VCE History (Revolutions) glossary

This page contains a glossary of terms and concepts you may encounter during your VCE History (Revolutions) studies.

Absolutism is a system of government where all political power rests with one ‘absolute’ ruler, usually a tsar, emperor or monarch.

actual representation (or direct representation)
Actual representation is a political theory. It argues that each voter should be directly represented in the government or legislature, usually by the elected member for their constituency.

Agitation is the act of causing difficulty for a government or ruling class, using means such as propaganda, organising protests, harassment and/or violence.

agrarian (or agricultural)
Agrarian refers to agricultural production, crops, methods of farming or workers employed on the land.

Analysis is the process of examining a source, concept or event, then forming conclusions about its causes, outcomes and significance.

An anarchist is a person or group totally opposed to state institutions or government control. “Anarchist” was also a 19th-century term for a revolutionary or terrorist.

Ancien Régime (see old regime)

Arbitrary describes an act or decision made without consultation or discussion.

An aristocracy is a small but privileged noble class that exerts considerable political and/or economic influence.

An aristocrat is a member of the aristocracy.

An artisan is a person engaged in the production of secondary goods, such as a craftsman, mechanic or labourer. Artisans usually lived in cities and were skilled or semi-skilled.

Assassination is the murder of a leader or notable figure, usually committed to undermine a political regime or to achieve political change.

In a political context, an assembly is a gathering of political representatives, usually elected by some or all of the people.

Autocracy is a system of government where all political power and sovereignty is vested in a single ruler, usually a king, tsar or emperor.

An autocrat is the ruler of an autocracy, a figure with absolute power.

bourgeoisie (pronounced bore-jwah-zee)
Bourgeoisie is a French term describing the propertied middle and middle-upper classes. In Marxist theory the bourgeoisie are the business and factory owners who control the means of production.

bourgeois (pronounced bore-jwah)
Bourgeois describes people or values from the bourgeoisie.

The bureaucracy refers to departments and agencies of the government, also known as the public service.

A bureaucrat is a public servant or government official, an individual who works in the bureaucracy.

A catalyst is an event or condition that creates the right circumstances for change, without directly causing it.

Centralisation is a process where political power or control is moved into the hands of fewer people. It is the opposite of democratisation.

Change refers to an alteration in political, social and/or economic conditions.

A chronology is a list of events in the order in which they occurred; a timeline.

civil rights
Civil rights refer to the rights of individuals that provide social, legal and political equality, such as the right to vote.

civil war
A civil war is a conflict between two or more groups or factions within a particular nation or region.

Class refers a section or level of society, usually determined by wealth and economic factors.

class struggle
Class struggle is a Marxist concept. It refers to the competition and conflict between classes, as they strive to improve their economic condition at the expense of other classes.

class war
Class war is a Marxist concept associated with revolutions. In a class war the working classes attack propertied classes, such as the royalty, aristocracy and capitalist bourgeoisie. The purpose of a class war is to reduce or eliminate class inequalities, by destroying social privilege and redistributing land, wealth and property on a more even basis.

Cohesion is the state of being united, closely bound or held together.

A colony is a region or territory controlled and exploited by an imperial power. Two or more colonies constitute an empire.

To compare is to discuss two or more concepts or events, highlighting points of similarity.

A compromise is an agreement reached between opposing groups or individuals, usually without fully meeting the claims or demands of either.

Conscription is compulsory military service, levied on individuals by the state. It is usually imposed in times of war.

Conservatism is an ideology or political point of view. Conservatives prefer to maintain the status quo and are resistant to change.

To consolidate is to stabilise and strengthen a newly implemented change. In revolutions, this usually applies to new regimes in the period after they seize power.

A constituent is an individual who elects a representative; an elector or voter.

constituent assembly
A constituent assembly is an elected assembly, empowered to govern on behalf of the people.

A constitution is a foundation document that defines the political and legal system of a nation or state.

constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a political system where monarchical power is limited by a constitution and shared with an assembly.

A contention is an idea, argument or theory that is open to questioning and debate. A contention is the central or underlying argument in an essay.

Continuity describes conditions or values that do not change significantly.

To contrast is to discuss two or more concepts or events, highlighting points of difference.

A counter-revolution is a period where individuals or groups attempt to halt or reverse the changes introduced by a revolution.

coup (or coup d’etat)
A coup describes the overthrow of a government by a small group, usually without public support or endorsement. Some historians consider the Bolshevik revolution in Russia (October 1917) to be a coup rather than a popular revolution.

