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Peasant Rebellions of the Twentieth Century

by Timothy Connell
World History Center, Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts


Note: Please be advised that these teaching units were created prior to the course revisions implemented in the 2011-12 academic year. However, the units still address topics central to the revised course.

Peasant rebellions have occurred throughout history, but during the twentieth century such organized rural discontent has been repeatedly successful in overthrowing established governments and in setting limits (though rarely in dominating) the post-revolutionary governments. This four-lesson unit relies on the model developed by anthropologist Eric Wolf to explain peasant revolutions, and leads students to apply the model to the cases of peasant uprisings in Mexico and Vietnam. Students learn about the strengths and limitations of peasant movements, and gain experience in using a formal social-science model.

The first lesson focuses on listing the various types of rebellions, then on organizing them into a typology and linking them to Wolf's model. The second and third lessons provide information on the lives of peasants and a timeline of the revolutionary movement. The fourth lesson encourages students to integrate typology and content in a compare-and-contrast essay.

Students address the types of rebellions through brainstorming, then by studying the model of peasant rebellion. For the cases of Mexico and Vietnam, they work in groups to define essential terms for the understanding of each movement and analyze a time line. They then discuss how to fit this information into Wolf's model, and assess the effectiveness of the model in explaining peasant rebellions.

Main Points of the Unit

Big Questions
Best Practices
Lesson Summary
Assessment Overview
AP World History Course Description Connections

Big Questions
  • What is the nature of peasant rebellions in the twentieth century? What have been their causes and consequences?
  • How do historians analyze rebellions? What common factors do these rebellions have?
  • How do we perceive rebels as heroes?
  • How do the peasant rebellions of the twentieth century differ from past rebellions?
Best Practices
Best Practices are teaching strategies that are interactive and involve high-level thinking skills (see AP World History Best Practices Guide, eds. P. Manning and D.S. Johnston). The appropriate Best Practices vary widely with teacher strengths, school environment, student population, and experience. But all student populations will benefit from experience with strategies showing that world history is much more than lectures and more than a survey of facts and dates. This unit, within its individual lessons, includes the following examples of Best Practice teaching strategies:
  • Create a typology
  • Apply a social-science model to history
  • Analyze primary text documents
Lesson Summary
Lesson 1. Overview of Rebellions
Students brainstorm on the various kinds of rebellions, combine their list into types of rebellions, and discuss the concept of the rebel as hero. Examples may be drawn from any time in history. With this background they discuss a document on early twentieth-century Mexico.

Lesson 2. The Mexican Revolution
Students investigate the Mexican Revolution (beginning 1910) through group work, beginning with background information developed through defining a list of terms, then by studying a timeline of the revolution. Students then link their understanding of the revolution to Eric Wolf's paradigm on peasant revolution.

Lesson 3. The Vietnamese Revolution
Students investigate the Vietnamese Revolution (beginning 1945) through a process similar to that in Lesson 2. In groups, they develop background information through reading a descriptive document, defining a list of terms, and studying a timeline. They link their understanding of the revolution to Eric Wolf's paradigm on peasant revolution.

Lesson 4. Comparative Essay
Students write a comparative essay in class.

Assessment Overview
Teachers have the choice of evaluating formally or assessing informally. Activities include classroom participation in listing the qualities of greatness in Lesson 1, the geography of empire assignment for Lesson 2, individual and group accountability in research groups for Lessons 2 and 3, journal reflection on representations of power in art and architecture for Lesson 3, participation in debate for Lesson 4, and a comparison essay.

AP World History Course Description Connections
  • Interactions in economy and politics
  • Systems of social and gender structure
  • Changing functions of states
Habits of Mind
  • Using texts and other primary documents
  • Comparing within and among societies
  • Seeing local and global patterns
Major Developments, Comparisons, and Snapshots
AP World History Course Description. Major Developments, 1914 - present: 3 - New patterns of nationalism; 5 - New forces of revolution; 6 - Social reform and social revolution; 9 - Diverse interpretations.

Content Objectives
  • Learn the underlying and immediate causes of the Mexican Revolution and the Vietnamese Wars for Independence
  • Study the key leaders and understand the goals that these leaders had and how they pursued these goals
  • Learn the role of colonialism in Vietnam in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Gain a perspective on twentieth-century history outside that of the United States: understand that forces in Mexico and Vietnam have been agents of change independent of American actions
Skill Objectives
  • Primary source analysis
  • Assessing perspective and point of view
  • Compare and contrast
  • Handouts
  • Students can also do some library research to get more information about the revolutions studied
General Editors: Patrick Manning and Deborah Smith Johnston; World History Center, Northeastern University

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