I am a professor of modern intellectual history at New York University: I research and write histories of concepts that weave together modern understandings of the human, of time, and of the body. I’m particularly interested in the ways that the concept of the human has been transformed in course of the last hundred years. Sometimes I work more in conceptual history, sometimes more in history of science or in epistemology. I like to think that these fields cross over with others in fun and generative ways.
I've written or co-written four books. •• The Human Body in the Age of Catastrophe (with Todd Meyers, 2018) is about how, around World War I, the human body was reconceptualized as a tightly integrated and very brittle, and how this changed physiology, neurology, psychology, and other human sciences. •• Transparency in Postwar France: A Critical History of the Present (2017) offers a criticism of the contemporary obsession with transparency by showing how philosophers, social scientists, filmmakers, and others believed transparency not to be a political ideal, but a potentially totalitarian illusion. •• An Atheism that is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (2010) is about the transformation of the concept of the human and the rise of antihumanism. •• Finally, Experimente im Individuum (with Todd Meyers, 2014) is about the German-Jewish neurologist Goldstein, his work with brain-injured patients, and his influence on philosophy.
I am currently editing, with Natasha Wheatley and Dan Edelstein, a major book on Power and Time (in production at the University of Chicago Press, 2020) • with Leif Weatherby, a special journal issue (in production) on Cybernetics and the Human Sciences • and with Gisèle Sapiro, The Society of Ideas: A Handbook of Intellectual History and Sociology of Ideas (in preparation).
I've also co-translated two of Georges Canguilhem's books, and I have co-edited several volumes, most recently The Scaffolding of Sovereignty (with Zvi Ben-Dor Benite and Nicole Jerr, 2017) and Writing Prehistory, a special issue of Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics (with Maria Stavrinaki).
My principal research project for the coming years concerns the figure of the "New Man" in modern thought, science, and aesthetics—a study in the articulations and pursuits of a transformation and regeneration of "human nature." This project involves overviews of the aesthetic politics of regeneration from 1789 to the 1960s and of the sciences that imagined, tested, and sought to use human plasticity, roughly from the 1880s to the 1950s. It will also study key episodes in the two centuries after 1789, including the institution of the Napoleonic code and its sociopolitical implications; and the temporality of the Nazi "New Man." Another, related research project tracks the modern inventions and deployments of human "prehistory" in political and scientific arguments.
In 2019-2020, I am the PI for a Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Lab at NYU, on “War and Knowledge,” working with colleagues and PhD students to rethink some key concepts around the problem of war. I am also teaching an undergraduate workshop on the Intellectual and Cultural History of National Socialism, an undergraduate lecture course on the modern obsession with humanity’s origins ("The Birth of the Human," for NYU's Core Curriculum), and an undergraduate workshop on conceptions of war. Other recent graduate courses include: "Concepts of the New Man, 1770-1970", "Time and Power," and "The Sciences of Power: Knowledge and Human Plasticity." Recent undergraduate courses include: "The Normal and the Abnormal: Sex, Power and the Psyche in Twentieth-Century European Intellectual History" and a course on Sovereignty: .
I came to NYU in 2008, after receiving my BA from Princeton (2001) and PhD from Johns Hopkins (2008). In 2015-2017 I was Director of the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique/NYU, UMI 3199), after serving as Associate Director of the Remarque Institute in 2015. I’m also serving as one of the Executive Editors of the Journal of the History of ideas.
Crossroads of Intellectual History (PUF Project 2016-2019, co-PI with Gisèle Sapiro, EHESS)
Journal of the History of Ideas (please submit your work!)
Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History (NYU/Columbia)
The image on the left is 'Epithalamion', a 1968 painting by Yannis Moralis that I've long wanted to use as a book cover (courtesy of Peggy Zoumboulakis Gallery and in agreement with the late Y.M.).
email sg127 [at] nyu.edu