Confessions in Wisconsin (2014-2015)

Confessions in Wisconsin connected teachers and students throughout the state in the study of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography. The Confessions served as a window into Rousseau’s kaleidoscopic self and bustling world. Through the text, program participants roved through the natural landscapes of Geneva and circulated in Parisian social circles, all while encountering the many and often disparate selves of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. With a repertoire that includes seminal works of philosophy and political science (Social ContractDiscourse on Inequality), educational theory (Emile), a novel (Julie), two works of autobiography (ConfessionsReveries of A Solitary Walker), and an opera, Rousseau’s autobiography opened doors to interdisciplinary inquiry like few texts, past or present, providing a forum for critical investigation that will challenge and inspire.

Teaching Resources

Teachers participating in the program attended two educator colloquia on September 23 and February 10, featuring talks by campus experts, workshopping activities and discussions, and cultural and curricular presentations. Our participating educators and students joined UW-Madison faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, Center staff and members of the public for the Great World Texts in Wisconsin’s Annual Student Conference on Wednesday, March 25, 2015.

Teaching Guide

Conference Program

Keynote Speaker: Student Conference and Public Lecture

Danielle S. Allen is the UPS Foundation Professor of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, a MacArthur Award-winning classicist and political theorist. Her most recent book, Our Declaration, is an incisive re-reading of the Declaration of Independence that restores equality to its rightful place alongside freedom as a foundational principle of democratic governance. Allen met with students and answered student questions at our student conference. She also delivered a free public lecture co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Distinguished Lecture Series.

Support for Confessions in Wisconsin

Confessions in Wisconsin was an initiative of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, supported by the A. W. Mellon Foundation; the Evjue Foundation; UW-Madison Libraries; the Departments of English, History, and French and Italian; the Center for European and German Studies; the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters & Science; and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.


Supporting Materials

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Rousseau's Work and Readers

Robert Darnton, “Readers Respond to Rousseau.” From The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History. 2009.

Lynn Hunt. “Torrents of Emotion: Reading Novels, Imagining Equality.” Inventing Human Rights. 2007.

Carla Hesse, “Reading in extremis: Revolutionaries Respond to Rousseau.” From Into Print: Limits and Legacies of the Enlightenment. Ed. Charles Walton, 2011.

Christopher Bertram, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward Zalta. Winter 2012.

Maurice Cranston, “Introduction” Discourse on Inequality. Penguin, 1984.

Nicholas Dent on “The Second Discourse” (Discourse on Inequality) and “The Social Contract,” from Rousseau. Routledge, 2005.

Robert Darnton, “The Great Divide: Rousseau on the Route to Vincennes.” George Washington’s False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century. Norton, 2003.

Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750), Letter on French Music [excerpt] (1753),  Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754). Excerpt from the Discourse on Inequality. The Social Contract (1762). Excerpt from The Social Contract. “Creed of a Savoyard Vicar,” from Emile (1762), Essay on the Origin of Languages [excerpt] (1781),  “Fourth Walk,” Reveries of the Solitary Walker. (1782).

Rousseau Association. Useful content, numerous links. French/English.

Leo Damrosch, Ch 12 (“Beginnings of Fame”) and 21 (“In a Strange Land“), from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

Historical Background and Context


“Eighteenth Century Sources” All things 18thc: history, literature, art, politics. Focus on UK, but includes France, Europe. “Historical Text Archive: France.” Primary source documents from French history, politics, culture

Robert Darnton, “The Great Cat Massacre.” The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. 1984. Rpr. 2009.

The Basics – Government, Society, Religion

Martin Fitzpatrick, “The Age of Louis XIV and Early Enlightenment in France.” The Enlightenment World. Ed. Fitzpatrick, et al. Routledge, 2004.

Gail Bossenga, “Society,” and David Bell, “Culture and Religion,” both from Old Regime France, 1648-1789. Ed. William Doyle. Oxford UP, 2001.

Louis-Sebastién Mercier, Panorama of Paris: Selections from the Tableau de Paris. [Excerpts] Trans. Simpson and Popkin. Ed. Jeremy Popkin. Penn State UP, 1999.

David Garrioch, “The Poor You Have with You Always.” The Making of Revolutionary Paris. UC Press, 1994.

Rousseau, Enlightenment and Slavery

David Garrioch, “The Party of the Philosophes.” The Enlightenment World. Ed. Fitzpatrick, et al. Routledge, 2004.

The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert: A Collaborative Translation Project. (University of Michigan). In French: Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (ARTFL, University of Chicago). Both online, open access, searchable sites.

Daniel Roche, “Salons.” From France in the Enlightenment. Harvard UP, 1988.

Lloyd Spencer and Andrzej Krauze. Excerpts from Introducing the Enlightenment: A Graphic Guide. 2010. Part I, Part II.

