UPDATE: New blog post with reflection on additional resources and framing such that Black Lives Matter.
This page builds on a blog post outlining rationale for World History teachers to globalize our framing of the “Age of Revolutions” in the Americas, Caribbean, and France, c. 1760-1850. Essentially, telling students that people like the Jamaican maroon pictured here needed ideas from European salons in order to act on their desire for freedom and equality colonizes their revolutions. Click here to jump to resources.
In the post I outlined three steps for decolonizing my classroom coverage of the Age of Revolutions. The first two could fill the first two periods of a unit on this Age. I see the last as framing source-based discussions that continue through the unit. These can be expanded or contracted based on student capabilities and instructional time.
- Center Haiti, since it brings together Enlightenment and non-Enlightenment elements. Alternately, the Tupac Amaru rebellion or another indigenous or Caribbean revolution, could be the keynote.
- Complicate the Enlightenment, by explaining how European rationalism cut both for and against human equality in thought and politics
- Globalize coverage, with at least one other set of revolutionary action from Africa, the African diaspora, and/or indigenous America
Day 1: Center Haiti
The Haitian Revolution has become increasingly prominent in World History classrooms during my teaching career. As such there a lot of great results available. I love how this short graphic-history of the Haitian Revolution opens the narrative with the voices of Haitians: “There is a Vodou song in Haiti that recalls the Middle Passage.” Noted historian of Haiti Laurent Dubois, who wrote the text, presents Enlightenment ideas and the French Revolution as context, not causation. Students can read this on the first day of the unit and generate questions to guide their inquiry into an “Age of Revolution.” The narrative could also form the basis of discussion of what does it mean to be “revolutionary.” List of resources below includes more useful material for teaching the Haitian Revolution.
Alternative: Center the Tupac Amaru rebellion in colonial Peru.
Day 2: Complicate the Enlightenment
European ideas of the Enlightenment do form an important dimension of the context for the Age of Revolutions. But, I want my students to see the paradoxes of the Enlightenment while learning about the revolutionary impact of the ideas. The slides below outline the key paradoxes for students. Students could read excerpts from key Enlightenment texts from Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, and/or Kant as part of this. The point is for students to see that European Enlightenment thinking had many different relationships to revolutionary events. This is an open historical issue. They can and should draw conclusions based on evidence. Link here to the slides below.
Classical music, such as Haydn’s string quartets, uses rational patterns that compliment discussion of European philosophy of the Enlightenment.
Ongoing: Globalize Coverage
Students need to understand the basics of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions and the Latin American wars of independence. A simple chart can do the trick. In my AP World History class students do this through text book reading. Include a key document from each:
- American Declaration of Independence
- French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen;
Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Olympe de Gouges’s criticisms of the patriarchal nature of the French Revolution
- Haitian Declaration of Independence
- Simon Bolivar’s “Jamaica Letter”
Organizing Question: To what degree did the Enlightenment shape the Age of Revolutions?
The key: instead of digging into the details of one or more of the revolutions, students expand conception of the Age of Revolutions through comparison.
Using primary and/or secondary resources students explore at least one of the revolutions beyond the four events above. Then, students compare this revolution with one of the four main examples. An online discussion in small (7-8 students) groups could be efficacious, as many will need substantial wait to work through the examples and analysis. Students’ initial posts would compare two revolutions and their relationships to the Enlightenment. Ongoing discussion brings in other revolutions. Students would close the discussion with an overall thesis on the role of the Enlightenment in the revolutions. Alternately, this could be a series of face to face discussions in small and/or large groups. Here is a screen shot of the prompt for the first run through this assignment. Students from two schools are in groups of seven or eight.
I will update this section, and welcome suggestions.
- Bronwen Everill on “Demarginalizing West Africa in the Age of Revolution”
- Jihad States, c. 1800,
- Paul E. Lovejoy, Jihad in West Africa during the Age of Revolutions, 2016, e book.
Brazil and the Caribbean
- Age of Revolutions blog posts on Caribbean revolutions
- Vincent Brown’s website on Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-61 includes descriptive text and interactive maps. Marissa Rhodes and Sarah Handley-Cousins discuss Jamaican rebels and maroons in the Dig podcast episode above.
- Vincent Brown’s 2020 book Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War frames slave rebellions and maroonage in Jamaica and the Caribbean as part of an trans-Atlantic war.Brown wrote an article for Time magazine that is appropriate for the high school classroom.
- Dig history podcast episode: Rebel Slaves and Resistance in the Revolutionary Caribbean, includes a useful summary of the Haitian Revolution and discusses resistance in Barbados, Jamaica, and Martinique.
