Top Young Historians: 99 – Christopher E. Forth

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

99: Christopher E. Forth, 2-9-09

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Howard Professor of Humanities & Western Civilization, University of Kansas
Area of Research: Cultural history of gender, sexuality and the body, modern European intellectual and cultural history, modern France
Education: Ph.D., History, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1994
Major Publications: Forth is the author of Masculinity in the Modern West: Gender, Civilization and the Body (Palgrave, 2008), The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004; paperback 2006), and Christopher E. Forth JPGZarathustra in Paris: The Nietzsche Vogue in France, 1891-1918 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2001).
He has also co-edited Sexuality at the Fin de Siècle: The Makings of a “Central Problem” (University of Delaware Press, 2008), French Masculinities: History, Culture and Politics (Palgrave, 2007), Cultures of the Abdomen: Diet, Digestion and Fat in the Modern World (Palgrave, 2005), and Body Parts: Critical Explorations in Corporeality (Lexington, 2005).
Forth has written numerous scholarly articles and book chapters, including “Surviving our Paradoxes? Masculinity, Modernity, and the Body,” Culture, Society and Masculinities, 1, no. 1 (Spring 2009); “Manhood Incorporated: Diet and the Embodiment of ‘Civilized’ Masculinity,” Men and Masculinities (2009); “The Novelization of the Dreyfus Affair: Women and Sensation in Fin-de-Siècle France,” in Victorian Crime, Madness, and Sensation, edited by Andrew Maunder and Grace Moore (London: Ashgate, 2004), 163-178; “Neurasthenia and Manhood in Fin-de-Siècle France,” in Cultures of Neurasthenia from Beard to the First World War, Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Roy Porter, eds. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001), 329-361; and “Bodies of Christ: Gender, Jewishness, and Religious Imagery in the Dreyfus Affair.” History Workshop Journal, 48 (Autumn 1999): 18-38.
He is currently writing a book entitled Flab: A Cultural History of Obesity, which is under contract with Reaktion Books (UK). Awards: Forth is the recipient of numerous research grants and fellowships, including:
Keeler Intra-University Professorship from the University of Kansas (2010);
Two Discovery Grants from the Australian Research Council (2006);
Two small grants from the Australian Research Council (1999, 2000);
Five faculty research grants from the Australian National University (1998-2004);
Travel grant from the Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine (2001);
Three faculty research grants from the University of Memphis (1995-97);
Camargo Foundation Fellowship (1993);
Younger Scholars Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1987).
While teaching in Australia Forth also won a Carrick Institute Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning [“For Developing Innovative and Effective Multimedia Techniques for the Research-Driven Teaching of European and American Cultural History”] (2006) and a Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Australian National University (2006).
Additional Info:
Editorial Advisory Board, Men and Masculinities;
Editorial Board, Culture, Society and Masculinities.

Personal Anecdote

When I was in fifth grade my teacher announced to the class that I would grow up to be a historian. Not that I took this very seriously: I just happened to know who Patrick Henry was, and was pretty sure that, whatever a historian did, it must be pretty boring. In fact it was not until tenth grade that the idea of an academic life began to hold any kind of appeal for me. This was not because of what I learned in any high school history class, but from stumbling upon a tattered copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in my English class. My teacher said I could have the book “as long as you read it.” I did and it changed my life, generating an interest in the history of ideas that led me to literature, philosophy and social theory. I found each of these fields fascinating, but apparently so hemmed in by disciplinary conventions that focusing on any one of them seemed tantamount to bidding farewell to the others. When I began my university work I settled on history because it seemed like an open intellectual space in which to examine virtually anything pertaining to human society so long as it happened in the past. Ultimately what attracted me to history was its sense of openness and possibility, apparently limited only by the questions one brought to it. I’m not sure what my fifth grade teacher would have to say about this, but it seems she was right after all.

