ASU course shines light on common threads of the 'Atlantic Revolutions'
CEL 375 examines the American, French, Haitian and Latin American revolutions of 1776–1826
Even though they are more like apples and oranges, historians and politicians have long succumbed to the temptation to compare the American and the French revolutions. But it is far more important and interesting to examine what they had in common, together with their sequels in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“It’s only recently that historians have admitted that the American, French, Haitian and Latin American revolutions at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries were not discrete historical episodes, but formed a kind of chain, one leading to the other,” said Kent Wright, associate professor in Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.
Today, he explained, one of the most popular trends in historiography is to explore how these revolutions were related to one another, at the levels of economics, politics and ideology.
In fall 2022, Wright will introduce students to what historians now refer to as “The Atlantic Revolutions” in CEL 375 Politics and Leadership in the Age of Revolutions, 1776–1826 (class #94802, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30–11:45 a.m.).
“CEL 375 is a hybrid, interdisciplinary course with different aims," Wright said. "Students will build a solid introduction to the historiography of the period, for which we will use Wim Klooster’s new edition of his ‘Revolutions in the Atlantic World,’ a synoptic survey of the entire set of Atlantic upheavals. We will also focus on the political thinking of the era — not just the famous essays and treatises by the likes of Montesquieu and Rousseau, Paine, Burke, Wollstonecraft, de Staël and Constant, Guzman and Marina — but also the flood of declarations, of independence and rights and constitution-making that accompanied the revolutions.”
This is the founding moment for modern politics, the epoch that gave birth to democracy and republicanism, nationalism and imperialism, conservativism, liberalism and progressivism, feminism and abolitionism, roughly as we still know them today.
— Associate Professor Kent Wright
The turbulent period from 1776 to 1826 was marked by revolutionary uprisings in the Americas and Europe overthrowing aristocracies, kings and the established Catholic church, and the spread of new ideas.
"This is the founding moment for modern politics, the epoch that gave birth to democracy and republicanism, nationalism and imperialism, conservativism, liberalism and progressivism, feminism and abolitionism, roughly as we still know them today," Wright said. "While I’m a little skeptical about the idea of ‘leadership’ as an object of scholarly study, if there were ever an era in which to pursue it, the age of revolutions would be it."
In CEL 375, students will consider the topic of "charismatic leadership" by reading David Bell’s recent survey “Men on Horseback: the Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution.” They will then examine biographies, and each student will have the opportunity to study classic and recent biographies of leading figures of the era: Washington, Adams and Jefferson; Danton, Robespierre and Napoleon; Toussaint Louverture, Miranda, Bolívar, O’Higgins and San Martín, to list a few.
Wright has taught at ASU for nearly 28 years. Before joining the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at its creation in 2017, he taught first in the interdisciplinary humanities program, then in the History Department, where he served as both director of undergraduate students and head of the faculty.
A native of Michigan, he did his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he specialized in modern intellectual history in general, and the era of the Enlightenment and French Revolution in particular. Wright is the author of “A Classical Republican in Eighteenth-Century France: the Political Thought of Mably” (Stanford). He is completing a book for Cambridge, “The Revolutionary Atlantic, 1750-1830,” and at work on two others: “A Bright, Clear Mirror: the Enlightenment in Modern Thought” and an intellectual biography of Montesquieu. He has published numerous essays, articles and book chapters on Montesquieu and Rousseau, as well as on 18th- and 20th-century European historiography. From 2011 to 2014, Wright also served as editor of the journal French Historical Studies.
Wright's class integrates the fall 2022 list of courses offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The school combines philosophy, history, economics and political science to examine great ideas and solve contemporary problems. Courses such as Comparative Political Thought, Tocqueville: Problems and Prospects of American Democracy, and Globalism, Nationalism and Citizenship prepare students for careers in fields including business, law, public office, philanthropy, teaching and journalism.