Top Young Historians: 108 – François Furstenberg

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

108: François Furstenberg, 6-21-10

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation Chair in American Studies, Université de Montréal.
Area of Research: U.S. and comparative nationalism, Political ideologies, The French Atlantic World, c. 1790-1820, Slavery and Society, c. 1770-1860
Education: Ph.D., History, Johns Hopkins University (2003); B.A., Columbia University (1994).
Major Publications: Furstenberg is the author of In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, Penguin Press, 2006, Audio book François Furstenberg JPGedition, Tantor audio, 2006,Paperback edition, Penguin Books, 2007, a Finalist for the Washington Book Prize, and a “Starred Review,” Publisher’s Weekly. Furstenberg is an editor with Carolyn Fick, La construction de la nation haïtienne après la Révolution. Under contract with CIDIHCA Press, 2010, and the upcoming George Washington and the American Nation: A Brief History with Documents. The Bedford Series in History and Culture. Under Contract with Bedford/ St. Martin’s Press, for publication in 2011.
Furstenberg is currently working on When the United States Spoke French: French Émigrés, Land, and Empire in the Age of Revolutions. Under contract with Penguin Press, for publication in 2012/2013.
Furstenberg is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“Atlantic Slavery, Atlantic Freedom: George Washington’s Library, Slavery, and Trans-Atlantic Abolitionist Networks,” William and Mary Quarterly, forthcoming, October 2010; “The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier in Atlantic History, c. 1754-1815,” The American Historical Review, 113:2 (June, 2008), 647-677, Winner of the Ray Allen Billington Award, Western Historical Association, for the best article on Western history; “Beyond Slavery and Freedom: Autonomy, Agency, and Resistance in Early American Political Discourse.” The Journal of American History 89:4 (March, 2003), 1295-1330, Winner of the ABC-CLIO: America: History and Life Award, for scholarship in American history advancing new perspectives on accepted interpretations or previously unconsidered topics.
Awards: Furstenberg is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Principal Investigator, “When the United States spoke French: Trans-Atlantic commerce, finance, and land speculation in the age of revolutions,” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Standard Research Grants Program, 2010-2013;
Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, The New York Public Library (Gilder Lehrman Fellow) 2009-2010;
Co-Investigator, “French Atlantic Studies” (with a group of scholars from Université de Montréal and McGill University), The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2006-2009;
Gilder Lehrman Fellowship, The New-York Historical Society, 2008;
Principal Investigator, “French Atlantic World and the Creation of the American Republic, 1789-1803,” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Standard Research Grants Program, 2005-2008;
Principal Investigator, “Les émigrés français aux États-Unis et la transformation politique, économique, et diplomatique de la jeune république américaine, 1789-1803,” Fonds de recherche sur la société et la culture, Québec, Établissement de nouveau professeurs-chercheurs, 2005-2008;
Program in Early American Economy and Society postdoctoral fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia, 2005;
Principal Investigator, “Entangling Alliances: Philadelphia’s International Revolutionary Networks and the Creation of Early American Political Culture,” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and l’Université de Montréal, Petite subvention/ Start-up Research Grant, 2004-2005;
Delmas Fellowship, The New-York Historical Society, 2001;
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 2001;
Johns Hopkins Dean’s Fellowship, 2001;
Fellowship for graduate study, The Johns Hopkins University, 1998-2002;
Richard Hofstadter Fellowship, Columbia University, 1997-1998;
Jacob Javits Fellowship, United States Department of Education, 1997-2001.

Additional Info:
Furstenberg formerly was a Visiting Professor, Université de Paris VII-Denis Diderot, and Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge University.
Furstenberg hasalso contributed to the New York Times, and Baltimore Sun, and has given commentary on CBC Radio, Radio Canada Première Chaîne, and LCI/ TVA Television.

Personal Anecdote

My grandfather on my mother’s side, Félix-Paul Codaccioni, was an historian. He taught in high schools in France for many years and then, when he completed his monumental thèse d’état, a two-volume work on the working class of Lille, an industrial city in the north of France where he had settled with his family, he began teaching at the University. For my grandfather, as for many Corsicans starting with his own father, education was road out of the grinding poverty of the rural peasantry; educational achievement was probably the single most important value for him.

I grew up in the United States and only saw my grandfather every other year, when the family went to Corsica on vacation. (As a teacher, he was able to spend the summers in his ancestral home in a small village in the mountains there). No doubt misinterpreting my awkward shyness as intellectual profundity, he imagined I was interested in school and so he would, on occasion, try to mentor me. I have vivid memories of the two of us in the middle of the afternoon on the house’s balcony, me sitting on an uncomfortable chair facing my grandfather, my eyes stinging from the blinding white sun, sweating and miserable, as he droned on and on about Hegel’s dialectic-thèse, antithèse, synthèse… thèse, antithèse, synthèse-while I listened despondently to the other kids playing in the village, blissfully unaware of nineteenth-century German philosophy.

I wish I could say it was he who inspired me to become an historian, but I think the truth is probably more complicated. Other, more powerful and direct influences intervened in college and graduate school to shape my professional choices and intellectual interests. What is strangely true, however, is that I seem to have lived the life that he imagined for himself.

