The Making of the Modern Self

Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England

Dror Wahrman

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December 5, 2006
432 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
47 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300121391
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a radical change occurred in notions of self and personal identity. This was a sudden transformation, says Dror Wahrman, and nothing short of a revolution in the understanding of selfhood and of identity categories including race, gender, and class. In this pathbreaking book, he offers a fundamentally new interpretation of this critical turning point in Western history.
Wahrman demonstrates this transformation with a fascinating variety of cultural evidence from eighteenth-century England, from theater to beekeeping, fashion to philosophy, art to travel and translations of the classics. He discusses notions of self in the earlier 1700s—what he terms the ancien regime of identity—that seem bizarre, even incomprehensible, to present-day readers. He then examines how this peculiar world came to an abrupt end, and the far-reaching consequences of that change. This unrecognized cultural revolution, the author argues, set the scene for the array of new departures that signaled the onset of Western modernity.

Dror Wahrman is Ruth N. Halls Professor of History and Director of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University (Bloomington).

"I found Wahrman's Making of the Modern Self sheer joy, from start to finish. The bottom line first: this is a must-read across the humanities and humanistic social sciences, not something solely of interest to cultural historians of Britain's long eighteenth-century. . . . It is a singular merit, not a failing, of this wonderfully rich book that it provokes such further questions. I return to my bottom line. Buy it. Read it. Assign it. Nag your friends and colleagues. Buttonhole people on the street. Pass it on."—Don Herzog, Eighteenth-Century Studies

"Important."—Jeffrey S. Ravel, The Journal of Modern History

"As befits a historian initially trained as a physicist, Wahrman is meticulous in his layering of evidence and argument, his examples reading like carefully conducted experiments, complete with blinds and controls. Cultural history may not be rocket science, but Wahrman has brought us as close, perhaps, as we will ever get."—John Eglin, Journal of Social History

"[A] comprehensive and richly documented magnum opus on the modern self. . . . The book in all its richness is a fascinating, powerfully argued work that will spawn nuanced debates for a long time into the future."—Felicity A. Nussbaum, American Historical Review

Winner of the 2004-05 Louis Gottschalk Prize sponsored by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Winner of the 2004 John Ben Snow Prize, sponsored by the North American conference on British Studies.