Ancient revolutionaries...

posted Sep 20, 2016, 10:17 AM by Randall Smith   [ updated Nov 22, 2016, 4:48 AM ]
The act of rebellion is not limited to the founding fathers, modern-day activists, or guys in orange jumpsuits trying to blow up yet another Death Star. At its essence, revolution is about changing the way people do things. Revolutions can occur on many levels, not just political economy, but also views on reason, faith, and morality, each of which in turn gives humanity a new way to tackle the basic problem of coexistence.

It's strange to think about it, but the people of ancient history were revolutionaries. Starting 5,000 years ago, a few rebels like the first farmer, the first baker, the first metal smith, and the first weaver started us down a long series of radical transformations that tripled our life expectancy and took us from caves to condominiums.

My thesis is this: knowing how we got here can hopefully teach us something about how to manage the unexpected radical changes that will emerge in your lifetimes. It might even inspire you to come up with better ways of doing things and to get others on board! In short, the best way to get that wisdom is to study the lives of the rebels of the ancient world. Your work and what you do with it will test that thesis.

Your task is to master the story your assigned revolutionary, explain it to everyone else in the class, and then apply their ideas to the challenges we face today.

First, you need to understand that each person we study is very special. Most people never rebel and even fewer take the time to create new ideas. Why not? As you know from the lens project, it takes a lot of effort to innovate. Moreover, rebelling requires that you challenge commonly-held views and that can put you in conflict with existing authorities. This can easily make you unpopular and it can even be dangerous to your health and happiness. When push comes to shove, most of us just adapt to whatever is handed to us, no matter how "sick and tired" we become with the status quo. So rebels are very rare people.

Still most rebels are forgotten. Why? Most are labeled as crazy or as criminals and the ideas they come up with are not very original or durable. So your person is one of the rarest of all people, he or she was a rebel who on some level got away with it and changed the world through their deeds and ideas.

And more often than not, the legacy of one revolutionary creates problems that becomes the motive of another revolutionary. Rebels from a new generation acts to fix the new problem created by the previous generation of revolutionaries and the cycle repeats!

To fully appreciate these sorts of people, it is necessary to master three aspects of their lives: motives, actions, consequences. (MAC). Using this formula will guide us to a rich understanding of the past that will guide us through a variety of rich tasks and activities that will make us better able to face today's problems.

1. Actions: What did your rebel do to fix the problem? 

It's easier to understand a person's motives by looking at their actions first. The best way to get a deep appreciation of a rebel is to get the basic facts down what they did. Start with a basic summary of the 5Ws, the who, what, where, when, and why. Then it's a good idea to list them on some sort of timeline. Identify specific actions and ideas that they are famous for. Later you will link each of them to their motives and to the consequences. These directions and the models below will help you to do this:

1. Google "google drive." Login using your er9 id and password.

2. Click the blue "new" button and then click "google doc."

3. In the new doc, click "untitled document" in the upper left corner and retitle it using this formula:

W1 (or W7 or W8), your last name, the name of your rebel

Example: W7, Bilinski, Urukagina

4. Click the blue "share" button on the upper right corner and give access.

5. All your notes and work for this unit will go into this doc.

The rebels of ancient history:

  1. Urukagina - Smith

  2. Hammurabi - Dortenzio, Grob, Cooke, G. Tuccinardi

  3. Hatshepsut - Gonzalez, Stablein, Opalinski

  4. Moses - Porter, Zuanelli, J. Tuccinardi

  5. Cyrus II of Persia - Raut, Marotta, Asplund

  6. Siddhartha Gautama aka Buddha - Alward, Wheatley, Danuszar

  7. Ashoka - Romano, Feltman, Hanock
  8. Confucius - LiCastri, Lynch

  9. Pythia or the Delphic Oracle - Hansen, Wilson, Johnston
  10. Thales of Miletos - Mauro, Lockwood, Jones

  11. Archimedes - Caruso, Liu, Ballas

  12. Hippocrates - Francoletti, Hartmann, Grassie
  13. Herodotus - Smith, Smith, Bourgeault
  14. Lykurgus of Sparta - Smith, Witte,
  15. Solon & Cleisthenes - Spear, Hiden

