Philanthropic Celebrity in the Age of Sensibility: A Comparative-Historical Study of British, French, and Polish Examples (1770-1830)
The project untangles the complex factors behind the emergence of philanthropic celebrity at the beginning of the late modern period. It reconstructs the public careers of famous philanthropists and identifies recurring patterns. To reflect the Europe-wide scope of this phenomenon, case studies of philanthropic celebrities in three different regions were chosen as the focus of the thesis: the prison reformer John Howard in the United Kingdom, the French-German pastor and social reformer Jean-Frédéric Oberlin in Alsace, and the Polish statesman Stanisław Staszic in Russian-controlled Warsaw. By following their public careers, the changing tastes of the public, the mechanisms of their fame, and the ultimate social response to celebrity, this project aims to identify the common factors in different societies’ yearning for heroes. While mysterious, the phenomenon of celebrity is not indecipherable, and describing how it functions often reveals what people cherish, what they despise, and how they express these attitudes.