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Judith Coffin is an associate professor of modern European history at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist on France. Her research in the past has concerned the history of social science, work, and consumption; now it focuses on the place of sexuality—and discussions of sexuality—in the emergence of mass culture.
At Radcliffe, she will be working on two books. The first, a historical companion to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, aims to change how we understand Beauvoir’s work, anchoring it in postwar developments in Europe and the United States—the weight of defeat and collaboration in France, international debates about colonialism and civil rights, and the expanding force field of American culture and social science (including, for instance, the nearly simultaneous publication of The Second Sex and the Kinsey reports). The second book is currently titled “Knowing Your Desires: Sexuality, Frenchness, and the Modern Public, 1945–1975.” Coffin looks at sex, love, and the public sphere during the “thirty glorious years,” the French term for the economic expansion that ushered the nation out of its social and cultural traditionalism. Both books ask how and why sex came to be such a compelling topic, a subject of social self-scrutiny, and a benchmark of modernity.
Coffin received her PhD from Yale in 1985 and has earned fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Danforth Foundation, the French government, and the Social Science Research Council. She has won prizes for writing, teaching, and advising.