Thomas W. Dodman

Thomas W. Dodman

Research interests
Modern France and French Empire; cultural and intellectual history; history and literature; emotions, medical humanities, and psychoanalysis; political economy and critical social theory.

I am a historian of modern France and its empire, with a broad training in cultural and intellectual history, and interdisciplinary research and teaching interests in psychoanalysis, anthropology, political economy, and social theory. My work ranges widely, but typically explores social transformation in times of war and revolution, and through the study of emotions and medicine in particular. As director of the History and Literature (HiLi) MA at Columbia’s Global Center in Paris, I also probe the porous boundary between these two disciplines and forms of writing.

My first book, What Nostalgia Was: War, Empire, and the Time of a Deadly Emotion (Chicago, 2018) examines how people once died of nostalgia in order to tell a larger story about social transformation and alienation in a time of war and imperialism. A work of archival research, the book develops a theory of practice as a way of grounding the history of changing concepts and emotions in the capitalist epoch. A revised edition appeared in French translation as Nostalgie: Histoire d’une émotion mortelle (Seuil, 2022)

In a new book project provisionally titled Les Volontaires and under contract with Seuil, I tell the extraordinary story and “family romance” of a young man who was raised to be Rousseau’s Emile, and of his philosophe adoptive mother and step sister-cum-future wife, through the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the early Nineteenth Century. Part micro-history, part social biography, this book explores ways and possibilities of writing a fragmentary history in a minor key.

I strongly believe in the value of collaborative and interdisciplinary work, and enjoy coediting the journal Sensibilités: histoire, critique & sciences sociales (Anamosa), together with Clémentine Vidal-Naquet, Hervé Mazurel, Anouche Kunth, and Quentin Deluermoz. I have curated four issues in particular of the journal, on the study of emotions in neuroscience and the social sciences (Controverses sur l’émotion, 2018); on money (Au miroir de l’argent, 2021); on forms of insensibility (Insensibilités, 2023); and, with Sarah Mazouz, on race (L’ombre portée, 2024). I also serve on the editorial boards of Critical Historical Studies (Chicago) and Romanic Review (Duke), and was previously associate editor at Emotion Review (Sage). I have coedited a special issue of French Historical Studies on Epistolary Gestures together with Anne Verjus and Caroline Muller (Duke, 2021) as well as two collected volumes: a global history of war, featuring 55 specialists and offering a sweeping thematic panorama of armed conflicts since the nineteenth century (Une Histoire de la Guerre, du XIXe siècle à nos jours, Seuil, 2018, with Bruno Cabanes, Hervé Mazuel, and Gene Tempest); and an exploration of the afterlives of the Napoleonic empire (From the Napoleonic Empire to the Age of Empire, Palgrave, 2023, with Aurélien Lignereux).

In 2023-24 I am a fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas & Imagination at Reid Hall in Paris, where I will be working on two new projects: a social biography of Ismaÿl Urbain and a non-canonical reading of Alexis de Tocqueville. I have previously held fellowships at the Shelby Collum Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University; at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where I co-founded the collective project IAS History Working Group; at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress; at the Huntington and Newberry libraries; as well as the Marie Curie EU fellowship program.

I read history in the UK at University College London (BA 2001 & MA 2002), before moving to the US to pursue a doctorate at the University of Chicago (PhD 2011). Before joining Columbia I taught at Boston College, George Mason University, and Sciences Po Paris. I teach Contemporary Civilization in the Core, modern French and intellectual history, as well as thematic courses on the interdisciplinary study of emotions, history & literature, and the comparative analysis of racial passing and class transfuges. I am affiliated with ICLS, Medical Humanities, and the Heyman Center for the Humanities, and I co-organize the affect studies university seminar as well as numerous events at the Maison Française at Columbia.

Representative Publications