Narrating the Age of Revolution
- The William and Mary Quarterly
- Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
- Volume 73, Number 1, January 2016, 3rd series
- pp. 3-36
- Additional Information
This essay offers a genealogy and diagnosis of new “situational” narratives about the age of revolutions. It grew out of a WMQ-EMSI workshop, “The Age of Revolutions,” convened at the Huntington Library in 2014. Workshop participants presented papers concerning the massive transnational transformations of the late eighteenth century that rent old regimes from the Americas to West Africa and Western Europe. The essay sets today’s historical narratives in relation to those of the revolutionary period and the mid-twentieth century and explores their “situational” form in our present. Situational narratives are marked by a heightened emphasis on place and mobility and a concern for people acting politically and locatedly (that is, from the vista of their own location). They make for new kinds of narrative interpretation and new understandings of revolution. To compose a field, the author argues, situational narratives must retheorize the condition of eventfulness, renovate understandings of politics and of freedom as a set of practices, and overcome narrative’s habit of soliloquy by developing new techniques of scholarly communality.