Faculty of Arts


Revolutions, Ideas and Media


Revolutions are politics writ large, moments when political reality and political aspirations collide and erupt in often epochal transformations. This course considers the aspirations and the reality, examining the role of revolution as an immensely influential idea (whether dream or nightmare) and hugely consequential event (whether willed, determined or contingent). In particular it probes the notion of politics "writ large" – how revolutions have been shaped by the expression and circulation of ideas through print and other media. Books, pamphlets, photographs and films can supply evidence in reflecting on the role of ideology, agency, public opinion and political culture in revolutionary change.

The course’s approach involves elements of comparative historical analysis, political theory, history of political thought, political sociology and media analysis. The course begins with conceptual and methodological issues before examining particular revolutions, centrally those in seventeenth-century England, eighteenth-century America and France and twentieth-century Russia and China. This is followed by consideration of the demise of European communism and recent Arab revolutions as a preliminary to a concluding section, which asks whether fundamental political change remains desirable or possible in a twenty-first century context: does the dream still live, or has the nightmare ended? 

Purposes and objectives

By the end of the course you should possess: a broad comparative knowledge of a number of revolutions and detailed knowledge of aspects of these; an understanding of revolution and resistance as a theoretical and actors’ concept; an understanding of the interpenetration of ideas, agency and structural factors in revolutionary causation and process; knowledge of the role of the media in this nexus; an awareness of the contribution of historical revolutions to modern political culture; an appreciation of the "historic turn" and "linguistic turn" in the humanities and social sciences. 

You should also be better equipped to: think critically and with historical sensitivity about modern politics, political change, political ideas and the role of the media; demonstrate effective research skills, dealing efficiently and productively with a wide range of sources and information; use the spoken and written word to convey your understanding to an intelligent audience; work individually and within a group, displaying appropriate commitment to set tasks.

Course structure

Requirements:  The course will consist of 12 two-hour classes, most of which will include presentations by class members, in which part of the class can be led by the presenter(s). You are expected to attend all classes and contact me if you are unavoidably absent. Assessment will be based on two essays and on a report accompanying the presentation. 

Reading: Weekly readings can be found on Talis, and under "Modules" on Canvas. These provide a shared basis for learning and discussion, to which class members can add the benefits of their own research and reading. A list of further reading will also be posted on Canvas, and you should feel free to ask me for advice on reading, though at this level everyone will also be able to act on their own initiative in locating material (of an appropriately reliable and scholarly kind).

Flexibility: The course by its nature covers a substantial amount of historical and political ground. One of the tasks ahead is to render revolution manageable as well as intelligible by combining consideration of broad issues with more detailed studies. Class members are welcome to suggest and pursue particular areas of focus within the parameters required by assessment and overall course coherence. The emphasis is on the course being a collaborative venture in which we can share the scholarly labour and learn from each other.   

Availability 2020

Not offered in 2020; planned for 2021


Coordinator(s) Dr Geoff Kemp


POLITICS 740: 15.0 points

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