(The Soubise palace in Paris, longtime site of France’s National Archives, where much of my research has been carried out. Before that, it was the residence of the Rohan family, the subjects of my forthcoming book. The architecture exemplifies French ideals that both delight and infuriate foreigners like me– order, symmetry, and a fairly extreme ideal of grandeur.)
My research centers on two themes and one place. Theme 1 is the history of Europe’s ruling classes, especially during the early modern period, from about 1450 to the French Revolution of 1789. The second theme is historical writing itself. I’m interested in what history does as a form of knowledge, how it manages to be both an expression of the society that produced it and an independent, hard-to-practice science.
The place is France, which has fascinated me since I was a teenager. As for most Americans who’ve involved themselves in French culture, it’s a complicated relationship, which includes elements of love, frustration, and bafflement. Yet the task of understanding France, however partially, and of conveying that understanding to American audiences seem more important than ever. Along a variety of axes, France constitutes an alternative to the American society I usually move in, different in its politics, culture, and personal relations. Understanding the choices that have contributed to that difference has offered me a way of reflecting on my own society– a concern that does not come up explicitly in my scholarship, but that is always present in the background.
The mixture of these interests has led to six books; I’ve also directed a large encyclopedia on Europe in the early modern period.
Hot off the presses!! My new book (it’s about a top-dog aristocratic family in the seventeenth century) is just out, from Penn State University Press:
I’ll leave up the pictures that were here, just because they’re cool– they show the family’s most famous guy, first the way he really looked toward the end of his life, second an idealized statue from the late 1800s:
Here’s a link with more information about these projects.