My specific interest in the cultural history of gender, sexuality and the body was sparked during my final semester of graduate school and has never ceased to inform my work. Feeling the need to make sure I had read “everything” on my period before submitting my dissertation on the first French reception of Nietzsche’s work, I happened upon Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (1986), and quickly became enthralled. Dijkstra’s rich analysis of how depictions of women in art and literature were informed by developments in biology, psychology, medicine and social theory – and how many of these representations seemed like compensations for a spectrum of male anxieties – completely changed my view of intellectual and cultural history. I became sensitive to how gendered language is often used to describe social and political phenomena, and reflected on the numerous instances in my dissertation where I had treated such language uncritically. A closer focus on how various groups described Nietzsche and his followers in gendered terms seemed worth pursuing, and while it was impractical to recast the dissertation at that late date, I developed this theme more fully when revising the text for publication. Thanks to these new insights the end result, Zarathustra in Paris: The Nietzsche Vogue in France, 1891-1918, provided a more complex perspective on the dynamics of cultural reception and intellectual politics, and a springboard for much of my subsequent work.

Quotes

By Christopher E. Forth

  • One of the ironies of the gendered discourse of civilization is that, despite the terror, torture, warfare Masculinity in the Modern West JPGand domestic violence that is
  • perpetuated in the world, it is the capacity to enact and endure violence that is often represented as one of the most unjustly repressed aspects of male experience. Yet if violence and warfare are so often celebrated for their “regenerative” potential, it is perhaps because the more positive ideals of sacrifice and self-denial that defined the warrior code have, since the early eighteenth century, been systematically challenged by developments that emphasize the value of self-indulgence and softer lifestyles. While peace has been celebrated throughout modern history, it has also been criticized for its tendency to make individuals and societies complacent and weak. — Christopher E. Forth in “Masculinity in the Modern West (2008)”

About Christopher E. Forth

  • ‘Forth’s ambitious panoramic history of western masculinity is sweepingly broad, yet Forth has a keen eye for the revealing detail. With an analysis as sharp as his style is clear and erudite, Forth’s reach never exceeds his grasp. This is a most impressive work!’ — Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology at SUNY/Stony Brook and editor of Men and Masculinities
  • ‘Christopher Forth’s survey of masculinity in the West is the first historical synthesis of the rich literature in this field. He puts familiar materials together in surprising new ways and presents readers with some highly original and provocative interpretations that will prove to be important contributions to gender studies and cultural history. The wit and deftness of Forth’s style and his well-chosen examples make it a sheer delight to read.’ — Robert A. Nye, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History Emeritus, Oregon State University
  • “This is an important, extraordinary book. Forth demonstrates, with great acumen and wit, how the Dreyfus Affair transformed masculinity and corporeal experience in fin-de-siècle France” — Journal of Social History reviewing “The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood”
  • “an original and exciting new book . . . Forth uses the Dreyfus Affair as a means to explore not only the contingency of manhood but also the subtle ways in which gender norms are implicated in racist imagery, class boundaries, and the construction of the intellectual in fin-de-siècle France” — American Historical Review
  • “an engaging and illuminating study . . . Forth reframes our understanding of the overall stakes of the battle between republican intellectuals and the forces of reaction” — Journal of Modern History
  • “an important, innovative work [that offers] a more complex and rich picture not only of the Dreyfus Affair, but also of the concerns of the period with regard to manhood, medicine and modernity” — Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
  • “By shifting the main focus from race to gender, from anti-Semitism to masculinity, Forth demonstrates just how deeply rooted in French culture the Dreyfus Affair was. If it was fears about the degeneracy of French masculinity that underlay the Affair, then the hysteria it generated is somewhat more comprehensible” — H-France
  • “Forth boldly sets out to fashion a fresh perspective, armed with the methodological insights of cultural histories of the body . . . . a strongly argued, well-illustrated and well-researched book” — European History Quarterly
  • “This work is significant because of the way it boldly reinterprets a staple subject in mainstream political history by examining questions of gender anxiety” — History: The Journal of the Historical Association
  • “Very intelligent man with a real passion for the subject.”….
    He is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. He is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject. His lectures are informative. If you enjoy the material, he is great, and I could not recommend him more.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 1:46 AM

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