our open-access publications to teach students about the past, but others use AoR to teach students specific skills too. For example, Erika Vause uses Age of Revolutions to help students learn how to read secondary sources.

None of this would be possible without our editors. We said goodbye to three great editors this past year. Javier Puente and Blake Smith stepped down as content editors, and Angus Brown served in our newly minted social media editor for a year. Amanda Waterhouse joined us as our twentieth-century Latin American history replacement for Javier. She is also an amazing editor for our “Teaching Revolutions” series. Samiparna Samanta also joined the team to help us cover India and the larger British Empire. Kacy Tillman, Katlyn Marie Carter, Erica Johnson Edwards, Rob Taber, Jeff Burson, and Zachary Stoltzfus continue to make AoR the vibrant space that it is. We are incredibly grateful for their work, their incredibly valuable insights, and their collegiality.

Age of Revolutions is always growing and changing. We are happy to announce the addition of five new editors to the site. They will bring their expertise and creativity to help us continue our mission of bringing new and engaging content, free of charge to the world. Carrie Glenn is an expert in colonial Haiti and the Haitian Revolution. She will be assuming the role of our social media editor in the coming weeks. Itzel Toledo García is an expert in twentieth-century Latin American and European history and will help us expand our coverage. Molly Nebiolo is a historian of vast Early America and a scholar of Digital Humanities. Her strengths are readily apparent, and we invite more contributions on both subjects. Samantha Wesner is a historian of the French Revolution and science. AoR has always been strong with the former, but we have not cultivated as many conversations about how science intersects with revolutionary change. Last, but certainly not least, is Megan Maruschke. Megan is an experienced author and editor, whose work spans the globe.

Our expanding editorial team reflects the incredible growth in readership we have seen each year and the growing number of contributors. Conversations on the history of revolutions, revolutionaries, and the idea of “revolution” itself will continue evolving and we remain committed to sharing interdisciplinary research of the highest caliber with our audience. We have been doing so for 7 years, and we are excited to see what the next year brings!

Title image: Incendie du Cap Français : le 20, 21, 22 et 23 juin 1793 ou 2, 3, 4 et 5 messidor an I.er de la République, 1802.

One thought on “A Seventh Revolution Around the Sun

  1. Brian et al, thanks again for doing so much to build up this resource. I though I would add a word here to say that I find the material particularly useful in teaching, precisely because the breadth of topics, the depth of argument in the works published and the short format. This current semester I once again assigned students (in this case in an intermediate level course entitled “Thomas Jefferson and the Atlantic World” to select an article that in some way touched on our course content and make a presentation to the class. The results were excellent, because despite the wide range of abilities and interests among the students, all of them could find an article in which they had an interest and which they could understand. The presentations led to interesting class discussions. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

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