- Liberating Narratives #MondayMap double header showing maroon communities and slave revolts
- “Quilombo: Brazilian Maroons During Slavery,” Cultural Survival Quarterly.
- “Where Slaves Ruled,” National Geographic article on a maroon community in Brazil, includes great photos.
- New-York Weekly Journal, March 11, 173, article reporting slave revolt in St. John, Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands)
- Tom Zoellner, “Jamaica on Fire: Haiti and the Problem of Inspiration,” Age of Revolutions. 1831-1832 revolution in Jamaica that led to abolition of slavery in the British empire.
- Marlene Daut, “The Wrongful Death of Toussaint L’ouverture,” History Today. Includes audio of the article, 23 minutes.
- Laurent Dubois Aeon essay arguing that Haiti should be at the center of the Age of Revolutions.
- Online graphic history of the Haitian Revolution with text by historian Laurent Dubois and illustrations by Rocky Cotard.
- “The First Ayitian Revolution,” Crystal Eddins connects marronage and indigenous resistance from initial European settlement through the Haitian Revolution.
- Egalite for All: Toussaint L’ouverture and the Haitian Revolution, PBS documentary, Laurent Dubois consulted on script and appears on screen.
- Julia Gaffield’s website on sources and resources for understanding Haiti and the Atlantic world includes a translation of the Haitian Declaration of Independence, which she brought to light after years without public knowledge of this document (a fascinating story in and of itself). The site contains other useful resources for students and teachers. Bonus: Dr. Gaffield’s Twitter bio includes Lego figures of Toussaint L’ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
- Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, “Teaching About Haiti in World History: An Introduction.” World History Connected.
- James Sweet, `”New Perspectives on Kongo in Revolutionary Haiti,” The Americas, January 2017. Sweet uses an interesting source to shed light on Kongo influences in revolutionary Haiti.
- “Who was Toussaint L’ouverture?”, a primary-source based lesson on this website.
Complicating the Enlightenment
- American Philosophical Association, “Anton Wilhelm Amo: The African Philosopher in 18th Europe,” Blog of the APA, 8 February 2018.
- Jamelle Bouie, “The Enlightenment’s Dark Side,” Slate. 5 June 2018.
- Sebastian Conrad, “Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique” in American Historical Review (AHA member access)
- Yarom Hazony, “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment,” Wall Street Journal. 6 April 2018
- Dag Herbjørnsrud, “African Enlightenment: The highest ideals of Locke, Hume and Kant were first proposed more than a century earlier by an Ethiopian in a cave,” Aeon. Discusses Anton Amo and Zara Yacob, mentioned in comment below.
Indigenous North America
- Colin Calloway’s chapter “Red Power and Homeland Security: Native Nations and the Limits of Empire in the Ohio Country” in the book Facing Empire contains a useful summary of Pontiac’s Rebellion starting on p. 145 (Google ebook preview does not include this chapter).
- The editors of Facing Empire–Kate Fullager and Michael A. McDonnell–blogged about the book on the invaluable Age of Revolutions site, as part of a series on “Native American Revolutions.”
Indigenous South America
- Liberating Narratives blog post on centering Tupac Amaru in the Age of Revolutions
- On Top of the World history podcast episode on Tupac Amaru and teaching the Age of Revolutions. Includes Dave Eaton and Matt Drwenski explaining that Andean rebels opposed Spanish reforms linked to Enlightenment ideas.
- Charles F. Walker, Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru, 1780-1840. Beginning of chapter 2, pp 16-18 (Kindle location 381) provides an overview of the Tupac Amaru Rebellion.
- Walker is also the author of a graphic history, Witness to the Age of Revolution: The Odyssey of Juan Batista Tupac Amaru, with illustrator Liz Clarke
Latin American Independence
- Duncan Riley, Ciudadanos: Constructing the nation at the margin of the state in Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico, 1846-1870 , undergraduate thesis, 2019
Please consider supporting Dr. Yvette DeChavez who has written about the need to decolonize our syllabi and created the wonderful image below. Available on shirts, posters, and bags.
2 replies on “Lessons and Resources for decolonizing the “Age of Revolutions” in the World History classroom”
Hello – I really appreciate this blog in which you share so many useful ideas. I’m teaching World II for the first time and I’ve found many helpful tips here to decolonize my district’s Eurocentric curriculum. With that said, I wonder if you have included Anton Wilhelm Amo or Zera Yacob in your study of the Enlightenment? Some sources suggest that these African philosophers may have influenced European philosophes. I included them in our study of the Enlightenment as a weak/first attempt to make it more multicultural, along with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
Thanks for the suggestion and the kinds words, Katerina! I have heard of Amo and Yacob, but have not included them with students. But, I should. I just added a link to an article on Aeon about how they fit into the Enlightenment above.