Justin Rivest joined the Department of History in fall 2021. He studies early modern France, the history of science, medicine and technology.

Justin's research explores the early modern origins of the pharmaceutical industry and royal monopoly privileges (the ancestors of modern drug patents). He is completing a book on early pharmaceutical monopolists and their role in supplying standardized drugs to large scale consumers such as the French army, navy, overseas trading companies, and missionary societies circa 1670-1750.

He teaches courses on the history of early modern Europe, French history, and the role of alchemy, astrology and magic in early modern science and medicine.

Prior to joining Kenyon, Justin was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and a research fellow at Clare Hall. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario and earned a BHum (2008) and MA in History (2010) from Carleton University and a PhD in the history of medicine (2016) from Johns Hopkins University. His work has appeared in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, The Canadian Journal of History, Ambix: The Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Areas of Expertise

Early Modern France; History of Science; History of Medicine


2016 — Doctor of Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University

2010 — Master of Arts from Carleton University

2008 — Bachelor of Humanities from Carleton University

Courses Recently Taught

Through lectures and discussions, this course will introduce the student to early modern Europe, with special attention to Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia. It will treat such topics as the Reformation, the emergence of the French challenge to the European equilibrium, Britain's eccentric constitutional course, the pattern of European contacts with the non-European world, the character of daily life in premodern Europe, the Enlightenment, the appearance of Russia on the European scene, and the origins of German dualism, as well as the impact of the French Revolution on Europe. This counts toward the premodern requirement for the major and minor. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

This course will present a survey of French history from the 17th century to the present, emphasizing the political/cultural life of France, particularly attempts to secure an elusive stability within a long trajectory of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary tumult. The Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the cultural ferment of the fin-de-siècle, and the French experience of the crisis years 1914-1945 will receive special attention. The course also will explore the various ways (manifest through art, politics and social life) in which France conceived of itself as an exemplary nation, or as a practitioner of an exemplary modernity to the rest of the world. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major and minor. No prerequisite.

This course will explore a period of unprecedented changes in European intellectual culture. Shaken by the encounter with the New World, by a new cosmological perspective, and by the rediscovery of previously unknown ancient sources, European learned society attempted to rethink the very foundations on which its knowledge of the surrounding world rested. The course will begin by looking at the medieval universities and the nascent challenges to Aristotelian philosophy that emerged from the rediscovery of ancient schools of thought. We will explore debates about the proper sources of knowledge in cosmology and natural philosophy that led to a decoupling of religion and science, giving rise to new types of explanations about the structure and origin of the universe. We will see how the transformations in the perception of the natural world impacted political thought and led to the birth of new rationally based political ideologies. In addition to the intellectual transformations, this course will explore the changes in sociability and the transition from the Republic of Letters to the growing importance of the public sphere and of public opinion. Finally, we will interrogate the very scholarly categories that are so commonly used to define the 17th and 18th centuries. This counts toward the premodern requirement for the major an minor. No prerequisite. Offered every other year.

The 16th and 17th centuries were the golden age of alchemy, astrology and magic in Europe. They were integrated into science and medicine, and they offered tools for humans to achieve power over the workings of their own bodies and over the natural world. Yet, by the end of the 18th century, following the tumult of the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, they had been rejected by learned culture. Consigned to the realm of pseudoscience, folk culture and superstition, they re-emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries as elements of alternative spiritualities. How can we explain this profound transformation?\nThe main goal of this course is to familiarize students with the contours of pre-modern ideas of science, nature and the human body. Following the analysis of primary sources and modern academic discussions, students are invited to formulate their own opinions of the processes by which alchemy, astrology and magic were applied, rejected and transformed. This counts toward the modern, Europe, upper-level seminar, global Medieval and early modern, and science, technology, environment and health requirements for the major. Prerequisite: sophomore standing.

This course focuses on the conceptual frameworks used by historians and on debates within the profession about the nature of the past and the best way to write about it. The seminar prepares students of history to be productive researchers, insightful readers and effective writers. The seminar is required for history majors and should be completed before the senior year. Open only to sophomores and juniors. This counts toward the practice and theory requirement for the major. Prerequisite: history or international studies major or permission of instructor.

The French Revolution was a watershed moment in the history of the Western world. Many historians believe it was the beginning of modernity, as the Revolution ushered in seismic transformations in political, social, economic, cultural and intellectual life. These changes occurred not only in France, where turbulent popular upheavals precipitated the unraveling of the existing social order, the unprecedented beheading of the king, the rapid mutation of political institutions and even the abolition of the Christian calendar, but in the whole Western Hemisphere. French armies exported the ideas and the institutions of the Revolution into neighboring European countries, while political leaders fighting for independence in Haiti and in Latin America appropriated the rhetoric of the French revolutionaries for their own purposes. The Revolution's mythological legacy continued to inspire revolutionaries across the world far into the 19th century and beyond, making it an event of truly global significance. This seminar will be structured both thematically and chronologically. We will begin by looking back into the mid-18th century at the Old Regime to explore the various factors that brought about the end of the existing order. The Revolution's singular importance has turned it into a minefield of controversial debates across generations of historians, who have attempted to account for its causes and effects. We will encounter various historical explanations of the Revolution and reflect on the assumptions and methods of different historical schools that have attempted to interpret this seismic event. We will then explore the Revolution in its many stages: from its radical republicanism, to the Reign of Terror, to the eventual rise and fall of Napoleon. We will end the course by considering the Revolution's short- and long-term effects. This counts toward the Europe and premodern requirements for the major and minor. Prerequisite: sophomore standing or permission of instructor. Offered every other year.