I work for the most part on eighteenth-century France, with research interests in literature, history, political thought, and digital humanities. Most recently, I wrote a book on the history of natural and human rights from the wars of religion to the age of revolution (On the Spirit of Rights, University of Chicago Press). An early version of this research appeared in the Journal of Modern History; a more theoretical piece is in Humanity; and a synopsis of the first part of this book's argument can be found in an article for Critical Analysis of Law.
My first book, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 2009), examined how natural law theories, classical republicanism, and the myth of the golden age became fused in eighteenth-century political culture, only to emerge as a violent ideology during the Terror. This book won the 2009 Oscar Kenshur Book Prize. My second book, entitled The Enlightenment: A Genealogy (University of Chicago Press, 2010), explored how the idea and narrative of "Enlightenment" emerged in French academic circles around the 1720's. I’ve edited six volumes of essays: on Myth and Modernity (for Yale French Studies); on The Super-Enlightenment (for SVEC [Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century], now the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment); with Keith Baker, on Scripting Revolution (Stanford University Press); with Anton Matytsin, Let there Be Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins University Press); with Chloe Edmondson, Networks of Enlightenment (Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, forthcoming) ; and with Stefanos Geroulanos and Natasha Wheatley, Power and Time (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).
At Stanford, I teach courses on the literature, philosophy, history, culture, and politics of the Enlightenment; nineteenth-century novels; the French Revolution; early-modern political thought; and French intellectual culture (“Coffee & Cigarettes”). I regularly teach in Education as Self-Fashioning, a freshman program on liberal education; as well as in the Stanford Summer Humanities Institute, a program for high school juniors and seniors (which I direct); I also co-direct (with Debra Satz) and teach in Stanford's Humanities Core program. I received the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching (in 2006), the university's highest teaching honor, and the Dean's Distinguished Teaching Award (in 2011).
I’m currently working on two main projects:
On Permanent Revolution. This book manuscript explores how revolution went from being the means toward a constitutional settlement, to becoming an end in and of itself. Stretching from Antiquity to the twentieth century, it focuses in particular on the transformation of revolutionary authority during the French Revolution; on Marx's development of the concept of a "revolution in permanence"; and finally on the relation between this new model and the political violence that has often accompanied revolutions. An article from this project appeared in French Historical Studies; another is in The Scaffold of Sovereignty, ed. Zvi Ben-Dor, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Nicole Jerr (Columbia University Press); a third came out in History and Theory.
Digital Humanities. I'm a PI on the NEH-funded digital humanities project Mapping the Republic of Letters. This project, which brings together other scholars at Stanford and around the world, aims to map the correspondence and social networks of major intellectual figures (read about our project in the Stanford Report and in the New York Times, or watch this video). A spin-off article, "The French Enlightenment Network" (co-written with Maria Comsa, Melanie Conroy, Chloe Edmondson, and Claude Willan), appeared in Autumn 2016 issue of the Journal of Modern History; an article on Voltaire's correspondence network, co-written with Biliana Kassabova, came out with Modern Intellectual History. The tool-building part of this project has now been subsumed in the Humanities + Design Research Lab, of which I am the founding faculty director; we received another NEH grant to develop Palladio, and an ACLS grant to develop a new social network grap visualization, Data Pen. This Lab is itself part of Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, or CESTA. More recently, I have been working on the project "Writing Rights," and published an article exploring the potential of JSTOR's data portal for exploring the "great unread" of scholarship. I was also the faculty advisor for Stanford's French Revolution Digital Archive (FRDA), and collaborate regularly with the ARTFL project, notably for these two articles on the Encyclopédie.
Research Unit Groups
- Digital Humanities
- Intellectual History