• Judith Surkis
  • Judith Surkis
  • Professor of History; and Vice Chair for Graduate Education
  • 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 working on The Intimate Life of International Law: Children and Development After Decolonization, which examines how population movements tested the boundaries of postcolonial sovereignty by focusing on international family law conflicts. 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. This work grows out of my recent book Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930 (Cornell University Press, 2019), which showed how colonial law framed Algerian religious difference as a form of sexual difference and how Algerians worked within and against this legal frame. Progressively detached from land, the French colonial construction of Muslim law was bound to the bodies of Algerian persons and their families. This legal genealogy of French Algeria elucidates why “the Muslim question” became a sexual question– and why it remains one, still today. I also publish regularly on questions of historical theory and methodology.

My work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, the School of Historical Studies and the School of Social Science at Institute for Advanced Study, and the Pembroke Center for Research and Teaching on Women at Brown University. Before coming to Rutgers, I taught at Harvard and Columbia. And I have held visiting professorships at the Sorbonne, Université de Paris-8, and the Ecole normale supérieure.

I also co-directed a research project on Ethical Subjects: Moralities, Laws, Histories (2015-2017) with my colleague, Seth Koven. Housed by the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, it received generous funding from the Mellon Foundation as a Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures.



  • Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930 (Cornell University Press, 2019)
  • Sexing the Citizen: Masculinity and Morality in France, 1870-1920. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006; paperback edition 2011.

Articles and Book Chapters:

  • “Custody Battles and the Franco-Algerian Divorce, 1962-1988,” Journal of Modern History (forthcoming December 2022)
  • Minor Threats and the Biopolitics of Youth,” Special issue on “Minority,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Vol. 41, n. 3, 2021, 413-421.
  • “Family Law Matters,” Forum on Law, Ideology, and Critique, History and Theory, eds. Justin Desautels-Stein and Samuel Moyn, Vol. 60, n. 2, June 2021, 347-362.
  • “Decolonization,” Cambridge History of Modern European Thought, Warren Breckman and Peter Gordon, eds (Cambridge University Press, 2019)
  • “Colonial Law: An Affective and Effective History” Contemporary Legal Thought, Justin Desautels-Stein and Chris Tomlins, eds, (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
  • “Supplementing Cultural and Intellectual History,” Modern European Intellectual History, eds. Darrin McMahon and Samuel Moyn (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • “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.