Photo Credit: Gerry Szymanski

Jean Elisabeth Pedersen

Associate Professor of History




Jean Elisabeth Pedersen is Associate Professor of History at the Eastman School of Music, with additional appointments in the History Department and the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies of the University of Rochester.  Her main research interests focus on the intellectual and cultural history of nineteenth and twentieth century France, and she offers courses on a wide range of topics in French history, European history, and comparative European and American history from the eighteenth century to the present day.

Pedersen’s first book, Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics, 1870-1920 (Rutgers, 2003), explored the public response to feminist protest by focusing on the ways in which late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French journalists, novelists, playwrights, and politicians responded to feminist activists’ demands for reform in the areas of divorce, paternity suits, and reproductive rights.  Her second book, The Gender of Truth (in progress), will focus on the life, work, and reception of the male and female members of philosopher Paul Desjardins’ Union for Moral Action (1892-1905), Union for Truth (1905-1940), and Open Conversations (1904-1940) as a way of exploring the history and memory of public intellectuals in France.  She has published articles and essays on topics as various as the feminist theater of Marya Cheliga, the sociology of Emile Durkheim, and the novels of Emile Zola, and she has also presented her work in conference and seminar settings across the United States, in Canada, in France, in the Netherlands, and in the United Kingdom.

Pedersen received her B.A. cum laude with Honors in History and a minor in Economics from Barnard College, Columbia University; her M.A. and Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago.  Her honors and awards include a Chateaubriand Fellowship from the French government for study in Paris, a Monticello College Foundation Fellowship for research at the Newberry Library in Chicago, a Bridging Fellowship to the Visual and Cultural Studies Program at the University of Rochester, and six awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities for participation in the NEH Summer Institute on French Cultural Studies, NEH Summer Seminar on Nations and Nationalism, NEH Summer Institute on the Idea of a Social Science, NEH Summer Institute on Human Rights in Conflict, NEH Summer Seminar on Exploring American Democracy with Alexis de Tocqueville as Guide, and NEH Summer Seminar on Writing and Democracy in Western New York.  Before coming to Eastman, she taught as the Gustave von Holst Prize Lecturer for “French Feminism, 1789-1989″ in the University of Chicago of the University of Chicago.

Works / Publications

Research and Publications


  • Legislating the French Family: Feminism, Theater, and Republican Politics, 1870-1920 (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003). 

Articles and Essays

  • “Lettre à Paul Desjardins,” in De Pontigny à Cerisy: des lieux pour “penser avec ensemble”, ed. Sylvain Allemand, Edith Heurgon, Claire Paulhan (Paris: Hermann Editeurs, 2011), pp. 311-313; portions of this open letter also appear among the sources of the dialog for the short play “Bribes de lettres,” adapted by Catherine Espinasse, in De Pontigny a Cerisy, pp. 331-349.
  • “Durkheim et l’éducation sexuelle,” in Le pouvoir du genre: Laïcités et religions 1905-2005, ed. Florence Rochefort (Toulouse: Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2007), pp. 111-126.
  •  “Confronting the Canon in the Classroom: Approaches to Teaching the Significance of Women, Sex, and Gender in the Work of Emile Durkheim,” in Teaching Durkheim, ed. Terry Godlove (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 187-212.
  • “Le Théâtre féministe de Marya Chéliga, 1897-1898,” Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de Paris et de l’Ile de France (2004), pp. 33-64.
  • “Comments on ‘The Politics of Modernity: Gender, Nation, and Empire in Egypt’,” Gender and History 16, no. 1 (April 2004), pp. 113-122.
  •  “Sexual Politics in Comte and Durkheim: Feminism, History, and the Social Scientific Canon,” SIGNS: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 1 (Fall 2001), pp. 229-263; translated into Portuguese by Denise Lopes as “Política Sexual em Comte e Durkheim: Feminismo, História, e a Tradição Sociológica Francesa,” REVER: Revista de Estudos da Religião 6, no. 1 (2006), on-line at
  • “Nana and the Nation: French Cultural Studies and Interdisciplinary Work,” in French Cultural Studies: Criticism at the Crossroads, ed. Marie-Pierre LeHir and Dana Strand (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 29-48.
  •  “’Something Mysterious:’ Sex Education, Victorian Morality, and Durkheim’s Comparative Social Science,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 34, no. 2 (1998), pp. 135-151.
  • “’Special Customs:’ Paternity Suits and Citizenship in France and the Colonies, 1870-1912,” in Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, ed. Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 43-64.
  • “Regulating Abortion and Birth Control: Gender, Medicine, and Republican Politics in France, 1870-1920,” French Historical Studies 19, no. 3 (1996), pp. 673-698.