My grandfather always dreamed of moving to Canada. I have no idea why. Certainly he wasn’t enamored of the cold. I think it must have been the scale that caught his imagination: of the forests and mountains and lakes and rivers, and the great Saint Laurent in particular, all of it so different from the smallness and cramped life of postwar Europe in general and of arid Corsica in particular. My grandmother wouldn’t hear of moving to Canada, however, and so they never got further than the north of France.

I, on the other hand, not only became a university professor of history, but went on to get a job teaching in French in Québec: exactly the life my grandfather would have chosen had if he had been able to follow through on his dreams. It is a curious fate for me; my education was in English in big-named American universities, and like most Americans I never gave Canada the slightest though-until I got a job and moved there. Historians as much as anyone else lack perspicacity when the benefits of distance and hindsight are absent, so I won’t even try to speculate about how it is that, without any conscious intent whatsoever, I fulfilled my grandfather’s dream.

Quotes

By François Furstenberg

  • If George had intended the delay in abolition to spare Martha various “disagreeable consequences,” his hopes were not borne out. In fact, George’s will entailed consequences more burdensome and terrifying for Martha than anything he had anticipated.

    In the Name of the Father JPGMartha ultimately took it upon herself to free her husband’s slaves early: some two years before her own death. But it was not humanitarian reasons that drove this early emancipation, the existing evidence suggests she disapproved of freeing slaves, nor was it from the expense or difficulty involved in supporting² the slaves. It was out of fear. It was found necessary, reported Martha¹s grandson, to free the slaves for prudential reasons. Hidden in this circumlocution was the fact that George;s deathbed emancipation had put Martha¹s life in jeopardy. As she and the slaves all recognized, the longer she lived, the longer their bondage extended. “In the state in which they were left by the General,” wrote Adams, “she did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, may of the [the slaves] would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her.” She therefore was advised to set them free at the close of the year.
    Martha Washington, first First Lady, wife of the father of the nation, lived her last days among hundreds of enslaved people she called family, people she believed would try to kill her. — François Furstenberg in “In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation”

  • Four hundred and eighty million years ago, there was no Atlantic Ocean. Africa, Europe, and North America were all connected. North America straddled the equator, and what is now the Atlantic coast lay under water. As the Earth’s tectonic plates collided in this period of intense geological activity, the African plate slamming into the North American plate, the ocean floor buckled, and great sheets of bedrock began slowly rising up in the air. Humans would one day call these the Appalachian Mountains. Over the millions of years that followed, slices of rock crumpled and were thrust miles into the sky as the Appalachians reached exalted heights, nearly as tall as the present-day Himalayas. Eventually the continents began to separate. Vast plains and mountain chains were torn asunder, and water poured into the breach: thus, some 220 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean was formed. The new ocean separated not just the new continents, but the already ancient Appalachian Mountains themselves. They were, one might say, the first Atlantic crossing. — François Furstenberg in “The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier in Atlantic History, c. 1754-1815,” The American Historical Review, 113:2 (June, 2008)

About François Furstenberg

  • Starred Review. “How were the ideals that were articulated in America’s founding documents-freedom, democracy and government based on the consent of the governed-disseminated to the nation? That question animates this extraordinary new study by Furstenberg, an assistant professor of history at the Université de Montréal, which shows how popular print-broadsides, newspaper columns, schoolbooks, sermons-taught citizens “liberal and republican values,” and ultimately “create[d] a nation.” … In the deluge of founding father books, Furstenberg’s blend of high-brow intellectual history and popular culture studies stands out; rather than lionize Washington, it advances an important argument about his role in shaping American political identity.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “In the Name of the Father is an eminently readable and important book linking George Washington’s political philosophy in the early republic (and what others made of it), justifications for slavery, and the power of popular print culture in fashioning American nationalism…. This book is recommended reading for everyone concerned with slavery, racism, and American nationalism, as well as for students of American politics and of popular culture.” — Lorena Walsh, Journal of the Early Republic
  • “In this complex, smartly conceived volume, François Furstenberg offers an engaging reading of the early American republic. He links together, in a single interpretive structure, the emergence of an American nationalism centered on the cult of George Washington as the symbolic father of the country and of individual American lives; an individualism grounded in a Revolution-inspired belief in consent as the basis of liberty and the notion that personal autonomy is realizable only through purposeful rebellion against oppression; a continuing justification of slavery based on the perceived acceptance by blacks of their enslavement; and the pervasive power of popular, especially print, culture in inculcating those notions in the belief system of the American people… a novel and stimulating overview of the cultural politics of the early republic.” — John Howe, “Journal of American History”
  • “Drawing from recent scholarship on the history of the book and on nationalism, his analysis of ‘civic texts’ offers several new twists on the old debate about the relationship between liberalism and slavery in a nation ostensibly dedicated to individual autonomy.” — Scott Casper, “William and Mary Quarterly”
  • “Utilizing civic texts (including the Declaration of Independence and Washington’s farewell address), newspaper articles, and even paintings, he describes the slow but inexorable march toward a vision of what constituted an American identity. His treatment of slavery is particularly informative, as he asserts that the mental gymnastics required to reconcile slavery and republican principles would have devastating consequences.” — Jay Freeman, “Booklist”
  • “The verdict is in-Furstenberg has written a fine book… Sensible, readable, and artfully constructed, it traces the origins of Americans’ shared myths about their own nation.” — Benjamin Carp, “New England Quarterly”

Posted on Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 12:28 PM

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