Professor Katherine Ibbett
I work on early modern literature and culture. My first book was on tragedy (especially Pierre Corneille) and theories of political action, and I continued this conversation between theory and theatre with a co-edited volume thinking through Walter Benjamin’s concept of the Trauerspiel and its relevance to a French corpus. In my second book, Compassion’s Edge, I worked with a broader range of genres, exploring the affective undertow of religious toleration. The book explores the language of fellow-feeling – pity, compassion, charitable care – that flourished in the century or so after the Wars of Religion. It’s a gloomy sort of account: this is not a story about compassion overcoming difference, but rather about compassion reinforcing divides. The project was supported by a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard. With Kristine Steenbergh, I also co-edited a volume on compassion in early modern Europe more broadly; thanks to her influence, that’s a somewhat cheerier take.
I continue to work on early modern affect but am also now writing a very different third book – Liquid Empire – on river writing in seventeenth-century France and its territories, taking in rivers from the Lignon to the Rhine, the Saint Laurent to the Senegal; I ask how the small scale of the riverbank paradoxically allows us to trace France’s expansionist politics, and argue that following the river allows us to build a different literary history of early modern France, a history that considers imperial projects and the loss that such projects entail. I’ve carried out research for the American tributaries of this work as a visiting fellow at the John Carter Brown library in Providence (where I also co-curated an exhibition on water in the Americas) and at the Library Company of Philadelphia; a year’s writing was supported by the Leverhulme Foundation.
For the faculty, I have lectured on a range of early modern topics: gender and early modern writing, France and the Americas, authors such as Lafayette or Racine. At the postgraduate level, I’m currently teaching on the MSt Methods option on Spaces of Comparison, and I’m serving as Director of Graduate Studies in Modern Languages, which lets me see the range of work done across the Faculty (and means I’m doing a little less undergraduate teaching than usual).
I welcome applications from prospective DPhil students working on early modern French writing, and especially those interested in prose fiction, emotions and affect, the Americas, and the environmental humanities.
Compassion’s Edge: Fellow-Feeling and its Limits in Early Modern France (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)
Compassion in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Feeling and Practice, co-edited with Kristine Steenbergh (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2021)
The Style of the State in French Theater, 1630-1660: Neoclassicism and Government (Ashgate, 2009)
Walter Benjamin’s Hypothetical French Trauerspiel, co-edited with Hall Bjornstad, special issue of Yale French Studies 124 (2013)
“Sheepships: Robin Mouton Goes to Sea (Rabelais, Choisy, Voltaire),” French Studies, 74.2 (2020): 1-15.
“Faking it: affect and gender in the Essais.” In Montaigne, Affect, Emotion, ed. Todd Reeser. Special issue, Montaigne Studies XXX: 1-2 (2018): 69-82.
I was educated at a comprehensive school in west London, and then read English and French at New College, before leaving for California where I got my PhD in French from UC Berkeley. My first job was at the University of Michigan; I came back to the UK in 2009 to teach at University College London, before moving to Oxford in 2017.