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Disguised as demographic analyst and historiographical innovator, Philippe Ariès launched his own clandestine attack on modernism twenty-five years ago. As a demographic analyst, he carried on a series of perceptive interpretations of typical French populations and their evolution from the eighteenth century onward: Parisians, miners of the Northeast, villagers of Touraine, Bretons, southerners, dwellers in the Alps all paraded past his eyepiece. As an historiographical innovator, he provided a way of inserting demographic material directly into history. In 1946, that was a daring thing to do. Ariès also showed how family portraits, wardrobes, textbooks and other antiquarian paraphernalia, long condemned to supply the comic relief for serious history, could become evidence of the deepest, longest transformations of social life.
Since the time of the two Fredericks—Engels and Le Play—the history of the family has served as a vehicle for social criticism. That is as it should be: The way we relate our current family lives to our understanding of the past defines who we are and who we ought to be. The analysis may unfold as Art: as an effort to recreate the experiences of living in different sorts of families. It may proceed as Science: as an attempt to trace reliably what changed and why. Or it may take the form of Politics: the drive to establish who was responsible for changes in the family and whose interests those changes served. For Lasch, the history of the family is mainly Politics, with a dab of Art. Science—or, as he thinks of it, pseudoscience—is the enemy. Stone writes history chiefly as Art, although he is not adverse to the trappings of Science when they serve his purpose.
A quick comparison of characteristic British struggles in 1758 and 1833 will show how greatly the predominant forms of popular collective action changed during the intervening 75 years. That change sets a research problem that I have been pursuing for many years: documenting, and trying to explain, changes in the ways that people act together in pursuit of shared interests—changes in repertoires of collective action. This interim report has two complementary objectives: first, to situate the evolving concept of repertoire in my own work and in recent studies of collective action; second, to illustrate its applications to the experience of Great Britain from the 1750s to the 1830s. It will do no more than hint, however, at explanations of the changes it documents.
This article conducts an analysis of public meetings in Great Britain between 1758 and 1834. The profound changes in frequency and character, the enormous increase of public meetings and the sharp decline in the relative frequency of violent gatherings, serve as an indicator of the expansion of the public sphere and its capacity to shape the social process. The article explains the rise of the public meeting and why it became so central to British political life during the nineteenth century through four intertwined changes: the development of British capitalism, the growing importance of Parliament, the multiplied opportunities for political entrepreneurs, and the effect of public contention itself.
In the years after 1500, the whole human family came into contact for the first time in thousands of years. For millennia Amerindians, Eurasians, and Polynesians had developed separately from one another with no knowledge of the existence of other members of the human race. Then in a few decades around 1500 long-lost peoples rediscovered one another. Amerindians and Europeans who had existed independently for at least 14,000 years suddenly came into contact. This same encounter occurred at many points throughout the world.
Within decades Europeans, Americans, and Asians were involved in a gigantic exchange that forever affected their menus and their agricultural life. Mineral and agricultural products crossed both the Atlantic and the Pacific in massive quantities, transforming production methods and daily consumption. From the Americas, Europeans imported turkeys, cranberries, potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco. Asians obtained maize, peanuts, chili peppers, and most important, silver and gold in exchange for porcelain, silk, and tea. From Europe, Amerindians learned about horses, apples, barley, coffee, and wheat. Not all exchanges were productive. Crab grass comes from Europe as well as measles, malaria, cholera and bubonic plague, while smallpox devastated previously unexposed populations of the New World and Asia. From America came syphilis and hepatitis.
Lu Xun (1881–1936), China’s most famous modern writer, was born in the small market town of Shaoxing, near Shanghai. In 1901 he went to Japan, intending to become a doctor. In his medical school class, he saw a slide of apathetic Chinese bystanders watching the execution of a Chinese man by Japanese soldiers during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Shocked by their passivity, he concluded that China’s most deadly disease afflicted the spirit, not the body. He returned to China, resolving to become a writer to rouse his people from their deadly slumber. In “Call to Arms,” his first short story collection, he described with great sympathy and insight the foibles of ordinary Chinese folk following time-honored customs, nearly oblivious of the worldwide crisis that surrounded them. In “Diary of a Madman,” whose title is borrowed from the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, the writer suddenly realizes that the basic principle of China’s classic civilization is “eat people.” Ah Q, Lu Xun’s most famous character, blithely walks to his own execution without ever knowing why he joined the cause of revolutionary nationalism. Lu Xun and his colleagues particularly stressed the need to free women from the straitjacket of traditional morality so that they could participate actively in making the new nation. Lu Xun organized the League of Left Wing Writers to mobilize Chinese writers in the service of revolutionary nationalism. Lu Xun’s mood constantly oscillated between high hopes and black despair. He died in 1936, hoping for China’s national unification based on radical social revolution, defying his own repressive government and the imminent threat of Japanese invasion.
Events of the year 1989 astonished the whole world. The usually sober 200-year-old political yearbook Annual Register began its 1989 edition with these breathless words:
If 1988 saw peace breaking out in various parts of the world, 1989 was even more remarkable as the year in which the Iron Curtain was lifted in Europe, with a rapidity which left most pundits gasping. Not only was the infamous Berlin Wall thrown open to divided German people; also, one by one, the East European communist regimes which had sustained the post-1945 continental divide succumbed to the irresistible forces of awakened democracy. That this historic transformation occurred in the bicentenary year of the French Revolution has a symbolism which appealed to many.
