Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
The idea of a common sense was once a staple of Aristotelian psychology. But in early modern Europe, this old idea was reimagined as something more like a basic capacity, common to all “sensible” people, to determine what’s what based on ordinary, everyday experience. It was also gradually transformed into what Hannah Arendt was to call, in the aftermath of WWII, “the political sense par excellence.” This talk will trace how and why this transformation occurred between the late seventeenth century and the middle of the twentieth. It will also consider the important role that the concept of common sense continues to play in politics today, especially in light of the global resurgence of populism.
Sophia Rosenfeld is Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches European intellectual and cultural history with a special emphasis on the Enlightenment, the Age of Revolutions, and their legacies. She is the author of Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2001) and Common Sense: A Political History (Harvard, 2011), which won the Mark Lynton History Prize and the Society for the History of the Early American Republic Book Prize and has been translated into French and Korean. Her articles and essays have appeared in leading scholarly journals, including the American Historical Review, the Journal of Modern History, French Historical Studies, and the William and Mary Quarterly, as well as the Washington Post, Dissent, and The Nation. She also co-edits the journal Modern Intellectual History.
Sophia Rosenfeld received her B.A. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. from Harvard University and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Mellon Foundation, the Remarque Institute at NYU, and the American Academy of Learned Societies, as well as visiting professorships at the University of Virginia School of Law and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Prior to arriving at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017, she taught in the history departments at the University of Virginia and, most recently, Yale University. She is currently at work on two books: one on how the idea and practice of choice became so central to modern conceptions of freedom (to be published by Princeton) and one on democratic conceptions of truth (to be published by Penn Press). She is also currently co-editing (with Peter Struck) a six-volume book series for Bloomsbury on the cultural history of ideas since antiquity.