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Déborah Blocker

Professor of French, affiliated faculty in Italian Studies
4221 Dwinelle Hall
On leave 2021-2022

Research Areas

Déborah Blocker’s specializes in the social and political history of literary practices in early modern France and Italy, with a particular interest in theater, learned societies (academies), the history of philology and the history of early modern aesthetics. Her research relies heavily on the history of the book, as well as on manuscript studies.Her first full-length study (Instituer un ‘art’: politiques du théâtre dans la France du premier XVIIe siècle, Paris, Champion, 2009) examined the social and political processes through which early modern French theater was instituted into an art (1630-1660). This project led her to develop a larger curiosity for the social and political constitution and circulation of discourses on poetry and the arts in early modern Europe (1500-1900).

Between 2008 and 2018, Déborah Blocker researched the social and political circumstances in which new conceptions of art emerged in the academic culture of late Renaissance Florence, through an in-depth archival study of the Accademia degli Alterati (1569-ca. 1625). In 2010-2011, Déborah Blocker’s work was generously supported by a Florence J. Gould Fellowship at the Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, located in Florence ( She has also received two major research fellowships from UC Berkeley’s Townsend Center for the Humanities (in 2006 and 2016). Her second book, Le Principe de plaisir: savoirs, esthétique et politique dans la Florence des Médicis (XVIe-XVIIe siècles) revolves around this micro-historical case study and is currently scheduled to appear with Les Belles Lettres in Paris in 2021. Le Principe de plaisir also constituted the central piece of Déborah Blocker’s Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches (HDR, Paris IV, 2017). The overarching title of her HDR research project was: “Plaisirs, instrumentalisations, pouvoirs: pour une histoire sociale et politique des conceptions des discours et pratiques esthétiques dans l’Europe de la première modernité (1550-1850)”.

Before COVID-19 struck, closing or disrupting most European archival repositories, Déborah Blocker’s central research project was a comparative investigation into the social and political history of early modern understandings of the “arts” between 1450 and 1800,  tentatively entitled  “Uses and conceptualizations of the “arts” among two major aristocratic lineages of the Mediterranean (1450-1800)”. This project is a parallel analysis of engagements with “arts”, crafts and know-hows within two major aristocratic lineages of the Mediterranean world, the Montmorency of France and the Strozzi of Florence, Rome and Venice. The projected study analyzes the family archives (correspondences, financial papers, houshold inventories, etc.), just as much as the “art” collections, libraries and monumental constructions (castles, churches, funeral chapels, mausoleums, etc.) of several of the most famous members of each of these families. The research will intially be conducted from a microhistorical perspective — that is by centering the analysis on the intermingled trajectories of a restricted group of individuals, within their specific social, cultural and political circumstances. These circumstances are that of the raise of authoritarian (sometimes labelled 'absolutist') régimes, which, in early modern Europe, coincided which the progressive marginalization of many otherwise powerful aristocratic families and, more generally, with of that of the most distinguished members of the courtly élites, whose legal, financial and political privileges, as well as social prestige, were progressively curbed to allow for the legitimization of more centralized forms of monarchical or princely power. The individuals who are studied prominently is this new project are, among the Montmorency lineages, Anne de Montmorency (1493-1567), Henri I (1534-1614) and Henri II (1595-1632) of Montmorency, as well as the wife of the later, Marie-Felice des Ursins (1601-1666). Among the Strozzi, the research focuses on Filippo (1489-1538), Piero (1510-1558) and Leone Strozzi (1515-1554), as well as on Giovan Battista Strozzi Il Vecchio (1504-1571), Giovan Battista Strozzi Il Giovane (1551-1634), and Carlo di Tommaso Strozzi (1587-1670) and his son Luigi Strozzi (1632-1687). These microhistorical investigations will support, at the macrohistorical level, the development of intricate comparaisons between the French court nobility and the Florentine patriciate under Medici rule, as regards their uses and understandings of the "arts". 

While COVID-19 is raging, Déborah Blocker has temporarily refocused her work on a research topic that requires  less archival research, at least in its initial stages. This project focuses on understanding the relationship the founders of “aesthetics” as a philosophic discipline — such as Baumgarten, Schiller, Kant and Hegel — entertained with the conceptions, as well as the uses, of the “arts” which were developed during the early modern period. In the works of these German authors, little to no understanding of the “Renaissance” as a historical period exists, while the contributions of thinkers, artists and social actors from early modern Italy and France are often downplayed, to showcase not only Classical art but also wider understandings of “art history” more generally. The downplaying of Italy’s and France’s contributions to the development of modern understandings of “art” in mid-19th century Berlin was also due to the desire to showcase the Prussia’s central in the elaboration of a universalized conception of “art”, and of "art"'s role in the development of human civilizations. In the narratives produced within the framework of German idealism, aesthetics are a modern invention, and a specifically German one — French and Italian theorizations often go unmentioned, or are debunked. However, many of the conceptualizations mobilized in the writings of Baumgarten, Schiller, Hegel or Kant, owe a lot to the discourses on the "arts" produced in France and in Italy, in the 16th and 17th century. Better understanding this complicated set of interactions in comparative and carefully contextualized terms may help explain why and how modern conceptions of art developed as they did. 


