21H.001 | Fall 2013 | Undergraduate

How to Stage a Revolution


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 lectures / week, 1 hour / lecture

Recitations: 1 recitation / week, 1 hour / recitation

For this course, there are three instructors, each of whom leads a recitation.


21H.001, a CI-H subject, explores fundamental questions about the causes and nature of revolutions. How do people overthrow their rulers? How do they establish new governments? Do radical upheavals require bloodshed, violence, or even terror? How have rolutionaries attempted to establish their ideals and realize their goals? Have revolutionary outcomes ever matched initial expectations? To answer these and other questions, we will study three major examples of profound political, social, cultural, and economic transformation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. We will also compare these revolutions to the events that have unfolded in Egypt since the beginning of 2011. By the end of the course, students will be able to offer reasons why some revolutions succeed and others fail. Materials for the course include the writings of revolutionaries, declarations and constitutions, music, films, art, memoirs, and newspapers.




Class participation 20
Website forum posts 5
Writing assignments (four) 75

Class Participation: 20%

Your grade for class participation will be based on the following:

  1. Reading: You must complete all reading assignments labelled on the syllabus as “required” in time for the meeting with which they are associated, as indicated on the schedule. You are also required to bring with you to lecture / recitation a copy of any reading that has been assigned. Readings labeled “recommended” are intended for those who wish to read more on a lecture topic, or who want to consult more primary and secondary sources when preparing the four papers.
  2. Active participation: You are expected to arrive at your weekly recitations having completed all the reading and prepared to pose questions and to contribute actively to the discussion of the material covered that week. In addition to our regular discussions, we will hold two or three formal in-class debates for which each student will be required to contribute to an oral argument in a more structured format, as encouraged by the guidelines for the CI-H requirement.

Website Forum Post: 5%

During Extra Session 1 you will be required to post a response of 200–300 words to a topic that will be posted on the class forum.

Writing Assignments: 75%

There are Four required writing assignments for this subject; each will be 1250 words long. The first paper must be revised and resubmitted in accordance with the guidelines for CI subjects. The four papers and the rewrite will each count for 15% of your final grade. You are encouraged to consult with your recitation leader regarding your papers well in advance of the due date. You may wish to run ideas by your instructor, and / or show him an outline of your paper, a draft of the first paragraph, or a draft of the entire paper.

The Revision:

CI-H guidelines stipulate that one paper during the term must be revised and resubmitted. In order to catch any early problems as well as to allow time for thoughtful revision, you will be required to revise and resubmit the first 1250 word paper. You may consult with your recitation instructor regarding the rewrite, and you may also seek help at the Writing and Communication Center, as noted above.

Due dates for the writing assignments are as follows:

  1. Paper 1 (1250 words): Due Extra Session 2, between Sessions 5 and 6.
  2. Revision of Paper 1: Due Recitation 4
  3. Paper 2 (1250 words): Due Recitation 6
  4. Paper 3 (1250 words): Due Recitation 10
  5. Paper 4 (1250 words): Due Session 27

Suggested paper topics and guidelines will be distributed in due course. There will be no final exam.

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects. Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 5000 words of writing divided among 3–5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.

Statement on Cheating and Plagiarism. The web now hosts many sites which offer college level papers of varying quality on a variety of topics. We are well acquainted with these sites, and with others that offer detection services to professors. Buying a paper and submitting it as your own work is cheating. Copying sections from someone else’s print or online work into your own without an acknowledgement is plagiarism. MIT has strict policies against both activities that we will fully enforce. For the appropriate MIT definitions and policies, visit the following website. If you are uncertain about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please contact your recitation instructor before submitting the work in question.

Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students


Recitation sessions are marked with an R. There are also extra sessions, marked with an E, where there is a special activity or assignment due. These sessions are outside of the normal class schedule.

1 Introduction  
R1 The 2011 Revolution in Egypt  
E1   Forum posting due
Unit 1: The American Revolution, 1763–1783 (Professor Wilder)
2 The American Revolution and the Problem of National History  
3 Britain’s Fatal Triumph: The English Colonies, 1754–1765  
R2 Recitation: Ethnic Cleansing in Modern Warfare  
4 Race and Revolution: Slavery and the Roots of Colonial Independence  
5 A Manifesting Destiny: Transforming Colonists into Americans  
E2   Due: 1st Paper
6 A Violent Transfer of Sovereignty: The Birth of the United States  
7 The New American Nation in a Turbulent Atlantic World  
R3 Recitation: Is Revolution Contagious?  
Unit 2: The French Revolution
8 The Origins of the French Revolution: Local and Global Issues  
9 The Principles of 1789  
E3 Class dinner  
R4 Recitation: The Parisian Crowd in 1789 Due: Rewrite of 1st Paper
10 The Collapse of the Monarchy and the Terror, 1791–1794  
11 A Cultural Revolution?  
R5 Recitation. Religion and the French Revolution  
12 Endings and Beginnings  
R6 Recitation: Comparing Revolutionary France (1789–1815) and Revolutionary Egypt (2011–2012) Due: 2nd Paper
Unit 3: The Haitian Revolution, 1784–1804 (Prof. Ghachem)  
13 The Making of a Caribbean Plantation Colony: Slavery and Slave Revolts before the Revolution  
14 How did the Revolution in Haiti Begin? (I) The Free People of Color  
E4 Class dinner  
R7 Recitation: Debating the “Causes” of Revolution  
15 How Did Revolution in Haiti Begin? (II) The Slave Revolts  
16 Final Freedom? The Abolition of Slavery in Haiti  
R8 Recitation: Who Abolished Slavery in Haiti?  
17 The Road to Independence: Toussaint Louverture’s Story  
18 Achieving Statehood: Haiti Among the Powers of the Earth  
R9 Recitation: The United States and the Haitian Revolution  
Unit 4: Outcomes, Theories, Comparisons
19 From Radicals to Conservatives: The United States after 1802  
20 The United States from African Colonization to Indian Removal, 1816–1838  
R10 Recitation: Race and Revolutionary Nation Building Due: 3rd Paper
21 The Marxist Interpretation of the French Revolution  
22 Panel Discussion: Hannah Arendt, “The Social Question”  
R11 Recitation: The 21st Century: Global Meanings of the French Revolution  
23 Guest speaker: Yasmine el Rashidi  
E4 Consultation with Instructors  
24 Comparing the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions  
25 Authoritarianism, Poverty, and Foreign Intervention: Explaining Modern Haiti  
R12 Recitation: Violence, Freedom, and the Atlantic Revolutionary Tradition  
26 Revolution Today: Faculty and Student Discussion  
27 Conclusion and Student Evaluations Due: 4th Paper

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments