It was impossible not to feel a sense of hope as the Cold War began to thaw and the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, embarked upon a new era of political openness and economic reform. Gorbachev represented a new path for the fledgling Russian state, one that many believed would lead to a western style democratic-capitalism. But in August of 1991, Gorbachev was placed under house arrest and his reforms were quickly done away with. In an iconic moment, Boris Yeltsin, recently elected as President of the Russian Republic, stood atop a tank outside the parliament building and urged Russians to resist the military takeover. To the surprise of many, soldiers disobeyed their orders and even joined the resistance. Individuals had taken a stand against the might of the Russian military establishment and set the country on a new course.
Over time, however, Yeltsin’s rule became increasingly autocratic. Already weak institutions began to buckle as Yeltsin issued edicts eroding the authority of the nation’s courts and legislature. As the country lurched towards authoritarianism, Yeltsin resigned and appointed Vladimir Putin as his successor. Decades later Putin remains in power and Russian democracy remains a Potemkin village. Without a robust system of institutions to serve as a check on presidential power, Russians face an illiberal democracy where the rule of law remains a hope not a reality.
It was a passionate desire to change our reality that led Rachel Carson to write on environmental issues and reframe our relationship with the natural world. An avid bird-watcher and prodigious researcher, she had grown increasingly concerned about the deleterious effects of chemical pesticides on the environment and people’s health. With the publication of her best-selling work Silent Spring in 1962, she helped stoke an environmental consciousness in many Americans and raised the ire of those who believed that pesticides would boost agricultural production and save lives. Ultimately, her work pushed the federal government to create the Environmental Protection Agency and to deliberately tackle issues of pollution and environmental degradation.
Mohandas Gandhi’s vision of a free India came about not only through the use of mass mobilization but also from his understanding of how to challenge the authority of British institutions. It was those same British institutions, however, that aided India during the early days of independence as India’s parliament modeled itself after British practices. When Rosa Parks exercised individual power by keeping her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in protest of segregation laws in the South, she sparked a movement backed by institutions like the NAACP and black churches. Just as individuals can shape history, institutions can serve as the catalysts for change or prove to be obstacles to human freedom. How individuals and institutions exercise power and towards what end is an important question that speaks to our values and the nature of human community.
The National Council for History Education invites proposals on the theme “Exercising Power: Individuals and Institutions in History” for the 2019 National Conference. All proposals will be evaluated on the basis of their intellectual content, their ability to engage the audience, and their overall contribution to the teaching of history.
Breakout sessions: These teacher workshops are typically interactive “how to” sessions designed for the K-12 educator and are 50 minutes in length.
Mini Sessions: Mini Session topics range from teaching ideas to research reports. Presenters have 15 minutes to present information and answer questions. Each mini session typically includes 3 separate 15 minute presentations in the same room within a 50 minute time period.
Poster Session: Poster Session topics range from teaching ideas to research reports. Poster presenters display their information visually (ex. poster/display board) on a six foot table and interact with interested attendees during the 50-minute session. Presenters remain with their posters. The poster session period may include 8-15 simultaneous presenters.