Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Book Talk: "The Afterlives of the Terror: Facing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France," by Ronen Steinberg, Michigan State University

Thu, January 30, 2020 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

The Afterlives of the Terror: Facing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France
(Cornell University Press, September 2019)

A book talk and discussion with
Ronen Steinberg
Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University, and
Fellow, Institute for Historical Studies, 2013-2014
University of Texas at Austin

The Afterlives of the Terror explores how those who experienced the mass violence of the French Revolution struggled to come to terms with it. Focusing on the Reign of Terror, Ronen Steinberg challenges the presumption that its aftermath was characterized by silence and enforced collective amnesia. Instead, he shows that there were painful, complex, and sometimes surprisingly honest debates about how to deal with its legacies.

As The Afterlives of the Terror shows, revolutionary leaders, victims' families, and ordinary citizens argued about accountability, retribution, redress, and commemoration. Drawing on the concept of transitional justice and the scholarship on the major traumas of the twentieth century, Steinberg explores how the French tried, but ultimately failed, to leave this difficult past behind. He argues that it was the same democratizing, radicalizing dynamic that led to the violence of the Terror, which also gave rise to an unprecedented interrogation of how society is affected by events of enormous brutality. In this sense, the modern question of what to do with difficult pasts is one of the unanticipated consequences of the eighteenth century's age of democratic revolutions.

"The Afterlives of the Terror is a superb work of scholarship that breaks new interpretive ground.  Combining exhaustive research with engrossing storytelling, Steinberg's analysis of a major topic in the history of the French Revolution is noteworthy for its originality and its lucid prose."
--Patrick H. Hutton, University of Vermont, author of The Memory Phenomenon in Contemporary Historical Scholarship

"Steinberg's effort to put the Reign of Terror in the context of present-day concerns with transitional justice and the 'working through' of collective trauma is a new approach that produces productive insights, both about the French Revolution and about modern revolutions and genocides."
--Jeremy D. Popkin, University of Kentucky, author of Concise History of the Haitian Revolution

Ronen Steinberg is a historian of modern Europe. His main areas of interest are the French Revolution, transitional justice, and mass violence. He has published articles on the history of terrorism, transitional justice, trauma and history, and the aftermath of the Reign of Terror. His first book, The Afterlives of the Terror: Facing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France (Cornell University Press, September 2019) is the subject of this talk and discussion. Dr. Steinberg teaches courses on European history, the History and Theory of Genocide, and the legacies of mass violence and of the French Revolution. Dr. Steinberg earned his B.A. from Tel-Aviv University (2000) and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago (2010.) He has held fellowships at the University of Michigan, the American Philosophical Society, and, most recently, at the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (2013-14).

Please RSVP to to reserve your seat and receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History, and Center for European Studies

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