A crisis is an event or situation involving great tension, pressure or danger; a moment of imminent danger, collapse or catastrophe.

Critical can refer to a state of crisis, an aspect or moment of great importance (such as a “critical period”) or an evaluation of faults and merits (“critical analysis”).

Culture describes social and artistic forms of expression, such as art, music, language, poetry, dance or literature.

A decree is a law, order or instruction issued by a leader or government, often in an arbitrary manner.

Deference is the practice of showing respect to those of superior wealth, rank or status. It is usually shown through obedience, courtesies and gestures such as saluting, bowing or the use of titles.

Democracy refers to any system of government where the government or legislature is elected by popular vote.

Determinism is a historical theory that suggests all events are determined or shaped by previously-occurring events or factors. According to historical determinism, no event is entirely unexpected or unpredictable.

A dictatorship is a system of government where power rests in the hands of a single leader, who generally imposes control through coercion, force and propaganda.

Diplomacy is the process of formal communication between nations, for the purposes of forging relationships, creating alliances and/or organising trade.

Dissent describes an act or show of disagreement, usually against a government or those in power.

divine right
‘Divine right’ is a system of monarchical government where the ruler claims to draw his/her authority from God. It is also known as a divine mandate or a ‘mandate from heaven’.

A dynasty is a ruling family in a monarchy, such as the Bourbons (France) and Romanovs (Russia).

Economic refers to how a society organises its resources (land, labour, capital) and produces its wants and needs (food and commodities).

An edict is a government order; an instruction, usually given without debate or consultation.

An émigré is an individual who flees his/her native land because of political conditions or persecution.

An emperor is the monarchical ruler of an empire.

An empire is a collection of colonies or territorial possessions, under the political and economic control of a single powerful nation (see imperialism).

The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual curiosity and investigation, beginning in the mid-1600s and continuing until the late 1700s. The Enlightenment delivered scientific discoveries, undermined the power of religion and gave rise to liberal political theories.

Evidence refers to historical material, such as documents, artefacts or statistics, that constitute proof for a particular conclusion or theory.

The executive is the highest level of government. It is responsible for major decisions and day to day administration. The executive may take the form of a monarch or president and/or government ministers.

Exploitation is a condition where one group or class is unfairly treated or ‘used’ by another, usually for profit or gain.

Extremist describes people or groups who possess radical political views.

A faction is a section or sub-group within a larger political party or organisation. Factions sometimes hold different views to the mainstream group.

Famine describes a state of widespread malnutrition and starvation, usually brought on by crop failures or other dire events.

Feudalism is a socio-political system based on aristocratic land ownership, tenancies, agricultural production and a rigid social hierarchy. It was common in the Middle Ages, while remnants of feudalism could be found in 18th century Europe.

financial (or fiscal)
Financial describes dealings with money, revenue, taxation or banking.

The franchise is the right to vote (also suffrage).

historical interpretations
Historical interpretations are conclusions and theories formed by historians as they study and interpret the past. These interpretations can often differ.

historical perspectives
Historical perspectives are the attitudes or views of figures from the past. These perspectives often differ or compete, such as the political views of Tsar Nicholas, Alexander Kerensky and Vladimir Lenin.

Historiography is the study of different historians, their backgrounds and methods and their different interpretations of history.

An ideology is a system of ideas and beliefs, such as Marxism or liberalism.

Imperialism is a system where smaller nations or territories are conquered and annexed by a larger, more powerful nation, which claims them as colonies. In imperialism, these colonies are exploited to benefit the mother country by providing land, raw materials and cheap labour.

To incite is to provoke or bring about an event, particularly one of an unsettling or rebellious nature.

indentured servitude
Indentured servitude is a practice where individuals with unpaid debts are detained, then forced to labour to work off their debts.

Inflation is a decrease in the buying power of money, particularly paper money, resulting in higher prices. Inflation causes social disruption because wage levels do not always keep pace with it, which leads to a decline in living standards.

An interpretation is a conclusion or series of conclusions, formed after studying information and evidence.

An intrigue is a web of secret plots, gossip or rumours.

Justification is the process of supporting a theory or contention with information, evidence and arguments.

left wing
Broadly describes political ideologies or groups concerned with minimising class differences and achieving economic equality, such as communism, socialism or social democracy.

legislation (also statute or act)
A law passed by an assembly, such as a parliament or congress.

A political body or assembly, usually elected, responsible for passing laws and/or forming a government.

An 18th-century term describing attempts to bridge the divide between social classes; policies that redistribute wealth or property more evenly.

