Drew Starling

My dissertation, tentatively entitled, “’Theological Quarrels and Wars of the Pen’: Jansenism, the Rise of Mass Media, and the Fall of the Old Regime,” undertakes a mass-scale history of the publication and reception of Pasquier Quesnel’s French-language bible commentary, the Réflexions morales, and the Papal Bull Unigenitus that condemned it. The nature of the polemic and both sides’ exploitation of new media forms and formats in France insured that it reached a wide and diverse audience, asking them to judge in matters of church and state, and the massive amount of data recording reader response within this polemic allows a large-scale analysis of idea diffusion in eighteenth-century France than has been unattainable through other, similar types of sources. Through the study of Unigenitus’ reception, I hope to demonstrate the way by which all sorts of readers used, appropriated, manipulated, and often resisted the ideas they encountered in various types of media, but also how media helped to shape their ways of thinking and their communities.

My work is founded upon an interest in the materiality of texts, reading and reception history, and the history of the book, more generally, and it also seeks to engage with historians of science who have undertaken to write histories of truth and intellectual historians who have sought to write histories of epistemology.  

Aside from my dissertation work on Jansenism, I have researched and written on the publication and reception histories of Voltaire’s earliest works, including the Henriade and the Lettres philosophiques, paying particular attention to how the regulatory, political, and religious contexts of early eighteenth-century France shaped those works, textually, and impacted the publication strategies employed to bring them to the widest public and insure their circulation. I have also done in depth work on the publication of the French Federalist, the particular cultural context of the unmasking of its authors, and the theoretical and practical implications of this history for modern interpretations of the American Constitution from history.

My research is supervised by Sophia Rosenfeld, Roger Chartier, Alan Charles Kors, and Joan DeJean. 


M.Phil., University of Cambridge (2014)
B.A., summa cum laude, University of Pennsylvania (2013)

Research Interests

History of the Book, History of Censorship and Free Speech, Eighteenth-Century Intellectual History, History of the Enlightenment, History of the French Revolution, History of the Popular and Public Opinion

CV (file)