Joseph Bryan

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PhD Candidate

Major Field: Early-Modern French Cultural/Intellectual History
Other Fields: 
Atlantic History, History of Science
Jay M. Smith

BA University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 2003 (History)
MA North Carolina State University, 2008 (French History)
MA Thesis: “The Creation of a Radical System: Baron d’Holbach’s Système de la Nature and the Enlightenment in Tension”

Research Interests

In my MA thesis, I explored d’Holbach’s rhetorical strategies and his reliance on science to construct a materialistic interpretation of mankind’s physical origins and social development. I will spend the 2011–2012 academic year in Paris and Bordeaux doing research for my dissertation, “Social Structures, Physical Bodies, and the ‘Science’ of Politics in Eighteenth-Century France.”

Broadly speaking, I am interested in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century heterodox thought—forms of “atheism,” “deism,” and “materialism”—and the spaces where philosophy and science (“natural philosophy”) overlapped. In my dissertation, I explore the ways in which eighteenth-century writers employed the language and theories of physiology and medicine to map out new foundations for society. Why did writers rely on analogies, metaphors, and concepts drawn from contemporary science? Why did writers think that the physical body itself contained information that would either stabilize or supplant the traditional social order? Why did revolutionaries of divergent political perspectives derive solutions to political problems from contemporary science?

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