Professor of French ; French Studies
Ph.D., M.A. (Modern French History), University of Chicago ; B.A. (Philosophy), Haverford College
19 University Place, 625 New York, New York (US) 10003
Stéphane Gerson is a cultural historian of modern France, with special interests in the nineteenth century and questions of place, memory, political culture, and margins and center. Much of his work has revolved around the ways people respond to upheaval and traumatic changes that they associate with modernity and can seem at once liberating and disturbing.
Gerson has pursued such questions by exploring, first, the resonance of local memory in post-revolutionary France (through history, archeology, literary magazines, historical pageants, and the like). His book The Pride of Place: Local Memories and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century France (Cornell, 2003) won the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and the Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies. His second book probed changing relationships to fear, uncertainty, trauma, and the future by examining the Nostradamus phenomenon from the Renaissance to the present. Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer Became the Modern Prophet of Doom came out with St. Martin’s Press in 2012. Gerson also co-edited a new Penguin Classics edition of Nostradamus’ Prophecies (2012).
Gerson’s current research interests are twofold. A first project revolves around the politics of technological and natural disasters in the nineteenth century. He is testing the notion that the disaster and its aftermath helped the French state extend its presence in society (though a politics of legitimation, empathy, and expertise) while leaving open spaces for grassroots responses that had their own cultural and political contours. This project brings together the event and its afterlife as well as metropole and colonies. Gerson’s other project is a dual micro-history of two couples before, during, and after WW2: a couple of Belgian Jewish refugees in Nice and the policeman who, with his wife, saved them. This is at once an inquiry into the ordinary aspects and extraordinary aspects of war, a ground-level analysis of survival and rescue, and an exploration of familial memory and silence in France and Belgium.
Gerson’s final area of interest revolves around the writing of history. He explored historian Alain Corbin’s approach to cultural history in a special issue of French Politics, Culture & Society which he guest-edited in 2004. With Laura Lee Downs, he edited a collection of autobiographical essays by American historians of France: Why France? American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination (Cornell, 2007; Le Seuil, 2008). This book seeks to unearth the intellectual, professional, and personal reasons why thousands of American historians have devoted their careers to France over the course of the twentieth century.
Gerson’s teaching includes cultural history, cultural theory, and historical methodology. He has also created a course that trains doctoral students to teach French civilization.
“Le patrimoine local impossible: Nostradamus à Salon-de-Provence, 1980-1999.” Genèses. Sciences sociales et histoire 92/3 (2013)
“The Local,” in The French Republic: History, Memory, and Contemporary Life, eds. Edward Berenson, Vincent Duclert, and Christophe Prochasson (2011).
“La història local a la França contemporània,” Afers: Fulls de recerca i pensament 66 (2010).
“Searching for Nostradamus: Tracking the Man, the Legend, and the Name Across Five Centuries,” Esopus Magazine 13 (2009).
“La mesure de l’érudition. Le Comité des Travaux Historiques et ses correspondants provinciaux (1830–1870),” in Bruno Dumons, ed., La fabrique de l’honneur. Les médailles et les décorations en France (2009).
“‘A World of Their Own’: Searching for Popular Culture in the French Countryside,” French Politics, Culture & Society 27, 2 (2009).
“In Praise of Modest Men: Self-Display and Self-Effacement in Nineteenth-Century France,” French History 20, 2 (June 2006).
“L’état français et le culte malaisé des souvenirs locaux, 1830-1880,” Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle 29 (2004).
“L’impossible présence de l’historien,” French Politics, Culture & Society 22, 2 (2004).
“Une France locale: The Local Past in Recent French Scholarship,” French Historical Studies 26, 3 (2003).
“Town, Nation, or Humanity? Festive Delineations of Place and Past in Northern France, 1825-1865,” The Journal of Modern History 72, 3 (2000).