Revolution is a major change in thoughts, ideas, systems, lifestyles across a certain body. Revolutions usually present these new ways of being in contrast to an older way of being. Revolutionaries present their ideas as the next step in evolution and define them as being better than previous ideas.
This nature of revolution is seen in revolutions across cultures, times, and mediums. The revolutionary thinker Karl Marx recognized this in the Communist Manifesto when discussing the history of class antagonisms. He acknowledges that the modern capitalistic system was born out of the ashes of the feudal system as capitalists began to destroy the old ways of trade and commerce. He proposed an even newer way of market organization that sought to eliminate all class distinctions as the proletariat working class would rise up and seize control of their labor. The Scientific Revolution also sought to bring upon the Western World changes in the fundamental organization of the universe that were seen by scientists of that era as being the future of modern thinking. These changes radically changed how we understand the way the universe works and our position in it.
Furthermore, revolutions, specifically political and cultural revolutions are often cyclical in nature. If a revolution seeks to dismantle an idea or system that once held power, it is only rational that the revolutionary idea will then hold power. For understanding this facet of revolution, Marxist thinking is once again exemplary. The Communist Manifesto describes the cycle of power as one of class conflict that keeps recycling the class in power for a new one each time a new economic system is introduced. Ironically when Marxism was put into place in major nations such as Russia and China, it ended up replacing the bourgeoisie elite with a government elite. Thomas Jefferson summarized this phenomenon fairly succinctly when he stated, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Speaking of blood, revolutions often consist of violence and death. The revolutionary feeling that one’s idea is superior can lead to radicalization. Civil war is often the result of many political revolutions. Sometimes these acts of revolution can lead to horrendous atrocities against those demonized by the revolutionaries. These atrocities can be seen in events such as the Reign of Terror and the Thermidorian Reaction during the French Revolution, the Great Purges and famines during the Russian Revolution, the Rwandan Genocide during the seize of power by the Hutu military in Rwanda, and the Holocaust as part of Hitler’s Nationalist-Socialist revolution in Germany. Of course not every revolution contains atrocities but it is a very common characteristic.
Although it is cliche, every revolution starts with the individual. All individual actions make up a group action. Revolutions as a collective of individual actions can be seen in the dress of a revolutionary. Items such as the pantalons, the Guy Fawkes mask, and Doc Martens are all examples of how a revolution starts with the individual body. To determine whether or not something is a revolution, one must look at the wake of change a revolution creates inside the boundaries it has established for itself. A personal revolution only made by one person in an attempt to change something about themselves would not be judged on the same standard as a major political revolution. On the other hand however, the Civil Rights Movement in America would be judged on the influence it had on the social progress of America as a whole.
Lapham, Lewis. “Lapham’s Quarterly: Revolutions,” Spring 2014.
The humanities are works of art, literature, film, or music that grapple with the experience of being human and the emotions and complexities that come along with that. The humanities have existed ever since the beginning of the human race, with cave paintings being early forms of human expression. Over time, the humanities expanded to encapsulate many different forms of human expression and thought such as literature, poetry, philosophy, visual art, music, photography, filmmaking, dance, as well as many others.
In context of the idea of revolution, the humanities have a special property in that they can reflect revolutions and be revolutionary in their nature. Many works of self expression and thought have reflected on current, revolutionary ideas during their time, but many works have also become revolutionary themselves. For example, a book like Les Miserables takes the background of the June Rebellion in 1832 and shows the effects of France’s social situation at the time on different characters. However, works like Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto have the power to become revolutionary.
The same idea is found in the art form of photography. Photography has a very special power as it is able to capture reality and reflect what is happening in the world, including social and political revolutions. In tandem, photography can also drive revolution. First of all, photography is a revolutionary art form. No previous visual art was able to portray the world quite like photography. Through this power, the reflections of revolution seen in photographs can also drive revolutions forward. Pictures can be rallying cries, propaganda, or memorials. They can let the world know of the revolutionary cause.
The humanities and revolution are forever intertwined. This portfolio presents several examples of revolution being reflected in the humanities and the humanities driving revolution. It is designed to be explored!
The Humanities is the formal field of study around the works of art, literature, film, and music. This study is very important because it allows us to better understand the world and how we interact with it.