Cindy Ermus and Bryan A. Banks are the co-founders of the new Age of Revolutions blog. We spoke to them about the blog and growing excitement over the Age of Revolutions as a field.
Can you briefly describe the Age of Revolutions blog?
Bryan Banks: The idea of blogging as part of the writing process has intrigued me for a while. Cindy and I canvassed a variety of academic blogs—like The Junto, Borealia, and Notches—for basic ideas concerning this medium, its organization, and the ways it might facilitate discussions amongst scholars. We are both most familiar with the historiography of the French Revolution, which has increasingly become interested in transnational links and global comparisons. My own work on French perceptions of Protestantism during this time period has followed much the same pathway, extending out into the Atlantic World and encountering a number of revolutionary traditions. The Age of Revolutions theme then seemed ideal for us and the site.
Cindy Ermus: Part of the objective here is to create a community for scholars from around the globe who are interested in revolutionary studies. This is a place where they can bring their ideas and their research and help stimulate new dialogues. We are all confronted, every day, with revolution—whether we are living in the shadow of a political revolution (as so many humans are today, in the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, Cuba, Central and South America, parts of the Middle East, etc.), or whether we are simply witness to the word “revolution/ary” being tossed around in the media, advertisement, and so on. When Bryan called me up with the idea of launching a site like this, I really couldn’t say no. It was time, I thought, to give these discussions a home. An ambitious objective perhaps, but an important one.
How do you define the “Age of Revolutions” for the purposes of your blog?
Banks and Ermus: There is no easy definition for the “Age of Revolutions.” The phrase alone is so capacious that it lends itself to ever expanding definitions. The traditional Age of Revolutions encapsulates the years between 1750 and 1850, but as a casual visitor to our site will notice, we expand that definition much further. We have looked back to the Glorious Revolution and we have zoomed all the way to the present. In a way, we too live in an “Age of Revolutions.” The rhetorical use of revolution is ever-present. We are interested in the both the traditional time period, but also the word “revolution,” and revolutionary moments.
There seems to be a renewed energy among scholars of revolutions in the recent past. Is this true, and if so why might that be?
Banks: As the recent AHA showed, scholars have brought revolutions into global perspective. The “global turn” has reinvigorated the field and has encouraged a renewed interest in the comparative study of revolutions. It seems to me that this renewed energy comes from the multivalent use of the term “revolution” today. Revolutions are no longer synonymous with a set of ideological concepts like, say, democracy. This has also allowed us to look at other movements—driven by a variety of ideologies (i.e. democratic, monarchical, communist, secular, or theocratic).
Ermus: I think there is also an increasing interest in the idea of revolutions, tied perhaps to the uncertainty of our times. Those of us who study revolutions know that climate change and extreme wealth inequality have helped foment revolutions in the past. We also have democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders calling for a “political revolution,” and Republican candidate Donald Trump espousing his own vision of a revolutionary transformation of the American social and political landscape. Perhaps this renewed interest stems from a widespread sense of uneasiness tied to modern-day crises? Nevertheless, I’d say the comparative study of revolutions is both highly topical and necessary.
What kind of intellectual community do you envision the Age of Revolutions blog to be? Is it fundamentally different from the many other ways that scholars communicate? (i.e., scholarship, social media, scholarly associations, etc)
Banks: Ideally, our site will foster a diverse intellectual community, reaching scholars and general public readers whose interests might vary greatly. In short, we want to foster cross-disciplinary (drawing together scholars focusing on different time periods and geographies) and interdisciplinary dialogue (linking the work of historians, literary critics, political scientists, geographers, and so on) in an accessible way that an H-NET site or professional associations/conferences might preclude. Since our over-arching theme is the Age of Revolutions and the concept of “revolutions” more broadly, we are hoping to attract those whose focused research and general interests might be on revolutionary figures or moments that are normally not included in the more traditional set of revolutions—i.e. political and social revolutions like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and so on.
Ermus: I would just add that one of the advantages of blogging as a medium is that it allows us to contribute to current and ongoing discussions, issues, current events in a more immediate and efficient way. One of our goals with this site is to serve as a vehicle for scholars to comment on current issues as they happen, without having to undergo the formal and (much) longer-term publication process.
What future plans or ambitions do you have for your blog?
Banks and Ermus: We are currently working on a links page for the site, which will be a hub for teachers and scholars looking for primary sources, bibliographies, and other sites that feature content related to revolutions. We are hoping that this will further discussions between scholars and provide a valuable teaching resource. In the future, we also hope to follow the lead of other blogs like The Junto and Notches that have hosted roundtable sessions on their site focusing on single readings or central questions. While we might be the primary editors, we are also interested in the input of other scholars, so let us know if you have suggestions.