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Lauren Clay

Associate Professor of History

Lauren R. Clay is a historian of Old Regime and revolutionary France and its empire, with particular interests in urban cultural and civic life and the emergence of a commercially oriented society. Her book Stagestruck: The Business of Theater in Eighteenth-Century France and Its Colonies (Cornell University Press, 2013) examines the establishment of professional public theaters in cities throughout France and the French empire during the prerevolutionary era. Stagestruck was awarded Honorable Mention for the 2014 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History, given by the American Society for Theatre Research and was a named finalist for the 2013 George Freedley Memorial Award, for exceptional scholarship examining live theatre or performance, awarded by the Theatre Library Association. Clay's publications include “Patronage, Profits, and Public Theaters: Rethinking Cultural Unification in Ancien Régime France,” in The Journal of Modern History (2007) and “Provincial Actors, the Comédie-Française, and the Business of Performing in Eighteenth-Century France,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies (2005), which was the co-winner of the 2006-2007 James Clifford Prize, awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.


Clay is currently at work on a new book project entitled Influence: Profits, Politics, and the Culture of Commerce in France during the Age of Revolution. This study takes up the question: what role did capitalists play in the French Revolution? Mining the rich archives of France’s Old Regime chambers of commerce, she examines the processes by which France’s commercial elites came to constitute themselves as a self-conscious community—known as le commerce—first on the local level and later on the national stage. By reviving France’s business leaders as political actors in their own right, Clay’s research provides a new framework for considering both their failure to effectively seize the revolutionary moment as their own and their ultimate success, politically and economically, under the July Monarchy. Her chapter, “The Bourgeoisie, Capitalism, and the Origins of the French Revolution,” appeared in the Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution (2015).


Clay completed her PhD in history at the University of Pennsylvania. Her scholarship has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the Fulbright Program, among others. She teaches courses on the history of the West, European Imperialism, French history, and the history of Paris, as well as a graduate seminar on historical methods and research.