Ilyana Karthas

Ilyana Karthas
Associate Professor
615 Locust St. Bldg., Rm E121
Research Area
Modern European Intellectual & Cultural History/Visual Culture/Modern France/Aesthetics/ Women’s & Gender History

Ph.D., Brown University
M.A., Brown University
M.A., Oxford University
B.A., Barnard College, Columbia University


Ilyana Karthas joined the history faculty after teaching for three years at McGill University in both the History Department and Women’s Studies Program. She teaches courses in Modern European intellectual and cultural history, modern France, the First World War, gender & women’s history, and visual culture. Her research interests focus on national identity formation, modern aesthetics, visual culture, and women’s & gender history. Professor Karthas also teaches courses as part of the Gender Concentration, and she is an Affiliate Faculty member of both the Women’s and Gender Studies Department and the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy. In 2010-2011, she served as the first Scholar’s Chair offered by the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. In 2013, she was awarded the MU Maxine Christopher Shutz Award for Distinguished Teaching & Lecture and, in 2020, she was awarded the Alumnae Anniversary Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has been invited to participate in public lectures at the National WWI Museum in Kansas City.

Professor Karthas’ first book, When Ballet Became French: Modern Ballet and the Cultural Politics of France, 1909-1939 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015) is the first book-length study to examine the rise of modern ballet in France and to highlight the cultural labor involved in reviving the art. In examining the cultural transfer of ‘modern’ ballet via the ‘Russian’ troupe, it pays particular attention to how the performing arts emerged as a central venue not only for the experimentation of artistic modernism, but also for the expression of cultural anxieties in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France. The book places the cultural resurgence of ballet within three key themes of early twentieth-century European history: the development of nationalism, modern aesthetics, and changing configurations of gender. Her article, “Gender and the Revival of Ballet in Early Twentieth-century France” was published in The Journal of Social History in the summer of 2012. 

Professor Karthas’ other book projects include Merlyn Severn: Women, Photography, and the Gender Politics of Professionalism (tentative title), which is drawn from her M.A. in Women’s Studies from Oxford University and her entry on Severn in the Oxford New Dictionary of National Biography. This will be the first comprehensive book-length study to address the extraordinary career and adventurous life of woman photography Merlyn Severn. The study critically examines Severn’s career, her perspective of the world around her, and her self-construction, and situates them within a broader historical context of the mid- 20th century. Severn’s world opens new questions about 20th-century political and social life, postwar Europe, the rise of ballet, the advent of the welfare state, European colonialism, women in war, the history of photojournalism, the professional lives of women, and the expansiveness of women’s freedom in this era. Another book project, Authority of Mind: Women, Modernism, and the Making of Paris, will offer new insight into women’s complex role in the cultural process of modernity in France. It will present a new paradigm for understanding the arts worlds of Paris between 1870 and 1960 by revealing women as important and effective arbiters of taste in this period. The book project places women at the center of Paris’ artistic worlds of the early 20th century by revealing how women played a crucial role in fashioning Paris as a cosmopolitan center and a place at the forefront of modern aesthetics and innovation. Her article of the same name was published in the peer-reviewed journal French Cultural Studies in 2020.

Undergraduate Courses Taught:

HIST 1510: The History of Modern Europe

HIST 2570: WWI & its Aftermath

HIST 2950: Sophomore Seminar           

HIST 4580/7580: The Making of Modern Europe: Identity, Culture, Empire

HIST 4650/7650: The French Revolution

HIST 4971: History of the Modern City

HIST 4971: French Culture & Politics Through the Arts

HIST 4971: The Making of Modern France

 HIST 4971: Parisian Life in the Interwar Years

HIST 4971: The First World War

Graduate Courses Taught: 

HIST 8004: The Politics of the Body in Historical Perspective

HIST 8004: Envisioning Modernity: French Culture and Politics of the Arts

HIST 8004: The French Revolution

HIST 8571: History of the Modern City in Europe

HIST 8405: Readings in Gender History.

Book Website: