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Carolyn Purnell

Carolyn Purnell, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor
Jack Miller Center Fellow – Benjamin Franklin Project





Siegel Hall 235


Ph.D., University of Chicago, History (2013)
M.A., University of Chicago, History (2007)
B.A.,Pomona College, English and History (2006)

Research Interests 

18th-century France
Early modern European history
History of science and medicine
History of the senses
Food studies
Everyday life
Enlightenment philosophy
The Republic of Letters (the international Enlightenment)
Gender and sexuality


Carolyn Purnell is a Jack Miller Center Postdoctoral Fellow as part of the Benjamin Franklin Project at IIT and a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences. She received her B.A. from Pomona College in History and English, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. Her specialty is early modern Europe and the international Enlightenment, with a particular focus on eighteenth-century France. In addition to IIT, she has taught at Sciences Po in Paris and University of Chicago, and she has held several research fellowships in Paris. She has taught courses on European history, social theory, gender and sexuality, and history of science.

Purnell's research interests include the history of the senses, the relationship between medicine, philosophy, and social reform, and the history of everyday life. She is currently in the process of converting her research on sensibility in eighteenth-century France into a book manuscript. Using a series of case studies– including medical electricity, the café, the ocular harpsichord, and institutions for the blind and deaf–the book will analyze how medical theory on the senses and sensationalist philosophy translated into concrete social programs and institutions in the French Enlightenment. It will offer a newly formulated concept of sensibility that enables scholars to trace the concept across the usual generic lines to which it is bound, making clear the pervasiveness of the concept into areas with which it is less frequently associated, such as commerce, politics, and education.