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National Library 12-13 October

Revolution, Activism and Social Change

Call for Papers

Social Change can occur in many ways, ranging from cataclysmic, revolutionary events that lead to fundamental rearrangement of societal institutions and practices, through to incremental changes prompted by modifications of thinking and practices in everyday life.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  In the last year, Fidel Castro, a key agent of the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, has died, and Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, promising to transform the US government and economy. These events give cause to reflect on the nature of revolution and social change. On the one hand, Arendt (1963: 2006) has identified a wave of democratic revolutions over the last 60 years, beginning with the Hungarian uprising in 1956, movements starting in the mid 1970s that brought down dictatorships across the globe (e.g. the expulsion of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 in the Philippines), and the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s.

Revolutionary change can follow violent upheaval, such as occurred in the French Revolution, but it can also begin in relative peace and take decades to unfold. Liberalism began as a revolutionary ideology attempting to free the individual from the feudalistic constraints of religious conformity and ascribed social status.  The idea that the best way to promote the good society is to let people pursue their private interests has underpinned liberal democratic political systems in most developed nations. However, revolutions can be partly or wholly reversed. Liberalism aimed to promote tolerant societies and this was developed further into the notion of multicultural society, but in recent years the growth of terrorism and the global population movement by refugees from war and oppressive regimes, has meant that the legacy of tolerance is now under attack in many Western liberal democracies.

Major social change can come from many sources. Individual activists may play a central role. Alongside this, legislative, economic and demographic changes can unleash long-term social change as shown, respectively, by the ultimate effects of the extension of the franchise to working men and women during the 19th and 20th centuries; the substantial increase of women in the workforce over the last half-century; and the current ageing of the population that will lead to significant social change in the next half-century. A key source of social change has been technological developments, as with the first Industrial revolution, medical developments (e.g. penicillin), and the emergence of computers and ever-changing communication and information technology over the last thirty years. More recently, the coming of the I-Phone in 2007 has revolutionised social relationships and communication for large sections of the population globally.

For this year’s conference, we are seeking papers from scholars about social change in its many forms, both revolutionary and incremental. They will examine why and how it occurs, the role of activists, as individuals and as participants in organisations such as pressure groups, social movements, political parties, and the effects of such change, both short and long term.

Submission of abstracts

Abstracts of 100 words should be submitted by 19 June to cjennett@ozemail.com.au

N.B. Submissions are not accepted from the same person two years in a row unless they are extremely pertinent to the conference theme.


David Christian, Director of Big History Institute and Distinguished Professor in History, Department of Modern History, Macquarie University, Sydney

will present the ISAA Annual Lecture on 

Thursday 12 October  5.30 – 6.30 pm at the National Library of Australia

on the theme of: ‘The Russian Revolution in World History’

Abstract: 'The Legacy of the Russian Revolution': The project of building a better world has always been with us, and still is today.  The Russian Revolution represents one of the most determined attempts ever to build a better and more equal world, in which most members of society could flourish.  It clearly failed, and analysing the reasons for its failures is immensely important if we are to face the same question squarely a century later.  Once again, issues of inequality loom large.  But today, we have to deal with the new understanding that our biosphere sets limits to the amount of energy and resources we humans can consume.  So, one of the most important legacies of the Russian Revolution is a question: can we build a better world, in which most people live flourishing lives, and can we do so without undermining the ecological foundations for such a world?

CV: David Christian (D.Phil. Oxford, 1974) is by training a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in World History on very large scales, or ‘Big History’. He taught at Macquarie University in Sydney from 1975 to 2000 before taking a position at San Diego State University in 2001. In January 2009 he returned to Macquarie University.  From 2009 to 2013 he was a ‘World Class Universities Distinguished Professor’ at Ewha Womans University in Seoul; and over the same period, he has also held a position as a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont.  He was founding President of the International Big History Association, and is co-founder with Bill Gates, of the Big History Project, which has built a free on-line high school syllabus in big history.  He is the Director of Macquarie University’s Big History Institute, and designer and lead teacher on Macquarie University’s MOOC in Big History.

David Christian has written on the social and material history of the 19th century Russian peasantry. He has also written a textbook history of modern Russia, and a synoptic history of Inner Eurasia (Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia) up to the time of the Mongol Empire; the second volume of that history will be published in 2017. In 1989, he began teaching courses on 'Big History', surveying the past on the largest possible scales, including those of biology and astronomy; and in 2004, he published the first book-length study of Big History, Maps of Time, which won the World History Association prize for the best book on world history published in 2004He has also published a short history of humanity and, with Cynthia Brown and Craig Benjamin, has completed the first college-level textbook on big history.  In 2017, he will publish an account of big history as a modern origin story for a general readership.  At San Diego State University, he taught courses on World History, ‘Big History’, World Environmental History, Russian History, and the History of Inner Eurasia. He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen [Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities], and on the editorial boards of the Journal of Global History and the Cambridge History of the World. David Christian has given numerous talks and lectures on aspects of Russian, Inner Eurasian and world and big history, and in March 2011, he gave a talk on ‘13.7 billion years of history in 18 minutes’at the TED conference in Long Beach.