Darrin M. McMahon

Current Fellow

Fellow: Awarded 2016

Field of Study: Intellectual and Cultural History

Competition: US & Canada

Darrin M. McMahon is a cultural and intellectual historian and a leading proponent of a new and revitalized history in ideas. His work encompasses the sweep of Western history from the ancient world to the present day, and spans both sides of the Atlantic, but the fulcrum of his research and writing is Western Europe in the long 18th century, the age of Enlightenment. McMahon is particularly interested in seminal concepts that emerged in the 18th century and have continued to exercise an important influence on modern culture.

McMahon is currently the Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of History at Dartmouth College. From 1994–2014 he taught history at history at Florida State University, where he was the Ben Weider Professor and Distinguished Research Professor. Born in Carmel, California, and educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Yale, where he received his PhD in 1998, McMahon is the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Happiness: A History (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), which has been translated into twelve languages, and was awarded Best Books of the Year honors for 2006 by the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Library Journal, and Slate Magazine. In 2013, McMahon completed a history of the idea of genius and the genius figure, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, published with Basic Books. It has recently appeared in French translation as La Fureur Divine: Une Histoire du Génie (Fayard, 2016). McMahon is also the editor, with Ryan Hanley, of The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies, 5 vols. (Routledge, 2009); with Samuel Moyn, of Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History (Oxford University Press, 2014); and with Joyce Chaplin of Genealogies of Genius (Palgrave, 2015).

McMahon has taught as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, New York University, Yale University, the University of Rouen, the École Normale Supérieur, the École des Hautes Études, and the University of Potsdam. He is a regular columnist for the Live Happy magazine and website, and his writings have appeared frequently in such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, New York Times Book Review, Slate, Washington Post, The New Republic, and the Literary Review. In addition, he serves as the Vice-President of the Toynbee Prize Foundation.

During his Guggenheim Fellowship year, McMahon will be working on a manuscript tentatively entitled Illuminating the Enlightenment, which will examine lighting practices in 18th-century Europe, particularly France. He will also begin a longer study on the idea of equality in Western culture and thought.