UCL Grand Challenges


The legacies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

21 April 2012

A series of cross-disciplinary events on the tercentenary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's birth saw a new investigation of his legacy and led to new publications

Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been cast as a champion of Enlightenment and a beacon of Romanticism, a father figure of radical revolutionaries and totalitarian dictators alike, an inventor of the modern notion of the self - and an advocate of stern ancient republicanism.

How can the writings of a single author elicit such contradictory interpretations? 

Such questions stood at the centre of a series of cross-faculty events at UCL, organized in 2012 by Dr Avi Lifschitz (UCL History) for the tercentenary of Rousseau's birth. The programme provided a comprehensive re-evaluation of Rousseau's enduring legacy and featured input from UCL academics from such diverse departments as politics, modern languages and cultures, classics, history, and SSEES - as well as UCL Special Collections, the UCL Art Museum, and University College Opera. Through an examination of the different legacies of Rousseau's works, this series of events highlighted UCL's European credentials and its ongoing engagement with the theory and practice of global citizenship.

The events included an international conference, performances of a forgotten opera written by Rousseau, and a full-term exhibition at the UCL Art Museum. Following these activities, a book (Engaging with Rousseau, Cambridge University Press) and a special issue of the journal History of Political Thought entitled 'Rousseau's Imagined Antiquity' were published in 2016. Both titles are edited by Dr Lifschitz and contain contributions by several UCL researchers among other authors.