Describes a person, group or idea concerned with protecting and expanding individual freedoms, particularly those threatened by governments.

A political ideology that encourages the minimisation of state power and the expansion of individual rights, such as civil rights and freedoms of religion, conscience, assembly and the press

A state of individual freedom, particularly from government oppression or intervention

loyalist (also royalist)
In revolutions, refers to someone who supports the old regime and resists the revolution.

Describes any activity related to trade, commerce, imports or exports.

A one-sided imperial commercial arrangement, where producers in the mother country derive profit from the raw materials, labour and markets in colonies.

A person who trades in goods, either through imports, exports or sales.

A society where there are opportunities for citizens to acquire wealth and influence based on their effort, initiative and abilities.

A politician who belongs to the executive government and oversees a particular area of policy, such as finance, trade or defence.

Describes an individual, group or idea that supports gradual or incremental change, rather than radical measures.

A system of government led by a hereditary king or queen.

A large group or class seeking political, economic or social change.

An uprising or rebellion in a military unit, such as the army or navy.

An ideology that cherishes the nation and its identity, sovereignty and strength.

natural rights
Rights considered to be possessed at birth by all people, such as the right to life and to freedom.

new regime
The political ruling class installed during a revolution which attempts to create a new society.

An aristocratic social class, possessing titles and privileges.

old regime (Fr. Ancien Régime)
The political, social and economic system that existed prior to a revolution.

The control, intimidation or domination of someone against their will, usually with force or the threat of force.

Public speech-making, usually political in content and delivered in a convincing or rousing fashion.

The conventional or commonly-accepted interpretation or point-of-view.

Someone who loves and/or is loyal to their own country. In a revolution, the term ‘patriot’ is sometimes claimed by the revolutionaries.

Affection for or loyalty to one’s country

A farmer or farm labourer, usually with little or no wealth.

A writer in philosophy, politics and social issues, especially in 18th century France.

An action or measure taken by a government.

Relates to government and decision-making processes in a society.

political pornography
A type of propaganda featuring personal criticisms and/or sexual insults about individuals in the ruling class.

Of or relating to the people; supported by a large number of people.

popular sovereignty
A political principle suggesting that governments derive their power from the consent and will of the people, rather than from God. As an extension of this theory, the people may withdraw their support and overthrow the government if it fails them.

Describes an individual or group who actively seeks popular support.

Rights, benefits or advantages enjoyed by one class or group but not by others.

Words, documents, images or actions intended to persuade or shape political attitudes. Most propaganda presents information in a selective, emotive or misleading way that may distort the truth.

Material goods owned by an individual, including land, housing, money and belongings.

Describes people, places or conditions in remote areas or colonies. It is sometimes used as a term of derision, suggesting a primitive or backward condition.

The ruling body, elite or party.

A political concept where individuals sit in an assembly or parliament and make decisions on behalf of the broader population.

The act of standing up to and/or working against government policies, particularly those that are repressive.

A term used to describe historical writing that provides different or conflicting interpretations; the development of ‘new’ interpretations of historical events.

Describes political views that are conservative or nationalistic, preferring to maintain the status quo rather than accept significant change.

An act that incites condemnation of or rebellion against a government.

A peasant-farmer who is bound to the land by feudal obligations, with no ownership of property, rights or freedom of movement.

The importance of a particular concept, event or individual, particularly when weighed against other factors.

An institution where individuals are held as captives and forced to perform unpaid labour.

Refers to the way people live, including their values and culture.

social contract
The ‘unwritten’ contract between individuals (who surrender some rights to the state) and the state (which protects them). Devised during the Enlightenment by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Describes events or conditions related to society and its economic aspects; the relationship between work, income, property, wealth and standards of living.

Describes events or conditions related to society and its forms of government.

The government’s source of power and authority; its right to exist, to rule and to make independent decisions.

The right to vote.

Payments made by citizens to the government; the means by which a government raises revenue.

Violent or threatening measures intended to force political change or compliance.

The betrayal of a nation or leader, particularly in times of war or crisis.

The denial of rights and liberties by a political ruler.

A term describing a policy, measure or action that contradicts the law or established principles of government.

A term describing the people, buildings and development in cities.

The process by which cities are formed and expanded. It includes the migration of people from rural areas and the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

The power to suspend, delay or cancel a law passed by a legislature. Veto power is usually held by a monarch or president.

virtual representation (or indirect representation)
A theory of political representation which holds that all citizens are represented by all members of a legislature, regardless of their location, their constituencies or voting rights.

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