  16. Socrates - Smith, Wright, Levin

  17. Plato - Frederickson, Smith, Salvatore

  18. Alexander III of Macedon - Hirsch, Francoletti, Devine

  19. Publius Valerius Poplicola & Lucius Junius Brutus - Romaniello, 

  20. Lucius Sicinius Vellutus - Smith
  21. The Gracchus Brothers aka the Graci - Richetelli, Coleman

  22. Spartacus - Gutu, McCann, Teed
  23. Julius Caesar - Stauffer, Cusick, Gregory

  24. Octavian - Stark, Falowski, DiCamillo

  25. Rabbi Yeshua aka Jesus - Macchia, Wiesenfeld, Kontogiannis

  26. Peter and Paul of Tarsus - Urso,

  27. Diocletian - Gardone, Turturino,

Find a bio of your rebel on abc-clio, an online social studies encyclopedia that we subscribe to. The articles are ideally suited to your reading level. A handful of you with lesser-known rebels will have to look elsewhere, e.g. wikipedia.

BOOKMARK ABC-CLIO AFTER YOU LOG IN AND TELL IT TO REMEMBER THE PASSWORD! (the number of clicks required to find it again from scratch is an absurd waste of your life)

And you'll need this to log in:
User name: joelbarlow
Password: barlow

Here's a sample of something like what I hope to see in your doc. Unfortunately for me, my rebel doesn't appear in abc-clio, so I had to look elsewhere for something reliable. Regular .coms won't cut it. In this case, I used transcriptions of some hundred-year-old history lectures given at UPenn by a renowned scholar that I found on google books:

e.g. "Here's the basic 5Ws: Urukagina was king of the Sumerian city-state Lagash in the 24th century, B.C.E. He was notes for his radical reforms to the city's politics, economy, and religion.

The record Urukagina's career consists of three primary things, first, leading a successful rebellion to replace king Lagulanda, second, enacting a wide range of legal reforms enshrined in the oldest surviving written code of laws, and third, led a long series of losing battles with the neighboring city-state, Uruk. The most radical of his actions comes from the second category, so that will be my focus. There is no clear timeline of his reforms, so I list them in no particular order:
• Firing and replacing corrupt tax collectors overseeing grain silos, boats, sheep, and funeral singing (lamentation).
• Banned collecting taxes on the river.

• Exempting widows and orphans from taxation.

• Redistributed food and land seized from Lugalanda to combat hunger

• Criminalized violence of the rich against the poor.

• Demanding that the rich pay silver when purchasing property, land, livestock, grain, etc. from the poor. He also allowed the poor to set the selling price.

• Socialized the cost of funeral wine.

• Put women in charge of the female priesthood and tripled their numbers.

• Mandated heavy penalties, a brick to the mouth, for female polyandry (marrying more than one husband).

Citation information:
, Morris.
The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria: Its Remains, Language, History, Religion, Commerce, Law, Art, and Literature. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. 1915. 130-33.


2. Motives: What were they sick and tired of?

We start here, a 2012 Ted Talk by Ryan Porter which reveals something important about how revolutions start:

From the first assignment, you probably know something about what your rebel did, it's time to figure out why they did it. "What were the sick and tired of?"

Sometimes texts don't explicitly tell us, so you may have to do some more reading and careful thinking to reconstruct their reasons for their actions. Look at the situation where they lived immediately preceding their careers and you will often find clues.

e.g. "Urukagina was a Sumerian politician motivated to rebel against the state by a sense of injustice caused by the policies of the king of Lagash, Lugalanda, who Urukagina regarded as unforgivably corrupt. According to surviving records, Lugalanda used his power to tax to seize vast amounts of land and property for his own personal enrichment at the expense of the poor. Urukagina claimed that his rebellion was divinely inspired by the Sumerian god, Enlil.

In his wars with the neighboring city-state, Uruk, Urukagina as king was presumably motivated by a desire to protect his people and his position of power, and his reform polices from being undone by foreigners. Possibly, he might have been acting on vengeance and hatred stemming from a long history of inter-state conflict that predated his reign by centuries."