  • Book reviews for The American Historical Review, The European Legacy, The H-France Forum, The H-France Review, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, The Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, and The Journal of Modern History



HIS 202  Twentieth-Century Europe

A survey of the major political, diplomatic, and socio-economic developments in Europe from about 1890 to the present.

HIS 203, 204  European Intellectual History

The principal intellectual currents that have characterized Western Europe from antiquity to the present.

HIS 206  European Cultural History

Novels, plays, dance, music, poetry, painting … How can we use individual artistic creations as a way of learning about the politics, economics, social structures, and psychological attitudes of the past? This course will answer that question by focusing on a series of modern European examples from the French Revolution through the Second World War.

HIS 210  Constructing Utopias

The study of real and imaginary utopian and dystopian communities in Europe and the United States from medieval monasteries through contemporary science fiction.  Cross-listed as WST 210.

HIS 220  Comparative Revolutions

The comparative study of the American Revolution through the Civil War, the French Revolution through the Revolutions of 1848, and the Russian Revolution through the Revolutions of 1989. 

HIS 222  Modern France

Alternately friends and rivals, modern France and the United States have had a complicated relationship ever since both nations were born in revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. This course will seek to understand France on its own terms by considering a series of formative events such as the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, the Dreyfus Affair and the birth of the intellectual, the very different experiences of World Wars I and II, the post-colonial conflicts in Algeria and Vietnam, the near-revolution of May 1968, and current conflicts in French foreign and domestic policy.

HIS 224  Americans in Paris

This course focuses on the wide variety of political, cultural, and economic exchanges between the United States and France. Topics include the revolutionary diplomacy of the eighteenth century, the high society tourism of figures such as Edith Wharton and Henry James in the nineteenth century, the avant-garde art circles of figures such as Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway in the early twentieth century, and the economic expansion of companies such as Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Disneyland today.

HIS 230  Men, Women, and War

Historians sometimes call the Twentieth Century the Age of Total War, suggesting that modern war affected every member of society in new ways.  This course will focus on the changing lives of European and American women and men before, during, and after the First and Second World Wars.  Special topics will include how and why the wars began and ended, changing images of masculinity and femininity, new patterns of work and family life, the rise of welfare states, the development of mass politics, and the invention of international human rights.  Cross-listed with WST 230.

HIS 232  International Human Rights

What does it mean to be human? What different kinds of rights might be part of different people’s working definitions? How should we act on any or all of those different definitions today? This course will look at both (a) the historical development of conflicting theories of human rights and (b) more contemporary debates about their ideal extent, their practical exercise, and the preferred means of their necessary enforcement. Cross-listed as WST 232

HIS 250  Conflicts in Feminism

What is feminism?  Who is a feminist?  What happens when even feminists themselves disagree about how to answer these questions?  This course explores the history, theory, and politics of feminism by exploring the texture of women’s daily lives and activist experiences in Europe and the United States from the eighteenth century to today.  Cross-listed as WST 250.

HIS 272  Existentialism: Sartre, De Beauvoir, and Camus

Existentialism is a school of philosophy that stresses individual choice even in the face of overwhelming world circumstances. This course will focus on three particularly important French figures, all writers who tried to put academic philosophy into action by their decisions in personal life and political behavior: Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), and Albert Camus (1913-1960). In addition to studying their philosophical work, we will also look at their participation in the Resistance to German occupation during World War II, their responses to the Cold War, their criticisms of the Algerian War and the Vietnam War, and their contributions to twentieth-century socialist and feminist movements. Readings include plays, novels, philosophical essays, and political criticism. Cross-listed as FR272 and PHL 272.

