Making Connections Using a Thematic Approach Transcript
There's a great image of what passed for a soda machine— public soda machine— in communist rule in Czechoslovakia. And it really ties in really nicely to how I like to begin the conversation of 1989 because the communist regime said we'll take care of you, fundamentally we'll take care of you. We will deliver the goods. You may not like our government, you may not like our politics, but we're going to feed you, we're going to clothe you, we're going to make sure that you have what you need and there's a moment where that promise is broken and the moment that promise is broken is the moment that 1989 happens. And it has nothing to do with really intellectual ideas or better forms of government or conversations about democracy or capitalism. It's the fact that they couldn't get toilet paper. That's sort of the basic idea behind it and the coke machine fits because literally it's the front of a machine with a glass cup on it. The only way to do it would be to stop at the machine pay your money get it dispensed into the glass that was in the machine drink it leave the glass and continue on your way. Which is just like, there's a moment where like students just go "eh" about that like they can't conceptualize it right, but that's life under communism. I mean there's obviously a lot more nuance at play, there's obviously a lot more going on than simply the inability to get a can of soda to go, but that sort of lays out for them in a very material sense how the revolutions of 1989 begin. It's the collapse really of the delivery. When I'm doing the revolutionary theme in world history, I usually begin with the French revolution and the impact of it; that's the first one I do. 1989 is the second and Arab Spring is the third. By the time they hit 1989 they've got some language around revolution. You know what it means what it implies you know sort of the conditions around which it happens. So when I open the beginning part of introducing them to 1989 you know when they begin to recognize that this is a resource, like a can of soda which we would take for granted; That we would be able to sort of drop some coins or use your credit card or whatever to purchase something and then continue on our merry way. That was not possible because they didn't have the resources to produce it like that. Then they begin to understand that the material life of people living in that regime was negatively impacted. That's something you see in the French Revolution as well. And you can begin to tease out you know what that means and what that looks like and again World History Commons allows you to sort of look at that; to open up a document, or open up an image and deconstruct it so that they can see that it isn't simply "we want our freedom" they do but they have to communicate that desire in a language that's understandable and translatable for them. The sort of ending of the story of the revolutions that we cover is the "so what" right, and having them talk about like okay so you've got all these images right they battled this promise like Arab Spring that moment when like it literally seemed like north Africa was going to flip and that hasn't happened. So having these moments of revolutionary change you know having them at least attempt to understand the "so what" question.
The French Revolution archives that's got that picture of Marie Antoinette in pencil right before she's guillotined. It's just
really like the difference between where she begins in terms of her wealth, her status, her power, the rest of that in French society and the French culture at the time and then the moment right before she's executed where she's in a peasant dress fundamentally speaking: no makeup, no hair, no nothing. Right, the move that it represents. The marriage of the supreme being is one of my favorite. The big crowd scene down near the Place de la Concorde and there's literally probably five thousand to ten thousand frenchmen getting re-baptized, but not of the Catholic church but of the Supreme Being. I mean it's just that the radical moment in the French revolution where they try to literally burn everything to the bedrock and then rebuild it all. It's just that's like a great moment and everybody shows up like it's not as if you have the choice anymore, right? So that the festival of the Supreme Being because they've got questions about you know so "what does that mean?" like "what's the supreme being," and "how is that different?" The Catholic church has disappeared. Like there's no religious dynamic and there's their lives anymore. You can't take that from the people, right? Like the solidarity moment the "High Noon" moment with Gary Cooper walking down the street except it says "SOLIDARNOSC" on it in
bold red letters, right? It's like, that's how Poland conceived of it— the "High Noon" right? This is your moment. You have a vote. They actually allow some democratic voice in the decision about how the government's going to run and whether communism should stay in power or not. And the solidarity union and the political organization around it came up with this great graphic that sort of both calls into play into the narrative the American ideal because it's like the iconic western movie of the solitary individual triumph for good you know? Triumphing over evil and yet they repurposed it to play into the Polish conversation. As the sources in World History Commons makes clear: the United States and people in the west were not expecting it. There's a great document CIA has done a report on the sort of longevity of the Soviet State about six months before everything hits the fan and everything collapses and basically the conclusion of the report is we can look forward to another 15 to 20 years of robust communist rule in eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union literally like six months later gone.