Department of History

Judith Surkis
Associate Professor of History
Degree: Ph.D., Cornell University, 2001
Rutgers : At Rutgers since 2012
Specialty: Modern France and Empire: Women's and Gender, Intellectual and Legal History
Office: 102 Van Dyck Hall
Phone: 848-932-8543



I specialize in Modern European History, with an emphasis on France and the French Empire, gender and sexuality, and intellectual, cultural, and legal History. My research and teaching range across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, examining questions of sex and citizenship, colonialism and postcolonial migration, as well as critical theory and historical methodology. I welcome inquiries from graduate students interested in these fields.

I am currently completing a book, Scandalous Subjects: Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930, which explores how ideas about sex and gender shaped approaches to law and public order in French Algeria. I show how colonial law framed Algerian religious difference as a form of sexual difference and how Algerians worked within and against this legal frame. The book offers a new view of the historical entanglement of French and Muslim law and historically situates recent controversies over sexual and religious pluralism in France and Europe today.  I have also begun work on a new project, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Family Lives and Laws After Decolonization, which examines the development of private international law in the wake of the decolonization and European integration. Taking the case of the children of binational couples as a point of departure, I examine postwar transformations in kinship, women and children’s rights, feminism, and global legal orders in a shared analytical frame.

My work has been funded by fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Pembroke Center for Research and Teaching on Women. Before coming to Rutgers, I taught at Harvard and Columbia.

I am currently co-director of a research project on Ethical Subjects: Moralities, Laws, Histories (2015-2017) with my colleague, Seth Koven. The project is housed by the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis and and has also received generous funding from the Mellon Foundation as a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures. This project asks: Who and what counts as an ethical subject?  It brings together two sets of inquiries: a) the values and priorities that dictate which concerns are subject to ethical scrutiny and b) the means by which people claim power and recognition as moral agents and objects in the world. How and why do some issues become subjects of ethical inquiry, while others remain in the shadows? “Ethical Subjects” challenges the methodological divide between “bottom-up” and “top-down” approaches by emphasizing the overlapping terrain between person-centered histories that focus on lives, subjects and practices, on the one hand; and religious, discursive, ethical, and legal frameworks, on the other.


  • Sexing the Citizen: Masculinity and Morality in France, 1870-1920. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006; paperback edition 2011.
  • “When was the Linguistic Turn? A Genealogy,” American Historical Review, Vol. 117, n. 3, June 2012, 700-722
  • “Carnival Balls and Penal Codes: Body Politics in July Monarchy France,” The History of the Present, Vol. 1, n. 1, June 2011, 59-83.
  • “Propriété, polygamie et statut personnel en Algérie coloniale, 1830-1873,” in Revue d’histoire du 19e siècle (special issue L’Algérie au XIXe siècle), n. 41, 2010, 27-48.
  • “Introduction: Transgressing Bundaries” (with Eric Fassin), Dossier on Sexual Boundaries, European Identities, and Transnational Migrations in Europe, Public Culture, Vol. 22, n. 3, October 2010, 487-505.
  • “Hymenal Politics: Marriage, Secularism, and French Sovereignty” Public Culture, Vol. 22, n. 3, October 2010, 531-556.
  • “Sex, Sovereignty, and Transnational Intimacies,” American Historical Review, Vol. 115, n. 4, October 2010, 1089-96.
  • “Ethics and Violence: Simone de Beauvoir, Djamila Boupacha, and the Algerian War,” Special issue of French Politics, Culture, and Society, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman, Vol. 28, n. 2, Summer 2010, 38-55.
  • “Enemies Within: Defending French Masculinity Between the Wars,” in French masculinities, eds. Christopher Forth and Bertrand Taithe, (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007)


Photo credit: Roy Groething

Upcoming Events


sq undergraduate


sq graduate


sq faculty


sq events