3. Consequences I: Examine their legacy using the course questions

How did these changes, or their legacy motivate later movements and revolutionaries? Link these to the question of co-existence and our four thematic questions:

How do we solve the problem of co-existence? How can we create harmony between the one and the many? How can humans reconcile diversity with the reality of being interdependent social creatures?

Morality: What is right and who says so?

Faith: What do people believe and why do they believe it?

Reason: How do people make sense of the world?

Political Economy: Where do power and resources come from and how should they be distributed?

e.g. "Co-existence: Urukagina's essential solution to co-existence was to take power to change the system. He used a coup d'etat, absolute monarchy, laws, and the powers of state to create and enforce greater harmony between social classes. He is remembered today as the earliest known rebel and political reformer, one who took power in order to enact sweeping reforms designed to promote equality and justice. We could say he was the prototype for later reformers like the Solon, Publius, the Gracchus brothers, perhaps Jesus, and later perhaps Frederick the Great, Lenin, F.D.R., and Lyndon Johnson. On the other hand, some regard part of his reforms as the earliest example of the oppression of women.

Morality: Urukagina establishes the precedent that it is the job of politcal elites to take power and attend to the needs of the most vulnerable people in society, peasants, widows, and orphans and to protect them against other elites who would use their privileges to rob them.

Faith: Urukagina claimed that the Sumerian god Enlil allowed him to take power and ordered him to change the laws.

Reason: The record is unclear about how Urukagina viewed the world, but his law code reveals that he was probably fairly imaginative, using a legal code to create social justice. Since he claimed his laws were divinely inspired, it's probably the case that he did not see a clear distinction between faith, reason, and politics.

Political Economy
: Urukagina believed a king should use the power of law to make sure that resources are more fairly distributed."

4. Find and MUSQ a primary source:

Encyclopedias are great for the basics, but there's more out there. Consider the question of where the encyclopedia authors got their information from. The answer is usually primary source material. Looking at these texts and artifacts can help us get a better grasp of our rebels.

Where and how do I find a primary source?

Poke around abc-clio, wikipedia, and other corners of the internet to find the oldest surviving sources written by or about your rebel. On wikipedia, you can often find primary sources linked from the part of the page labeled "historical sources," "primary sources," and sometimes "external links." Other times you'll have to be more persistent, reading for the title and/or author of a primary source and searching for it in other locations. Here are some useful collections of primary sources:

If you found a very long source, say 20 pages or longer, look at the table of contents or maybe skim around within it for a bit to find the part you'll MUSQ. Copy out and paste about 40 minutes worth of reading of the text and the citation information into your google doc and annotate it using google comments, effectively MUSQing it carefully. Looking for insights that expand your understanding of your rebel. At the bottom make a list of the three most important things the source reveals that you didn't get from your secondary sources.

E.g. This link will take you to my model.

5. Make a PDF file for your primary source to share.
I will demonstrate how to do this in class, but in case you were absent, got confused, or zoned out, here are the directions:

1. Please copy your annotated primary source from your doc and paste it into a fresh doc. Make sure the pasted version is free of your annotations and notes.

2. Put citation information at the top of the document, the author, the name of the book or source it comes from, date, translator, etc. e.g. "Exodus (excerpted), second book of the Hebrew Torah, New Standard Revised Version (NSRV), National Council of Churches,1989."

3. Excerpt the primary source. That means cut it down to the most interesting page or two. Add elipses ... where you cut text.

4. Click 'file' in the google doc menu, click 'download as' and select 'pdf.'

5. Retitle the pdf file to include your class, your name and the name of your rebel:

E.g. W7, Smith, Urukagina document.pdf

6. Send this pdf file as an attachment to so he can upload it to perusall where the class can read it.

6. Consequences II: Specifically how did their actions and ideas change the world?

Now that you've looked at both primary and secondary sources, it's time to zoom out and find the big picture, and figure out why your rebel matters. How did their rebellion impact our lives? Where can we see his or her legacy today?

