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Andrew S. Curran
Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT 06459-3208)
French Enlightenment Philosopher and Critic Denis Diderot (1713-1784): The Art of Thinking Freely

The writing of a biography of 18th-century thinker Denis Diderot, a peer of Voltaire and Rousseau and leading contributor to the world's first comprehensive encyclopedia.

The French Enlightenment philosopher and critic Denis Diderot (1713-84) dreamt of natural selection before Darwin, the Oedipus complex before Freud, and genetic manipulation centuries before Dolly the Sheep was born. Overshadowed by Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau during his lifetime, Diderot was nonetheless his era’s most dynamic and versatile writer, engaging with and writing on virtually all of his century’s forbidden subjects, including the (non-biblical) origin of the human species, the sexual abuse endured by nuns, as well as the race science underpinning the extremely profitable slave trade. This profoundly intriguing scientific and literary career, and the life that was its backdrop, are the subject of a “public scholar" intellectual biography that I am proposing to the NEH for funding.

Project fields:
European History; French Literature; History, Criticism, and Theory of the Arts

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$46,200 (approved)
$46,200 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2015 – 8/31/2016