Home Ethical Subjects Project Directors

Seth Koven

Professor of History

Ph.D. in History, Harvard University

A.M. in History, Harvard University

Graduate Student in Viola Performance,
Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY

B.A. with High Honors in History and Political Science,
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

At Rutgers Since 2006

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koven

My teaching and research interests include gender, social, economic, and cultural history of Europe, 1750 to the present, with particular focus on Great Britain; Modern European women's history; the history of sexuality; and comparative urban and cultural history. I have published on a variety of topics including the history of disability and the body; childhood; museums for the poor; gender, maternalism, and comparative welfare states (Mothers of a New World, 1993). Slumming: Social and Sexual Politics in Victorian London (Princeton University Press, 2004) analyzes the relationship between eros and altruism in shaping social welfare in modern Britain.

The Match Girl and the Heiress (Princeton University Press, Fall 2014) was awarded “Best Book of the Year” for 2014 by the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA). It explores the love, friendship, and global lives of a half-orphaned Cockney match factory worker, Nellie Dowell, and the daughter of a well-to-do shipbuilder and pacifist feminist humanitarian, Muriel Lester. These unlikely soul mates sought to remake the world according to their own utopian vision of Christ’s teachings. The Match Girl and the Heiress reconstructs their late-nineteenth-century girlhoods of wealth and want, and their daring twentieth-century experiments in ethical living in a world torn apart by the violence of war, imperialism, and industrial capitalism. This book grew out of two ongoing studies.  The first is a history of humanitarianism from the 18th to 20th centuries.  The second explores the history of “conscience” in early 20th century Britain.

In 2015-17, Seth Koven is co-directing a two year research project with colleague Judith Surkis on "Ethical Subjects: Moralities, Laws, Histories" at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. This project has received generous funding from the Mellon Foundation as a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures. This project asks: Who and what counts as an ethical subject?  It brings together two sets of inquiries: a) the values and priorities that dictate which concerns are subject to ethical scrutiny and b) the means by which people claim power and recognition as moral agents and objects in the world. How and why do some issues become subjects of ethical inquiry, while others remain in the shadows? “Ethical Subjects” challenges the methodological divide between “bottom-up” and “top-down” approaches by emphasizing the overlapping terrain between person-centered histories that focus on lives, subjects and practices, on the one hand; and religious, discursive, ethical, and legal frameworks, on the other.

I am a founding member and co-director of the Rutgers British Studies Center (RBSC), a major interdisciplinary scholarly project funded by a Mellon Foundation Grant. RBSC supports visiting scholars, workshops, and seminars and provides generous funding for graduate student initiatives.

I happily supervise PhD students whose projects span the 18th to 20th centuries.

Judith Surkis

Associate ProfessorJSurkis

Ph.D., Cornell University, 2001

at Rutgers since 2012

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I specialize in Modern European History, with an emphasis on France and the French Empire, gender and sexuality, and intellectual, cultural, and legal History. My research and teaching range across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, examining questions of sex and citizenship, colonialism and postcolonial migration, as well as critical theory and historical methodology. I am currently completing a book, Scandalous Subjects: Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930, which explores how ideas about sex and gender shaped approaches to law and public order in French Algeria. I show how colonial law framed Algerian religious difference as a form of sexual difference and how Algerians worked within and against this legal frame. The book offers a new view of the historical entanglement of French and Muslim law and historically situates recent controversies over sexual and religious pluralism in France and Europe today.  I have also begun work on a new project, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Family Lives and Laws After Decolonization, which examines the development of private international law in the wake of the decolonization and European integration. Taking the case of the children of binational couples as a point of departure, I examine postwar transformations in kinship, women and children’s rights, feminism, and global legal orders in a shared analytical frame.

My previous publications include Sexing the Citizen: Morality and Masculinity in France, 1870-1920 (Cornell, 2006) and articles in the American Historical Review, Public Culture, French Politics, Culture, and Society, and the History of the Present.

 
 

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