Rebecca L. Spang

Distinguished Professor

Ruth N. Halls Professor, Department of History

Dean, Hutton Honors College

Department of History

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

I am a historian of politics, culture, and consumption who has published chiefly on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. In my most recent research, I have been especially interested in money. My Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution uses one of the most infamous examples of monetary innovationthe assignats (a currency initially defined by French revolutionaries as “circulating land”)—to write a new history of money and a new history of the French Revolution. It shows that revolutionary radicalization was driven by the ever-widening gap between political ideals and the experience of daily life and restores economics, in the broadest sense, to its rightful place at the heart of the Revolution (and hence of modern politics). 

My first book, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (also published by Harvard), won two major prizes and has been translated into Japanese, Portuguese, Turkish, and Modern Greek. It asks why and how “eating out” become a leisure activity and uses a broad range of sources (political pamphlets, medical treatises, travelers’ descriptions, plays, and images) to explore restaurants as a new form of semi-private sociability (and semi-public sensitivity) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A new edition (with foreword by Adam Gopnik) was published in early 2020--shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the entire industry.

Deeply committed to archival research, I nonetheless find it crucial to maintain an active interest in cultural and critical theory. The mutual illumination of “theory” and “practice” often informs my teaching, as well, at both undergraduate and graduate level.

Since January 2017, I have served as Director of the Liberal Arts + Management Program (LAMP), a nationally recognized program that allows undergraduates to combine the benefits of a Liberal Arts degree with core business competencies gained through the Kelley School of Business. The LAMP Honors Certificate Program is open (by application) to all qualified students in the College, and is a great addition to a History major!

From 2013-2022, I also directed the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University and edited its journal, The Workshop.

Honors and Awards

  • 2022 Guggenheim Fellow 
  • Cozzarelli Prize for one of six best articles published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in 2018; press release and link to paper
  • Enlightened Economist "Book of the Year" (2016) for Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (citation)
  • Gottschalk Prize for best book in eighteenth-century studies, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2016) for Stuff and Money
  • Financial Times "Best Books of the Year" (2015) for Stuff and Money
  • Choice "Outstanding Academic Title" (2015) for Stuff and Money
  • Indiana University Bicentennial Medal for service to the institution as Faculty President (2016-2017)
  • Indiana University Trustees' Teaching Award (2009)
  • Gottschalk Prize for best book in eighteenth-century studies, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2001) for Invention of the Restaurant
  • Thomas J. Wilson Prize for best first book, Harvard University Press
  • Michigan Society of Fellows, 1993-1996
  • Derek Bok Prize for excellence in teaching (1992)

Research Interests

  • cultural/social/economic theory
  • Money, finance, banking
  • France, 1715-present


  • B.A. at Harvard University, 1984
  • M.A. at Cornell University, 1988
  • Ph.D. at Cornell University, 1993

Courses Taught

  • Money and History
  • French Revolution and Napoleon
  • Modern France
  • Luxury, from Mortal Sin to Market Sector (LAMP-L 216)
  • Business and Inequality (LAMP-M 303)
  • Past and Future in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • History and Psychoanalysis
  • Introduction to Eighteenth-Century Studies



  • Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000; translated into Japanese (2002), Portuguese (2003), Modern Greek (2006), and Turkish (2007).

Articles and Essays (selected)

  • "This is What a Revolution Looks Like," The Atlantic, July 4, 2020 (here).
  • "The Revolution is Only Getting Started," The Atlantic, April 5, 2020 (here).
  • "Publicity, Debt, and Politics: The Former Regime and the French Revolution," in Nicolas Barreyre and Nicolas Delalande, eds., A World of Public Debts: A Political History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).
  • "Adventures of a Shilling: How Human Life Has Been Bound to Useless Metals" (review essay), The TLS, December 6, 2019 (here).
  • "The Death of the American Restaurant," The Atlantic (December 2, 2018), here
  • "Individuals, Institutions, and Innovation in the Debates of the French Revolution" (joint with Alexander Barron, Jenny Huang, and Simon DeDeo), PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] 115 (May 1, 2018), here
  • "How Surprising is the French Revolution? Insights and Information Theory" (joint with Simon DeDeo), The WORKSHOP 6 [on-line here].
  • "The Rise of Inflation," Cabinet Magazine, a Quarterly of Art and Culture 50  (summer 2013), 95-100 [on-line here].
  • "The Ghost of Law: Speculating on Money, Memory, and Mississippi in the French Constituent Assembly." Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques special issue on "Money and the Enlightenment" 31:1 (winter 2005), 3-25.
  • "Paradigms and Paranoia: How Modern is the French Revolution?" (Review Essay), American Historical Review 108:1 (February 2003), 119-147.