E.g. "Evidence of Urukagina's influence can be seen in any political rebellion that seeks to create justice. The American Revolution, the Russian Revolution come to mind, the first a rebellion against taxes and the second against a king who monopolized wealth.
His laws are also the first documented to create social safety nets. They are echoed in any statute designed to protect the weak from the strong. Child protection laws, laws protecting worker's rights, laws that punish corrupt officials, laws providing legal counsel to the poor, Medicare, Medicaid, and food assistance are all policies that owe their existence to Urukagina's innovations."

7. Prepare an interactive presentation...

Figure out how to visually and orally share what you learned about your rebel, particularly a moral we can use in our own lives. Here are some general parameters...

- Include at least 3 images, one for motive, one for actions, and a third for consequences.


- 7-10m

- The form of media in terms of speech, film, slides, drama, website, is up to you, but make sure form follows function.

- Past-present connections help prove that your moral is relevant to today.

- Also include 2-3 quotations from the person themselves or the oldest primary source.

- Give us something to do, a mini simulation, discussion question, game, or quiz, a singalong, etc. Please make sure the activity reinforces the point of your talk.
Here's one way to think about it: if your rebel were with us today, what she or he want us to do? For example, since Urukagina risked his life to defend widows and orphans from poverty and exploitation, I imagine he would be angry about the large number of children who experience hunger and food insecurity in Connecticut. He therefore would probably like us to have a conversation about why we don't do much about it. You can see how I implemented that in my slide show.

- Here's a demo, the set of slides Mr. Smith will use for his talk on his rebel, Urukagina.

- The rubric to evaluate your work can be found here. It combines the relevant elements from Barlow's 3C rubrics, Community, Complexity, and Communication.

During the talks...

Keep track of everything with detailed notes. These notes will be critical for you to use to write a major essay and to do well on the exam in January.

8. Homework during the talks...

Each night after a presentation, return here for links to perusall assignments, where you can read and annotate a primary source selected by the student who gave today's talk. It will be the basis of a brief discussion the next day before the next talk.

Each of you is responsible for three robust MUSQ-style annotations, responding to one or more of the following prompts.

1. The first task is to set up an account on, a tool that allows groups to annotate documents together.
2. Clicks "sign up through google."
3. My teacher access code is SMITH-5600.

Once you're logged in, click on the document about or by the rebel covered during the day's class session:

1. Talk v. Doc: Explain something the document reveals that reinforces or contradicts something offered during the presentation. Why does this similarity or difference matter?

2. Rebel v. Rebel: Explain a similarity or difference between what you see in this document and what you've learned about other rebels that we've studied so far. Did one cause the other? What does the connection teach us?

3. Past v. Present: Where do you see the something resembling the present including possibly something in your own life in the text?

4. Other kinds of insights: Look for inspiration, imagination, questions, good ideas, bad ideas, etc.

Homework grades will come out of each, so attend to them carefully.

9. Goal setting
Please click this link, follow the directions to create, title, and share a new google doc with three writing goals at the top.

For each of the three goals you meet in your new essay, I will add 5 points to the score you got on the first essay you wrote, the moral of this story.

10. Wisdom from ancient rebels
You've heard tons of talks about lots of rebels. Now is your chance to put that information to work in support of an idea that we can use. You can also learn the secrets to analytical, persuasive writing, too. And since that's the only style that most college professors care about, it's worth your time to get it down.

In the same doc you created for step 9, below the writing goals you set in step 9, please compose a wisdom from history essay
using evidence from at the lives of at least three rebels presented to our class, one from Greece, one from Rome, and a third from somewhere else.

And remember to finish step 9! For each of the three goals you meet in your new essay, I will add 5 points to the score you got on the first essay you wrote, the moral of this story.

At a minimum, below you can find the formula I'm looking for. For each number, look at the models and advice and follow them. I've linked each below:



3 body paragraphs or sections:
4 - A relevant, reliable quote from abc-clio (u: joelbarlow p: barlow) or a primary source.

16 - You have at least three body paragraphs that follow the formula from above, right? Remember one rebel needs to be from Greece, another from Rome, and a third from neither.


Randall Smith,
Oct 7, 2016, 9:28 AM