Caroline de Jager Fellow and Tutor in French

Katherine Ibbett

  • I am Professor of French in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.

  • I research and teach early modern (16th and 17th century) French literature and culture.

  • I was educated at a London comprehensive school and received my BA in English and Modern Languages from Oxford (1996), followed by a PhD in French from the University of California, Berkeley (2003). I have been at Trinity since 2017.

  • I particularly welcome applications from students at non-selective state schools and colleges which may not have a tradition of students applying to Oxford.

Katherine Ibbett


In Trinity, I usually teach the first years the two papers (III and IV) which serve as an introduction to literary studies in French. For the second- and final-year undergraduates, I teach all kinds of sixteenth and seventeenth-century French writing (papers VII and X): plays, newspaper gossip, natural histories, novels, and so on. I also teach translation into English, and use these classes as a way to introduce students to texts new to them. I’ve often drawn on contemporary authors and critics from across the Francophone world, or sometimes arranged our translation work alongside a set of themed critical readings: in 2020-21, for example, I worked with the second years on ‘biopolitics’ and colonialism.

For the Faculty, I lecture to undergraduates on a range of early modern topics ranging from gender and sexuality to early modern prose fiction. I am also involved with optional papers (Paper XII) on histories of migration, on eco-theory, and on contemporary theatre.

Alongside a number of colleagues, I’m part of a series of lectures on histories of race, introducing students to the early modern Americas and to scholarly conversations about Indigenous knowledge and the history of slavery. I’m committed to thinking about the relation between early modern texts and critical questions of our own time, and that dialogue is very much at work in the way I teach.

I welcome applications from prospective postgraduates working on early modern French writing, and especially those interested in prose fiction, emotions and affect, the early Americas, and the environmental humanities.  

Louis Hennepin, Niagara Falls, from Nouvelle decouverte d’un tres grand pays situé dans l’Amérique (1697)
Louis Hennepin, Niagara Falls, from Nouvelle decouverte d’un tres grand pays situé dans l’Amérique (1697)


My most recent book, Compassion’s Edge, explores the affective undertow of religious toleration. The book explores the language of fellow-feeling – pity, compassion, charitable care – that flourished in the century or so after the Wars of Religion. It’s a gloomy sort of account: this is not a story about compassion overcoming difference, but rather about compassion reinforcing divides. The project was supported by a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard, and in 2018 won the Biennial Book Prize of the Society for Renaissance Studies.

I continue to work on early modern affect but am now writing a very different book, Liquid Empire, supported by a Leverhulme fellowship. This project follows literary rivers across texts from France and the Americas, thinking about those rivers as tributaries to a wider oceanic history. In exploring rivers from the Seine to the Mississippi, across a period of time from France’s earliest Atlantic ambitions to its codification of the slave trade, it asks how the small scale of riverbank writing paradoxically allows us to trace France’s expansionist poetics and politics. 

I’ve carried out research for the American tributaries of this work as a visiting fellow at the John Carter Brown library in Providence and at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

I’m also plotting a very different sort of project about how twentieth-century English women writers read women writers of the French seventeenth century.

I started out working on tragedy and theories of political action, and I continued this conversation between theory and theatre with a coedited volume thinking through Walter Benjamin’s concept of the Trauerspiel and its relevance to a French corpus. 

Selected Publications

Compassion’s Edge: Fellow-Feeling and its Limits in Early Modern France (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)

Compassion in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Feeling and Practice, co-edited with Kristine Steenbergh (Cambridge University Press, 2021)

‘Sheepships: Robin Mouton goes to Sea (Rabelais, Choisy, Voltaire)’, French Studies 74.2 (2020): 189-202

‘Andromaque Translated: John Crowne’s Racine and the Refugee’, in Racine’s Adromaque: Absences and Displacements, ed. Nicholas Hammond and Joseph Harries (Amsterdam: Brill, 2019), 133-146

‘Faking it: affect and gender in the Essais’, in Montaigne, Affect, Emotion, ed. Todd Reeser. Special issue, Montaigne Studies XXX: 1-2 (2018): 69-82

Walter Benjamin’s Hypothetical French Trauerspiel, co-edited with Hall Bjornstad, special issue of Yale French Studies 124 (2013)

The Style of the State in French Theater, 1630-1660: Neoclassicism and Government (Ashgate, 2009)

Modern Languages and Linguistics
Professor Ibbett