Dorinda Outram, “When People are Property: The Problem of Slavery in the Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment. 2nd Ed. Cambridge UP, 2005

Print Culture 

Carla Hesse, Print Culture in the Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment World. Eds. Martin Fitzpatrick, et al. Routledge, 2004.

Robert Darnton, “The News in Paris.” From George Washington’s False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century. 2003


Ourida Mostefai. “Author as Celebrity and Outcast.” From Approaches to Teaching Rousseau’s Confessions and the Reveries. MLA, 2003.

Jean Starobinski, “The Problem of Autobiography.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago UP, 1988.

Philippe Lejeune. “Rousseau and the Autobiographical Revolution.” Tallinn University, May 2011. Video.

Michel Foucault. “On Confession” [Excerpt] from History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. Vintage, 1990. 57-62.

“Autobiography: Suggestions for Group and Classroom Activities,” from Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide to Interpreting Life Narratives. Minnesota UP, 2010.

Gender, Family, Politics


Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. “The Female Life-Cycle,” and “Women’s Economic Role,” from Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. 3rd Ed. Cambridge UP, 2008.

Roseanne Kennedy, “Introduction,” from Rousseau in Drag: Deconstructing Gender. New York: Palgrave, 2012.

Adrienne Rogers, “Women and the Law.” French Women and the Enlightenment. Ed. Samia Spencer. Indiana UP, 1994.

Dena Goodman, “The Enlightenment Salonnière. From Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Cornell UP, 1994.

Olympe de GougesDeclaration of the Rights of Woman. September 1791.

Marriage and Children

Christopher Kelly and Eve Grace. Excerpt from “Introduction” to Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Women, Love and Famiily. Ed. and Trans. Kelly and Grace, 2009. Scroll down to Book V: “Sophie, or Woman,” for the section on women and women’s education in Rousseau’s Émile, or Education. 

Suzanne Desan, “Making and Breaking Marriage: An Overview of Old Regime Marriage as a Social Practice.” Family, Gender and Law in Early Modern France. Penn State UP, 2009. 1-25.

Lieselotte Steinbrügge, “Introduction,” The Moral Sex: Women’s Nature in the French Enlightenment Oxford UP, 1995.

Margaret Hunt, “The Foundling Homes.” From Women in Eighteenth Century Europe. 2009.

Jacques Gélis, “The Child: From Anonymity to Individuality.” From A History of Private Life, Vol. III. Belknap, 1989.


Anna Clark, “Enlightening Desire: New Attitudes toward Sexuality in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Desire: A History of European Sexuality. Routledge, 2008.

Michel Rey, “Parisian Homosexuals Create a Lifestyle, 1700-1750: The Police Archives.” ‘Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Ed. Robert MacCubbin. Cambridge UP, 1987.

Bryant T. Ragan Jr. “The Enlightenment Confronts Homosexuality.” Homosexuality in Modern France. Eds. Jeffrey Merrick and Bryant T. Ragan Jr. Oxford UP, 1996. 8-30.

Music, Food, and Dress


Cynthia Verba, “Music in the Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment World. Ed. Fitzpatrick, et al. Routledge, 2004.

Robert Wokler, “Rousseau, Rameau and Revolution.” From Rousseau, Age of Enlightenment and Their Legacies. Ed. Bryan Garsten. 2012.

Food, Dress and A Revolution of Forks

Susan Pinkard, “Simplicity and Authenticity and “Recipes from the Early Modern French Kitchen.” From A Revolution in Taste. 2009.

Jean-Louis Flandrin, excerpt from “Distinction through Taste.” From A History of Private Life, Vol. III. Belknap, 1989.

Peter McNeil, “The Appearance of Enlightenment.” [On dress in the period]. The Enlightenment World. Ed. Fitzpatrick, et al. 2004.

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Participating Schools

In 2014-2015, nearly 50 educators at 18 high schools around the state participated in Confessions in Wisconsin.

  • Bay Port High School, GREEN BAY
  • Big Foot High School, WALWORTH
  • Bonduel High School, BONDUEL
  • Chippewa Falls Senior High School, CHIPPEWA FALLS
  • Community High School, MILWAUKEE
  • Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah High School, ELKHART LAKE
  • Madison Country Day School, MIDDLETON
  • Madison East High School, MADISON
  • Milwaukee High School of the Arts, MILWAUKEE
  • Necedah Area High School, NECEDAH
  • New Horizons Charter School, MILWAUKEE
  • Oshkosh North High School, OSHKOSH
  • Oshkosh West High School, OSHKOSH
  • Osseo-Fairchild High School, OSSEO
  • Southern Door High School, APPLETON
  • St. Mary’s Spring Academcy, FOND DU LAC
  • Washington High School, MILWAUKEE
  • Wauwatosa East High School, WAUWATOSA