Research, Teaching, Writing

Rebecca L. Spang

I am a historian first, a specialist in a particular field only secondarily. Throughout my career, my more or less conscious goal has been to produce high quality work that cuts across and sometimes challenges distinctions based on field, discipline, and even genre.

As a critic of the obvious, I am drawn to subjects (mis)understood as natural, normal, or universal. In other words, I am a historian of that which appears to have no history. My first book asked, “Why are there restaurants?”—a question previously and wrongly answered in terms of natural human appetites or extraordinary national characters—while my second focuses on the long French Revolution to explore what money is and how it functions. I am now at work on a new book tentatively entitled The Money of the Poor.

A.N. C2682 (letter dated 15 messidor An IV, from two shoemakers in Dieuze, Merthe)

Some Recent Writing

"Publicity, Debt, and Politics: The Old Regime and the French Revolution," in Nicolas Barreyre and Nicolas Delalande, eds., A World of Public Debts: A Political History (Palgrave Springer, 2020)."How Revolutions Happen," The Atlantic July 4, 2020 (here). "The Revolution is Under Way Already," The Atlantic April 5, 2020 (here)."Adventures of a Shilling: How Human Life has been Tied to Useless Metals," The TLS (Dec. 3, 2019), here. (with Alexander Barron, Jenny Huang, and Simon DeDeo), "Individuals, Institutions, and Innovation in the Debates of the French Revolution," PNAS 115:18 (May 1, 2018), here. (Non-technical press release available.) Winner of 2018 Cozzarelli Prize for best PNAS paper in the Social and Behavioral Sciences."What the French Revolution Teaches us About Gerrymandering," Washington Post (July 14, 2019), here."How Surprising is the French Revolution?" (co-authored with Simon DeDeo), The WORKSHOP 6 (2019), here. "MMT and Why Historians Need to Reclaim the Study of Money," HNN (March 31, 2019), here. "The Rise of Inflation," Cabinet, A Quarterly of Art and Culture 50 (summer 2013), text here.
Café de la Bastille (Valence, Drome)

In Public and in the News

Quoted in "A Great Inflation Redux? Economists Point to Big Differences," New York Times (July 8, 2021), here.Webinar on "Restaurants: From Origin to Disappearance" for IU College of Arts + Sciences Food for Thought series (May 2020), recording here. Interviewed for Dave Roos, "When Did People Start Eating in Restaurants?" The History Channel, May 2020, here."Why Restaurants Stayed Open during the 1918 Pandemic," LitHub (May 2020), here."When Restaurants Close, Americans Lose Much More than a Meal," The Conversation (March 20, 2020), here.I spent the 2018-2019 academic year as a Visiting Fellow of the International Center for Finance, Yale School of Management,.Money as a Democratic Medium (conference at Harvard Law School, Dec. 14-15, 2018); I presented on the Round Table on "Financialization and Inequality" along with Rana Foroohar (Financial Times), Gerald Epstein (University of Massachusetts), and Natascha van der Zwan (Leiden University). "When Money Changes (and Why)," CFA Cayman Islands Investors' Forum, Oct. 11, 2017; and "Debunking the Myths on CryptoCurrencies," 100 Women in Finance, Grand Cayman, Oct. 12, 2017.Discussion with Sam Seder about money, debt, and politics; The Majority Report, Feb. 21, 2017, here. Bloomberg "Odd Lots" Podcast (featured guest) with Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway, Feb. 10, 2017, here.
RLS at LAMP Graduation Event, 2018College of Arts + Sciences, Indiana University

Teaching and Graduate Supervision

Recent Undergraduate Classes

Money and History -- Business and Inequality (syllabus) -- Luxury, from Mortal Sin to Market Sector (syllabus) -- Business Models and Higher Ed (syllabus) -- Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Cultures of Knowledge -- French Revolution and Napoleon -- Revolutionary Europe -- Modern France

Graduate Seminars

French Revolution -- Past and Future in Nineteenth-Century Europe -- History and Psychoanalysis -- Introduction to Eighteenth-Century Studies -- Introduction to the Professional Study of History

Graduate Students

  • Hannah Malcolm (current student)

  • Alex Tipei (Assistant Professor, Université de Montréal), "For Our Civilization and Yours: Greece, Romania, and the Making of French Universalism," IU PhD 2016.

  • Elizabeth A. Nelson (Assistant Professor, Medical Humanities, IUPUI), "Timeknots: Madness, Psychiatry, and History in France, c. 1900," IU PhD 2015.

  • Jennifer Sovde (Assistant Professor, SUNY-Canton), "Education and Regulation of Child Performers in Third Republic France," IU PhD 2014.

  • Michael Anklin (Instructor, Academia International School, Switzerland), “Legitimizing Violence vs. Violating Legitimacy: Power, Military Masculinity, and Force in French Vietnam,” IU PhD 2013.

  • Robert Priest (Senior Lecturer, Royal Holloway-University of London), “Great Men and Holy Lands: The Life and Times of Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus,” M.A, UCL, 2006.

  • Thomas Dodman, (Assistant Professor, Columbia University), “Rendez-vous à l’Ouest? Imperial Russia and the Western World,” M.A., UCL, 2002.

  • Ralph Kingston (Associate Professor, Auburn University), “Office Politics: Bureaucracy and Bourgeois Types in post-Revolutionary France,” PhD, University of London, 2002.