Déborah Blocker (ENS Ulm, Lettres 1990 ; DEA in Political Science — Sciences Po Paris, 1993; Doctorat in French Literature and Culture, University of Paris III, 2001; HDR in Comparative Literature, University of Paris IV, 2017) is Professor of French and affiliated faculty in Italian Studies. She has been a member of the Groupe de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur l’Histoire du Littéraire (or GRIHL since its inception in 1996. She was visiting professor at the EHESS in Paris in the spring of 2014, and visiting senior research fellow at the Sonderforschungsbereichs 980 ("Episteme in Bewegung. Wissenstransfer von der Alten Welt bis in die Frühe Neuzeit”) in Berlin, in June-July 2019, within the framework of Teilprojeckt B05 (“Theorie und Ästhetik elusiven Wissens in der Frühen Neuzeit: Transfer und Institutionalisierung” — In the spring of 2022, she will be resident senior researcher at the École Française de Rome ( At UC Berkeley, Déborah Blocker is also affiliated with the doctoral program in Romance Languages and Literatures (, on the executive committee of which she has served (2017-2020).

Selected Publications


  • Premières leçons sur les Fables de La Fontaine, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1996,120 p., prefaced by Gérard Ferreyrolles (2nd edition: 1997).
  • Instituer un “art”: politiques du théâtre dans la France du premier XVIIe siècle, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2009, 540 p.
  • Le Principe de plaisir: savoirs, esthétique et politique dans la Florence des Médicis (XVIe-XVIIesiècles), to appear with Les Belles Lettres in Paris in 2021; circa 450 pages.

Journal issues edited:

  • XVIIe siècle, n° 270, 2016/1, p. 3-132: “Auctorialité, voix et publics dans le Mercure galant. Lire et interpréter l’écriture de presse à l’époque moderne”, edited in collaboration with Anne Piéjus, eight articles published, plus a joint introduction (p. 3-8).
  • In preparation: Académies et universités en France et en Italie (1500-1800): coprésence, concurrence(s) et/ou complémentarité?, five papers edited plus an introduction written in collaboration with Dinah Ribard, and a conclusion by Maria Pia Donato, to be published in Les Dossiers du GRIHL.

Digital humanities project:

  • "Studying Academic Discussions on the Art of Poetry in Late Renaissance Florence", a digital research project funded by the Cluster of Excellence 2020 “Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective”, at the Freie Universität in Berlin (, in collaboration with Professor Ulrike Schneider (Institut für Romanische Philologie, Freie Universität, Berlin :

Selected book chapters, journal articles and published conference papers (since 2008):