HIS 274  Hannah Arendt

This course studies the life, world, and work of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century, with a special focus on her interpretations of the American, French, and Russian Revolutions, the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the international political, social, and cultural events of 1968. Cross-listed as PSC 274.

HIS 278  Virginia Woolf and Her World

A study of major fiction and selected nonfiction by one of the world’s great modern writers and social thinkers, this course focuses on understanding Virginia Woolf’s writings in relation both to her life and to the social, cultural, political, and economic developments of her time, especially the impact of the two World Wars, the spread of modernism across the arts, the increasing popularity of psychoanalysis, and the rise of the modern women’s movement. Cross-listed as ENG 278, WST 278.

HIS 281

Special topics in history for the Fall semester. 

HIS 282

Special topics in history for the Spring semester.

Professor Pedersen also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in History and Women’s Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Rochester.

Engagements / Professional Activities

Most Recent and Upcoming Engagements

Chair, “Women, Education, and Training in Colonial Algeria, 1870-1930,” Society for French Historical Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, April 2013

“‘These Women Who Work’: Simone Bodève, Romain Rolland, and the Politics of Parisian Literary Reputation,” conference presentation, Society for French Historical Studies, University of Southern California, March 2012

Selected Past Presentations

“Marya Chéliga (1858-1927): résistante polonaise, féministe française, militante internationale,” invited for the international conference “Les féministes de la première vague: actrices du changement social,” Sciences Po, Paris, May 2011

“’Speaking Together Openly, Honestly, and Profoundly’: Men and Women as Public Intellectuals in France in the Twentieth Century,” invited for a roundtable on “Women in Learned Culture,” part of the 21st International Congress of Historical Sciences, University of Amsterdam, August 2010

“’To Make Universal Suffrage Even More Universal’: Cécile Brunschvicg, the Union for Truth, and the French Fight for Women’s Suffrage in 1909,” invited as part of a panel honoring the work of Rachel Ginnis Fuchs, Society for French Historical Studies, Arizona State University, April 2010

“The Gender of Truth: Men and Women as Public Intellectuals in France, 1890-1914,” invited for the University of Chicago Center in Paris, November 2007

“Separation of Church and State at the Union for Moral Action: A Centennial Assessment,” invited for “Laïcité /Secularism: 1905-2005,” an international interdisciplinary colloquium marking the 100th anniversary of the separation of church and state in France, Columbia University, November 2005

“Les sciences sociales, le roman social, et la réforme sociale de la Belle Epoque à nos jours: la réception des romans féministes de Marie-Louise Compain et Simone Bodève,” an invited research seminar in the series “Rapports sociaux de sexe dans le champ culturel,” Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin, May 2005

 “Education sexuelle et morale laïque chez Durkheim,” invited for the international interdisciplinary comparative colloquium “Genre, Laïcité (s), Religions 1905-2005,” Centre national de recherche scientifique, May 2005

 “Statistical Fact, Feminist Fiction, Imperial Experience: Arguments over Marriage and Divorce at the Union for Truth, Paris, 1909,” invited for the annual Weissbourd Conference of the Society of Fellows, University of Chicago, April 2005

“New Women, New Men, and Audience Appeal: The Case of the Théâtre féministe in Fin-de-Siècle France,” invited for the Belle Van Zuylen Institute of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Amsterdam, March 2002

La Bohème: Writing, Re-writing, and Audience Response from Henri Mürger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème to Jonathan Larson’s Rent,” curtain talk, Opera Theatre of Rochester, October 2001

“Sexual Politics and Social Science: Feminism, History, and French Sociology,” invited keynote address, “Gendered ReVisions: Identity, Culture, and Conflict in History,” Fourth Annual Graduate Student Conference, SUNY-Binghamton, April 1999

“’The Apotheosis of Illegitimacy’: Plays, Politics, and Paternity Suits in France, 1870-1884,” invited research seminar, European History Colloquium, Cornell University, February 1998