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Professor's book garners widespread praise, awards

December 07, 2009

A book that examines complex notions of paternity and fatherhood in modern France, and in a comprehensive fashion analyzes the evolution of the social construction of the French family since the 18th century, has garnered three prestigious awards for Arizona State University professor Rachel Fuchs.

Her book, "Contested Paternity: Constructing Families in Modern France," most recently was awarded the 2009 J. Russell Major Prize from the American Historical Association. The award will be presented Jan. 8 during the association's annual meeting.

The prize, established in memory of J. Russell Major, a distinguished scholar of French history who died in 1998, is awarded annually by the association for the best work in English on any aspect of French history.

"Contested Paternity," which was published in June 2008, is also the recipient of the 2009 Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians, and the 2008 Charles E. Smith Award from the European History section of the Southern Historical Association.

"It's just overwhelming and hard to assimilate," said Fuchs, about the praise the book has received. "I am just delighted. Now, my hope is for my publisher (Johns Hopkins University Press) to issue it in a paperback edition."

Professor Lenard Berlanstein of the University of Virginia calls the book "A masterpiece in French social, cultural and gender history. A sweeping account of a crucial but neglected subject."

In this groundbreaking study, Fuchs draws from archival judicial records on paternity suits, paternity denials, deprivations of paternity and adoption from the end of the 18th century through the start of the 21st century, to reveal how the law defined paternity and how it functioned in the culture and experiences of men and women.

"I connect contested paternity to concepts of property and masculine and feminine honor," Fuchs said. "My other books have examined the cultural component of paternity, in particular, abandoned children, unwed mothers and social reform. ‘Contested Paternity' has put it all together, including the bourgeois and working-class family."

Since receiving her doctorate from Indiana University in 1980, Fuchs has written five other books: "Abandoned Children: Foundlings and Child Welfare in the Nineteenth-Century France" (1984), "Poor and Pregnant in Paris: Strategies for Survival in the Nineteenth Century" (1992), "Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870-1914" (1995), "Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe," with Victoria Thompson, (2004), and "Gender and Poverty in Nineteenth-Century Europe" (2005).

Fuchs has been a faculty member in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 1983. From 2005-2006 she served as the interim director of ASU's Institute for Humanities Research. As a professor in the new School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at ASU, Fuchs has taught many courses in French and European history, including "Women in Europe" and "Sex and Society in Modern Europe." She has chaired several doctoral dissertation committees where students studied various aspects of European history, ranging from the creation and use of Parisian parks and green spaces to women's civil society in modern Germany.

Additionally, Fuchs is the immediate past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and former president of the Society for French Historical Studies.

Written by Dan Moore ( for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carol Hughes,