Benjamin Bernard

Postdoctoral Fellow

I’m a historian interested in European culture, politics, and ideas from Mediterranean antiquity to the twenty-first century. I specialize in the cultural and intellectual history of the French Enlightenment. In my research, I use rare old books and quill-and-ink manuscript archives to identify how people in the past made moral judgments—ranging from ideas about virtuous political organization to erudite conceptions of gender difference. This inquiry especially includes the histories of education, sexuality, the state, and ideas. I came to this field because, in college, classes in LGBT history rendered visible to me a long, hidden past that helps to understand our own identities today; these meaningful courses also showed me how people, together, can effect political change. I also came to study France, and this, too, requires explanation: in the modern American imagination—and in the image of itself that France has projected for centuries—the country’s culture has represented that which is fancy, frivolous, or decadent. To study France from the American perspective is therefore to probe the ethics of excess. Before coming to the University of Virginia as a Postdoctoral College Fellow, I split my time over the past decade between Paris, New York City—and Princeton, where I completed my doctoral research. In each place, I enjoyed teaching first-year undergraduates in core curricula and history survey courses: at Princeton University, at the Institut d’Études Politiques (“Sciences Po”) in France, and at New York University and Fordham University. I am particularly enthusiastic about the Engagements Program because it quiets the clamoring disciplinary apparatus of survey courses and elevates the vital twin offerings of the liberal arts: through meaningful, creative, and critical inquiry, the humanities and sciences empower inner self-understanding and impel macro-level social changes.