Historian of Eighteenth-Century France

 ©Kristina O'Brien

©Kristina O'Brien

I am a historian of eighteenth-century France and an associate professor at Bowdoin College. I study the age of Enlightenment as a lived experience: what did people think it meant to live in an enlightened age, and how did they put their ideals into practice?  With this fundamental question in mind, I have worked on topics ranging from marriage to material culture, education to inoculation, medicine to marvels.

My first book, Sentimental Savants: Philosophical Families in Enlightenment France, explores how Enlightenment philosophers juggled their family lives and intellectual work and reveals the close connections between the two. In an age of sentiment, philosophers often represented themselves as loving family men and women who were ideally situated to reform society by dint of their domestic experiences.

I am currently working on a book-length study of medical practitioners that follows surgeons, physicians, and midwives around France and the French empire to understand how the practice of medicine transformed during the eighteenth century. I am particularly attentive to the way practitioners assumed the trappings of authority: how they emerged as significant experts on a wide range of social and cultural issues.