I work for the most part on eighteenth-century France, with research interests at the crossroads of literature, history, political theory, and digital humanities. My first book, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 2009), examines how "liberal" natural right 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), explores how the idea and narrative of "Enlightenment" emerged in French academic circles around the 1720's. I’ve also edited three volumes of essays, one for Yale French Studies, on Myth and Modernity, another for SVEC (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century) on The Super-Enlightenment; and a third, which I'm co-editing with Keith Baker, on Scripting Revolution (Stanford University Press, forthcoming). In addition, I’ve published articles on such topics as the Encyclopédie (here and here) antiquarianism, Orientalism, the Idéologues, revolutionary authority, and structuralism, as well as on writers including Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Balzac, Roland Barthes, Lévi-Strauss, Michelet, Mallarmé, Georges Sorel, Emmerich de Vattel, and Voltaire.
At Stanford, I teach courses on the literature, philosophy, culture, and politics of the Enlightenment; nineteenth-century novels; the French Revolution; early-modern political thought; and French intellectual culture (“Coffee & Cigarettes”). I teach two Thinking Matters courses, one on "Education as Self-Fashioning," the other on "Networks: Ecological, Revolutionary, and Digital." I’ve 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 three main projects:
On Permanent Revolution. This book-length project explores how revolution went from being the means toward a constitutional settlement, to becoming an end in and of itself. Stretching from the sixteenth 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 forthcoming in The Scaffold of Sovereignty, ed. Zvi Ben-Dor, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Nicole Jerr (Columbia University Press).
The Spirit of the Rights. This book explores early-modern rights regimes, from the Wars of Religion to the Age of Revolutions, in France, England, and the American colonies. It pays particular attention to the French Enlightenment, and the transformations of "rights talk" during that period. An early version of this research ("Enlightenment Rights Talk") recently appeared in the Journal of Modern History; a more theoretical piece is forthcoming in Humanity.
Digital Humanities. Along with a number of colleagues at Stanford and around the world, I’m involved in a large-scale, NEH-funded, digital humanities project, Mapping the Republic of Letters, one of whose primary aims is to map the correspondence networks of major intellectual figures (read about our project in the Stanford Report and in the New York Times). The tool-building part of this project has now been subsumed in the Humanities + Design Research Lab, of which I am the faculty director. This Lab is itself part of Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, or CESTA. I was also the faculty advisor for Stanford's French Revolution Digital Archive (FRDA), and collaborate regularly with the ARTFL project.
Finally, I’m a founding editor of the journal Republics of Letters, and with J.P. Daughton, I co-direct the French Culture Workshop.