Dr Gemma Tidman

Dr Gemma Tidman

Supernumerary Teaching Fellow in French


I was educated at a large comprehensive school in Somerset and went from there to Oxford to study for a BA in French, an MSt in Enlightenment Studies, and eventually a DPhil in French. Prior to joining St John’s I worked at a national museum (The Wallace Collection), and held teaching posts at the Université Paris Nanterre and at Worcester College, Oxford.

I am the Prizes and Awards Officer for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS).


I teach early modern French literature (c. 1500–1800) to all years of undergraduate students in seminar and tutorial formats. This includes all pre-1800 texts on the first-year course (Papers III and IV), and sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century literature options for FHS Papers VII and X. I also teach translation from French into English to all year groups.

I am interested in widening access to higher education, and am regularly involved in outreach initiatives at college and faculty level (including Pathways and UNIQ). I am always keen to talk to young people of all backgrounds about the huge value (and the fun!) of studying modern languages at university.

Research Interests

My research focuses on early modern, and particularly eighteenth-century, French literature and cultural history. My doctoral thesis, which I am currently turning into a book, explored the eighteenth-century emergence of modern ideas of ‘littérature’ (namely, ‘a canon of French authors and texts’ and ‘a discipline for study’). Scholars have often considered such notions to be nineteenth-century inventions. My thesis showed, however, that they emerged during the Ancien Régime, propelled by a querelle about how to reform literary teaching practices in the early modern collèges. This dispute drew in a wide range of individuals: from the directors of the prestigious Écoles royales militaires, to small-town tutors that history has since forgotten, to philosophes including Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and d’Alembert. My work thus engages both with the famous Enlightenment interest in education, and with Sartre’s thorny question: ‘qu’est-ce que la littérature?’

Beyond my doctoral work, I am interested in Rousseau and Diderot, cases of literary play in early modern France, early modern querelles, and the interdisciplinary study of literature and the visual arts.

Recent Publications

For recent publications and conference papers, see my faculty webpage.