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This interdisciplinary seminar hosts speakers ranging from established scholars to early-career researchers who present works-in-progress that explore and redefine eighteenth-century European culture. Our interests range from material culture to textual history, national traditions to colonial formations, historicist practice to theoretical investigation, and we therefore seek to query, expand, and innovate eighteenth-century studies. Like our guest speakers, our membership is drawn from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines: history, literature, philosophy, political science, music, history of science, and art, as well as national traditions. The Seminar’s offerings are varied in scope, and occasionally our Seminar hosts special events, such as a symposium on the intellectual origins of freedom of speech (2007, 2008) and a 50th anniversary retrospective of the Seminar (2014).  Recently our Seminar has hosted, in addition to full-length talks, roundtables on science studies (2011), comparative orientalisms (2011), the quantitative eighteenth century (2016), rediscovering race (2017), and human rights (2019).

Past Meetings

Professor Stephanie Insley Hershinow

Lilith Todd

Meeting Schedule

09/15/2022 Faculty House
5:00 PM
“The Road Back: The Revision and Republication of Black England."
Gretchen Gerzina,

10/20/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Jeremy Bentham on Queer Aesthetics
Carrie Shanafelt, Fairleigh Dickinson University


Over the course of his six-decade career as a legal theorist, Jeremy Bentham wrote hundreds of unpublished manuscript pages on the topic of sexual nonconformity. Around 1774, he theorized that same-sex intercourse is a matter of aesthetic difference and therefore not under the proper jurisdiction of the law except in situations of coercion or violence. By the 1810s, Bentham expanded his analysis of sexual nonconformity to epistemology, theology, literary criticism, and political theory, demonstrating that in each area, aesthetic disgust was used as a proxy for denying agency to sexual nonconformists, women, laborers, and colonized and enslaved persons. In this talk, Dr. Shanafelt argues that Bentham’s manuscripts on sexuality offer an important eighteenth-century precedent for identifying queer aesthetics as a necessary condition for widespread political liberation.