This book was conceived as a result of developing and teaching a first-year undergraduate course on revolutions. Although the students concentrated on only three of the major European revolutions the expectation was that they would range widely and comparatively, an intellectual challenge compounded by the need to assimilate much new information.
At first it seemed surprising, given the immense amount that has been written on revolutions by sociologists and political theorists as well as historians, that there was no single volume that could be recommended by way of an introduction. On reflection, however, it is not at all surprising; for individual academic specialists do not have the range and depth of knowledge required to accomplish such a task. The most impressive and stimulating comparative studies of revolution have inevitably been selective in their range. These include notably Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution which covered the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions (1979) with its heavy emphasis on the Russian and Chinese experience of revolution, and Arendt’s On Revolution with its powerful contrasting of the different nature of revolution in France and North America. John Dunn’s study of Modern Revolutions has wide geographical scope but is limited to recent times. Tilly’s recent European Revolutions 1492-1992, which employs a very wide definition of revolution and contains comprehensive lists of ‘revolutionary situations’, is in some ways an exception but it covers large swathes of Dutch, British, French and Russian history in limited space while 1688, for instance, is dealt with in a few allusive words. (For full bibliographical details see p. 14.)
It became apparent that the production of a volume which combined both range and depth would have to be a collective effort. It was nonetheless vital that it was more than a mere compilation of disconnected specialist studies. My own assumptions are therefore reflected in the structure of the book and in the themes which contributors were asked to consider. To some extent my preferences may also be seen in the choice of contributors, although their acknowledged expertise alone would have justified this; on the other hand there would have been little point in seeking out revisionist historians who come close to denying the reality of particular