I study political and economic cultures in early modern France and the French empire. My research stretches from the age of Louis XIV through the French Revolution, concentrating on state formation, political economy, consumer capitalism, the Enlightenment, popular culture, and globalization. I’m also interested in historical methods and social theory. At a moment when historical research is becoming increasingly specialized, my work builds bridges between economic and cultural history, political and intellectual history, and microhistory and global history.
My first book, Privilege and the Politics of Taxation in Eighteenth-Century France: Liberté, Égalité, Fiscalité (Cambridge, 2000), examines political culture through the lens of fiscality to offer a new interpretation of the origins of the French Revolution. It received the David H. Pinkney Prize for best book in French history from the Society for French Historical Studies. Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground (Harvard, 2014), illuminates the dark side of 18th-century globalization, adding an explicitly political dimension to studies of the “consumer revolution” by examining the life of legendary French smuggler Louis Mandrin. A Gallic Robin Hood (or ‘El Chapo’), Mandrin brazenly flouted the law to draw public attention to the injustices of the French monarchy’s repression of contraband. By exploring the violent world of illicit trade and its representations in popular media, I reveal previously hidden connections between rising consumption, global trade, popular rebellion, the emerging "science" of economics, and the origins of the French Revolution. Contraband has been translated into French and Chinese and has received four prizes: the J. Russell Major Prize from the American Historical Association; the Annibel Jenkins Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies; the Gilbert Chinard Prize, awarded jointly by the Society for French Historical Studies and the Institut Français d’Amérique; and the Oscar Kenshur Prize from the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University.
Building on Contraband, my third book, The Consumer Revolution, 1650–1800 (Cambridge University Press), reflects on the social, cultural, and political implications of Western consumption before the age of the Industrial Revolution. It is scheduled to appear in spring 2022. I am now conducting research on the politics of the 1825 Haitian indemnity, which France imposed on the Caribbean nation in exchange for recognizing Haitian independence.
My articles have appeared in leading journals, including the American Historical Review, the Journal of Modern History, Representations, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and French History. Research for this work has been generously supported by the American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Humanities Center, Le Centre National du Livre (French Ministry of Culture and Communication), the Chateaubriand Fellowship Program, and the Fulbright Foundation.
I work with graduate students on a wide range of historical problems related to political economy, early modern capitalism, slavery, environmental history, consumer culture, the Enlightenment, the history of medicine, and the Age of Revolutions.