Francois Furstenberg, an associate professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University, follows the exiles on their American adventures in his new book, "When the United States Spoke French."Share
The refugees include the future master diplomat Charles-Maurice Talleyrand; the social reformer the Duc de la Rochefoucauld; the dashing Vicomte de Noailles, Lafayette's brother-in-law and a onetime dancing partner of Marie Antoinette; the avid traveler, writer and philosopher the Comte de Volney; and the insecure bookstore owner Moreau de Saint-Mery, the only nonaristocrat of the bunch.
"They were extraordinary people," Furstenberg says in a recent phone chat. (An edited transcript appears below.)
"It's no coincidence that they left such a mark on the world. For instance, Talleyrand reshaped European borders for nearly a century.
"But this was also the Age of the Enlightenment, when people dabbled in all kinds of things. To be a philosopher was also to be a scientist and active in politics. The sense of a separation in these disciplines only emerges later in the 19th century."
Furstenberg, 41, is half French himself and spent 10 years teaching history in Montreal. This is his second stint in Baltimore: He earned his doctorate in history from Hopkins in 2003, left for a decade and returned in January as a member of the faculty.
The author's first book focused narrowly on life in the United States in the 18th century. For his second, he wanted to explore how events in Europe and the Caribbean helped to shape the country we live in today. (Read more.)