Early in 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its last official armed forces from Afghanistan, where it had been battling American-backed military forces for nine years. In other events of that vibrant, violent year, Chinese troops suppressed pro-democracy uprisings in Beijing and many other cities, a South African president who pledged to end white racial domination took office, his government ended years of South African opposition to the independence of neighboring Namibia, and Iran’s religious leader pronounced a death sentence in absentia against author Salman Rushdie for his book Satanic Verses.
We conclude with a discussion of two critical issues: global terrorism and global warming. Both of them threaten to harm huge numbers of people, and both have roots far back in the human past. The greatest recent terrorist threat, that of al-Qaeda, derives directly from the imperial domination of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but al-Qaeda's supporters find their inspiration in the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Yet only the globalization of the late twentieth century made al-Qaeda's actions possible.
Global warming is a more subtle, but equally dangerous trend which, if nothing is done to avert it, will bring catastrophe to hundreds of millions of vulnerable people. It is a direct result of global industrialization since the nineteenth century. Scientists have carefully documented the warming of the planet over the past century, but the nations of the world have so far only taken very small steps to address this vital threat to human existence.
On September 11, 2001, members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four transcontinental airliners taking off from Boston’s Logan airport. They crashed two of them into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City (see Figure 1). The explosion of the gasoline in the airplanes incinerated the twin towers and their occupants. The third plane crashed into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth plane, probably intended for the White House, brought it down in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in these attacks. The boldness of the al-Qaeda attacks stunned and horrified the world. Never before had so many civilians been killed by a deliberate attack on American soil. President George W. Bush vowed to make a War on Terror the theme of his administration.
Nur Jahan (1577–1645) was born Mihr al-Nisa. Her extended family was from Tehran, in Iran, and they emigrated to Mughal India. When she turned 17, she was married to a Mughal military man of Iranian heritage. He became involved in political intrigue and backed the wrong candidate for the throne, and was executed. He left her a daughter, Ladli.
A widow, Nur Jahan came to the court in 1607 to attend on one of the great women of Emperor Jahangir’s harem. The imperial harem comprised some 5,000 women, most of whom were neither wives nor slave-girls of the emperor, but rather servants and artisans attending on the ladies. It was a complex small city, wherein brilliant, accomplished women played a special sort of politics, and could use it as a base to gain power even in the male-dominated world outside. In 1611 Emperor Jahangir held a large celebration of the Persian New Year, Now-Ruz, which falls on the first day of spring, and there he first saw Nur Jahan. She was reputed to be gorgeous, and he soon decided to marry her. It was he who gave her the name Nur Jahan (“light of the world”). Nur Jahan proved an energetic queen and hostess, taking charge of palace affairs. Jahangir was not a great emperor, and struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs that often left him weak and shaking. He may have made a match with an older widow because he was looking for a mother figure who would take care of him. If so, Nur Jahan rose to the challenge.
Having struggled to acquire the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, Thomas Paine (1737–1809), a collector of excise tax and a Methodist preacher in England, migrated to Britain’s American colonies. In 1774 he arrived in Philadelphia seeking to make his living as an editor and freelance author but already with a radical political agenda. Early on, Paine denounced the slave trade and elaborated a specific plan for its abolition. His popular pamphlet, Common Sense, defended the American cause before public opinion in both Britain and the colonies. It was the first salvo in the career of a man who became the world’s most radical polemicist. During the Valley Forge encampment, a bleak winter for the Revolution, Paine’s popular Crisis rallied Americans, announcing “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Once the American Revolution had succeeded, Paine returned to England and took up the defense of the French Revolution. In response to the English legislator Edmund Burke’s celebrated polemic against the Revolution, Paine wrote The Rights of Man, one of the most widely read books of all time. Paine’s pamphlets promoted a new republican writing style, a popular political language, accessible to the artisan (skilled manual worker) yet capable of expressing moral outrage and high seriousness. Mocking Burke’s awe of tradition and popular reverence toward the British monarchy, Paine jibed: “A French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself King of England against the consent of the natives is, in plain terms, a very paltry rascally original. The plain truth is that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.” Reading these lines, many ordinary men and women in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales never looked at monarchy in quite the same way again.
In 1712, the Manchu official Tulisen left Beijing for the shores of the lower Volga River, in Russia, to visit a Mongolian khan. It was a distance of over 3,000 miles, and it took him nearly three years to get there and back. The emperor of China had sent him to explore Russian territory and look for an alliance against other Mongolian rivals. He was not invited to see the tsar (the ruler of all Russia), but he wrote a detailed account of the topography, ethnography, and history of all the regions he had crossed.
Seven years later, John Bell, a Scotsman in the service of the Russian tsar, set out from St. Petersburg for Beijing, covering much the same route as Tulisen in the opposite direction. He, too, reported accurately on the region’s geography, politics, and history, gathering scientific knowledge and military intelligence at the same time. Others followed them, like Ivan Unkovski, a Russian officer, who visited the Mongolian khan in Zungharia in 1722, and the French Jesuit Gerbillon, who accompanied the Chinese emperor on his military campaigns in the middle of the century. At the end of the century, the Englishman George Lord Macartney arrived by sea in Beijing in 1793 to negotiate the opening of formal trade relations between Britain and China.