  • ‘Territoires de savoirs et espaces de temporalités: le sublime de Boileau aux prises avec quelques ‘modernités’’, in Seventeenth-Century French Studies, 29, 2007, p. 113-123.
  • With Elie Haddad, ‘Protections et statut d’auteur à l’époque moderne: formes et enjeux des pratiques de patronage dans la querelle du Cid (1637)’, French Historical Studies, 31, 3, 2008, p. 381-416.
  • ‘Une ‘muse de province’ négocie sa centralité: Corneille et ses lieux’, Les Dossiers du Grihl, 2008-1, Localités : localisation des écrits et production locale d’actions, July 2008.
  • Co-authored a section entitled ‘Patronages, actions, écriture dans le parcours de Jean Mairet’, composed of a short presentation and two articles: Laurence Giavarini and Elie Haddad, ‘L’art de la dédicace selon Jean Mairet’ and Déborah Blocker and Elie Haddad ‘De la scène à la diplomatie: usages de l’écriture lorsque Jean Mairet quitte le théâtre (1639-1643)’, Littératures classiques, 68, 2008, p. 35-63.
  • “Publier les ‘arts’ à Florence sous Cosme I de Médicis: une Poétique d’Aristote au service du Prince”, in AISTHE, II, 2, 2008, p. 56-101 (a translation into Portuguese is appended).
  • ‘Le lettré, ses pistole et l’académie: comment faire témoigner les lettres de Filippo Sassetti, accademico Alterato (Florence et Pise, 1570-1578)?’, Littératures classiques, 71, 2010, p. 31-66.
  • ‘Theatrical identities and political devices: fashioning subjects through drama in the house of cardinal Richelieu (1635-1643)’, in David Warren Sabean and Malina Stefanovska (ed.), Space and Self in Early Modern European cultures, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012, p. 112-133.
  • ‘Corneille et l’art poétique: appropriations, déplacements, reconfigurations’, in Pratiques de Corneille: actes du colloque de Rouen (6-9 juin 2006), Rouen, Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre, 2012, p. 213-228.
  • ‘Servir le prince par la philologie: André Dacier (1651-1722), un érudit dans l’orbite du pouvoir royal’, Seventeenth-Century French Studies, 35/1, 2013, p. 3-22.
  • ‘S’affirmer par le secret: anonymat collectif, institutionnalisation et contre-culture au sein de l’académie des Alterati  (Florence, 1569 – ca. 1625)’, Littératures classiques, 80, 2013, p. 167-190.
  • ‘The Accademia degli Alterati and the invention of a new form of dramatic experience: myth, allegory and theory in Jacopo Peri’s and Ottavio Rinuccini’s Euridice(1600)’, in Katja Gvozdeva, Tatiana Korneeva and Kirill Ospovat (eds), Dramatic Experience: The Poetics of Drama and the Early Modern Public Sphere(s), Leiden, Brill, 2016, p. 77-117. Open access link: 
  • ‘Pro or/and anti-Medici? Political ambivalence and social integration in the Accademia degli Alterati(Florence, 1569 — ca. 1625)’, in Jane E. Everson, Denis V. Reidy and Lisa Sampson (eds.), The Italian Academies 1525-1700: Networks of Culture, Innovation and Dissent, London, Routledge, 2016, p. 38-52.
  • Tous pour un et un pour tous ou de l’activité de penser en commun mais non en rond(s), texte rédigé à l’occasion des vingt ans du G.R.I.H.L., in À l’enseigne du GRIHL,Les Dossiers du Grihl, 2017-02, 2017.
  • ‘Deux professeurs en République: de la promotion sociale par les lettres à la redéfinition de leurs fonctions socio-politiques’, in Littéraire. Pour Alain Viala, edited by Marine Roussillon, Sylvaine Guyot, Dominic Glynn and Marie-Madeleine Fragonard, Arras, Artois Presses Université, 2018, p. 159-170.
  • ‘La haine du plaisir et son envers. Molière et la querelle de L’École des femmes’, Littératures classiques, 2019/1, n° 98, p. 119-132 (URL :
  • ‘Lire et commenter la Poétique d’Aristote en Italie dans la seconde moitié du Cinquecento : du commentaire érudit à l’élaboration d’une réflexion sur les arts’, in  Francesco Robortello: réception des Anciens et construction de la modernité, sous la direction de Monique Bouquet, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2020, p. 65-90
  • “Shedding light on the readings of Aristotle’s Poetics developed within the Alterati of Florence (1569-ca. 1630) : from manuscript studies to the social and political history of aesthetics”, in The Reception of Aristotle’s Poetics in the Italian Renaissance and Beyond: New Directions in Criticism, edited by Bryan Brazeau, London, Bloomsbury,  p. 98-132. Accessible on e-Scholarship:  

In preparation/forthcoming articles:

  • Forthcoming: “Establishing a Poetics of Theater in France under Cardinal Richelieu: From Processes of ‘Unknowledging’ to the Establishment of a Worldly Know-How”, to appear in the proceedings of a conference on Un-knowledge — The Dynamics of Negation in Premodern Cultures convened in June 2019 by the Sonderforschungsbereich 980 (“Episteme in Bewegung. Wissenstransfer von der Alten Welt bis in die Frühe Neuzeit”). The proceedings are edited by Sirin Dadas and Christian Vogel and will appear with Harrassowitz Verlag (Weisbaden).
  • Submitted: “Experimenting with the teaching of academic genres in the target culture: a reflexive testimony”, a series of considerations on a pedagogical experiment conducted with Emily Linares in my FR 102 class in the spring of 2020, to be published with Emily Linares’ analysis of this study (“Literacy en français and à la française: Socializing Students to Academic Literacy Practices in a Foreign Language”). The essays will be submitted jointly to the Foreign Language Annals by the end of the summer 2020. 
  • In preparation, with Francesco Martelli (Archivio di Stato, Florence): ‘Arms, Letters and the Art of Writing the Vite of One’s Ancestors: Biographical Practices Among the Strozzi in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, in Beyond the Medici: Patrician Culture in Florence circa 1600, edited by Francesca Fantappiè, Tim Carter, Maia Wellington Gahtan and Donatella Pegazzano, scheduled to appear with Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium).
  •  In preparation: “Plaisirs, pouvoirs et mélancolie nobiliaire dans la France du premier XVIIe siècle : Marie-Félice des Ursins, dernière duchesse de Montmorency et les ‘arts’”.