William H. Bonsall Professor of French
Chair, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages
Professor of History, by courtesy
W. Warren Shelden University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Chair of Graduate Studies, French
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, now the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment) on The Super-Enlightenment; and a third, with Keith Baker, on Scripting Revolution (Stanford University Press). In addition, I’ve published articles on such topics as the Encyclopédie, 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 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. 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 Fall 2016 issue of the Journal of Modern 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, Fibra. 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.
Finally, I’m a founding editor of the journal Republics of Letters, and with J.P. Daughton, I co-direct the French Culture Workshop.
2004: Ph.D. in French, University of Pennsylvania
1999: Licence ès lettres (French, English, Latin), Université de Genève
1993: Maturité scientifique, Collège Calvin, Geneva