Lynn Hunt

Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, UCLA

Tracing the Origins of Human Rights, February 8, 2000
Women, the Novel, and Human Rights, February 10, 2000

Lynn Hunt, the Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History at the University of California, Los Angeles, is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts on the French Revolution and one of her discipline's most innovative and influential practitioners of the new cultural history. Educated at Carleton College (where she graduated magna cum laude) and Stanford University (where she received her doctorate), she is a permanent Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has also been a visiting fellow at both the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and the Stanford Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, as well as a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Before taking up her current position at UCLA, she was Annenberg Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and prior to that she was Professor of History at the University of California at Berkeley.

Hunt's main area of research specialization is the political and cultural upheavals that transformed France at the end of the eighteenth-century, and these have been the subject of three ground-breaking books that employ interpretive strategies associated with fields ranging from sociology and ethnography to psychoanalysis. The first of these, Revolution and Urban Politics in Provincial France, was published by Stanford University Press in 1978 and was awarded the Prix Albert Babeau in 1980. The second, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution, was published by the University of California Press in 1984. It also won a prize, this time from the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and was subsequently translated into Italian, German, and Japanese- the first of many of Hunt's writings to be rendered into other languages. The Family Romance of the French Revolution, Hunt's third monograph, was published by the University of California Press in 1992. In some ways her most controversial work of all in its approach to 1789, it has been the subject of forums in several scholarly journals.

Hunt's publications are by no means limited to these three books, for she has also been a prolific writer of essays and editor of volumes. She has, for example, contributed articles to leading scholarly journals such as Comparative Studies in Society and History, the American Historical Review, and Representations and she has written chapters for numerous conference volumes. In addition, she has reviewed books for the New Republic, the London Review of Books, and the New York Times as well as for various academic periodicals. Hunt edited an influential compilation of essays on historical method, The New Cultural History, and has just co-edited with Victoria Bonnell a follow-up collection, After the Cultural Turn, which brings together analyses of trends in the disciplines of sociology and history.

Two of Hunt's other areas of research interest are the political implications of pornography and erotica and trends in historical scholarship. She has edited two books on the first of these topics, and co-authored with Joyce Appleby and Margaret Jacob a book on the second, Telling the Truth About History, which was published by Norton in 1994. Whereas Telling the Truth focused on trends among historians working in the United States, a 1996 New Press book she co-edited with Jacques Revel, Histories: French Constructions of the Past, showcases and places into context the writings of many of France's leading twentieth-century historians.

Finally, Hunt has recently become increasingly interested in a pair of other subjects with clear contemporary relevance: the need to rethink the way the history of Western Civilization is taught to college students and the development of discourses of human rights. She has written short essays on the former topic for several publications and was also part of a team of five authors who, in 1995, produced a Houghton Mifflin textbook entitled The Challenge of the West. She has also begun to publish works on the latter topic, human rights, which will be the subject of her Patten lectures. For example, she selected, translated and introduced a collection of documents on debates relating to rights in 18th century France, which was published as part of a new Bedford Books series designed for classroom use. Hunt is also a contributor to and co-editor of Human Rights and Revolutions, a collection of essays forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Overall, through her publications and other activities, Hunt has distinguished herself as a penetrating analyst of discrete historical phenomena, an insightful writer on the theory and practice of history, and a pioneer in many specific areas including the study of sexual politics. Her main influence has been in the discipline of history, but she has both reached out to and had an impact on a variety of other fields as well, ranging from literary studies, cultural studies, and semiotics, to gender studies, sociology , and political sciences.