Dan Edelstein

Dan Edelstein

Professor of French and, by courtesy, of History
W. Warren Shelden University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Director, French and Italian
Chair of Undergraduate Studies, French

Focal Groups:
    Digital Humanities
    Humanities Education
    Philosophy and Literature


102 Pigott Hall
650 724 9881

Office Hours:

Tuesday 10:00-12:00


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 of an Enlightenment emerged in French academic circles around the 1720's. I’ve also edited two volumes of essays, one for Yale French Studies, on Myth and Modernity, the other for SVEC (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century) on The Super-Enlightenment. In addition, I’ve published articles on such topics as the Encyclopédie, antiquarianism, Orientalism, the Idéologues, political 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 mostly teach courses on the literature, philosophy, culture, and politics of the Enlightenment; on 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:

A comparative study of revolutionary authority. This book-length project examines how (and when) “revolution” became in and of itself a means of justifying revolutionary action. Stretching from the sixteenth century to the present, it focuses in particular on the appearance and evolution of revolutionary “myths” (drawing on Georges Sorel’s definition of the term). An article from this project recently appeared in French Historical Studies.

Nature and natural right in the Enlightenment. This project looks broadly at the different ways in which nature served as a “moral authority” (Lorraine Daston) in the eighteenth century. In particular, I examine how the philosophes developed a current of natural right theory that was distinct (and considerably different) from the philosophical-jurisprudential tradition. I carry this study up through the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. A version of this research ("Enlightenment Rights Talk") is forthcoming in the Journal of Modern History.

Mapping the Republic of Letters. Along with a number of colleagues at Stanford and around the world, I’m involved in a large-scale digital humanities project, one of whose primary aims is to map the correspondence networks of major intellectual figures. For more information, visit Mapping the Republic of Letters. You can also read about our project in the Stanford Report and in the New York Times.

I’m also a founding editor of Republics of Letters, and with J.P. Daughton, I co-direct the French Culture Workshop.


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2004: Ph.D. in French, University of Pennsylvania
1999: Licence ès lettres (French, English, Latin), Université de Genève
1993: Maturité scientifique, Collège Calvin, Geneva

News & Events

May 6, 2013
Dear Students and Colleagues,Please join the DLCL in congratulating FRIT lecturer Marie-Pierre...
Jan 14, 2013
ITALIAN FILM CLASSICSMonday Nights, 6—9pm(Jan. 7—Mar. 11, 2013)Pigott Hall (Building...


  • DLCL


    A number of faculty will present published work and discuss their research and composition process. We will read critical, theoretical, and literary texts that address, in different ways, "What is a World?" Taught in English.
  • DLCL


    For undergraduate majors in DLCL departments; required for honors students. Planning, researching, and writing an honors thesis. Oral presentations and peer workshops. Research and writing methodologies, and larger critical issues in literary studies.

    The French Revolution was not just a haunting memory in nineteenth-century France: it was the decisive structure around which French politics, but also French culture and the arts more generally, were centered. As some historians have argued, the French Revolution might not even have really “ended” until 1880. In this course, we will examine both literary representations of the French Revolution, as well as the literary analyses of a society constantly dealing with the fears (or hopes) of a new Revolution. Primary readings by Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola. Taught in French.


    Examines a quintessential French figure – l’intellectuel – from a long-term historical perspective. We will observe how this figure was shaped over time by such other cultural types as the writer, the artist, the historian, the philosopher, and the moralist. Proceeding in counter-chronological order, from the late 20th to the 16th century, we will read a collection of classic French works. As this course is a gateway for French studies, special emphasis will be placed on oral proficiency.  Prerequisites:  2 years college-level French.


    We like to think of social networks as contemporary phenomena. But before Facebook, individuals organized themselves in social networks; before Twitter, revolutionaries used media to communicate and coordinate their messages. In fact, even animal societies are networked. Do all these social networks share certain properties? What can we learn by comparing them? These are some of the questions we will ask in this course, as we traverse the natural world and past societies before taking a fresh look at our modern social networks.