Publication Date

November 1, 2002

Perspectives Section


Ann Blair. Photo courtesy Justin Ide, Harvard UniversityAHA member Ann Blair, who is a professor of history at Harvard University, received one of the 24 MacArthur Fellowships awarded this year by the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation. Blair graduated from Harvard College in 1984 and received an MA in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University in 1985. She received her PhD from Princeton University in 1990 with a dissertation entitled “Restaging Jean Bodin: The Universae naturae theatrum (1596) in its cultural context.” She later developed this into her first book, The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (Princeton University Press, 1997). An exploration of the last work—essentially a commonplace book—of the Renaissance political philosopher and humanist, Jean Bodin, Blair’s book situates Bodin’s work in the cultural context of a 17th century with its religious crises and the explosion of knowledge that configured its intellectual world.

Blair, who describes herself as specializing in the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe (16th–17th centuries) with a special emphasis on France, is currently working on the ways in which scholars of the period coped with what they saw as an overload of new information. For this work-in-progress, (which will ultimately become her second book, to be published by Yale University Press), Blair is examining the production and use of encyclopedias, and the development of alphabetical indices, catalogs, and other finding aids and intellectual tools that enabled readers to organize and thus deal with the overabundance of knowledge. Her work has significant resonances to the predicaments of modern scholars who are similarly overwhelmed by an information overload, despite having access to search engines and other electronic tools.

Blair has been teaching at Harvard University since 1991, with a brief interlude (1992–96) at the University of California at Irvine.

Blair has not yet decided, she told the Harvard Gazette, how she would use the “no-strings attached” grant of $500,000 (which can be used over a period of five years), she thought she could use it to arrange an academic conference and perhaps even get to owning an expensive copy of an original Renaissance text.

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