Steinheil: Sex, Scandal and Politics in Belle Époque France

Project Lead:

Sarah Horowitz, Associate Professor of History


Brandon Walsh, Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow (2016-2017)

Sam Gibson ’17 (2016-2017)

Megan Doherty ’19 (2017)

Project URL:

Project Description:

What is the language of scandal? This is a question that we aim to study through text analysis of the Steinheil Affair, a sex scandal that captured the French imagination in the early twentieth century. Marguerite (“Meg”) Steinheil was a politically connected courtesan and society hostess who first came to fame as the mistress of the French president Félix Faure. In May 1908, ten years after Faure died during one of their sexual encounters, her husband and mother were found murdered in their home. Meg survived the attack and spent the next six months framing innocent individuals and telling outlandish lies to mislead the police and the public. From the time of the murders to her eventual acquittal for the crime in November 1909, the case fascinated the French public. This is hardly surprising, given that scandal combined elements of a detective story – a grisly crime, dramatic twists and turns that unfolded in the press, a morally dubious but captivating heroine – with a tale of illicit sexuality and political corruption.

Mellon Summer Research Grant, Summer 2016 (Digital Humanities)
Mellon Summer Research Grant, Summer 2017 (Digital Humanities)

Methodology: OCR, python, text-analysis, and Voyant

Interdisciplinary 203: You Say You Want a Revolution- An Introduction to Digital Humanities

Sara Sprenkle, Associate Professor of Computer Science, and Paul YoungmanAssociate Professor of German, taught this project-based course, which introduced non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors to the use of digital technologies in humanities research and research presentation. The course was predicated on the fact that the digital turn the world has taken in the last several decades has drastically changed the nature of knowledge production and distribution. To call this turn a revolution is not an exaggeration. The class involved “talking” and “doing;” it integrated lectures on digital humanities (DH) and computer science with demonstrations of fully developed DH projects by guest speakers culminating in thrice-weekly lab sessions. At the beginning of the term, the lab sessions gave students hands-on experience with new tools and techniques but later evolved into inquiry-based, student-designed group projects in DH. 

Students in this course produced two projects:

Anthropology 290: Campus Sex in the Digital Age

This Winter 2014 class, taught by Professor Sascha Goluboff, will explore how the cell phone has impacted hooking up and dating at college, with particular attention to Washington and Lee University as a case study. They will discuss the development of campus sexual culture in America and the influence of digital technology on student sociality. Students will use open source digital research tools to analyze data (interviews, focus groups, and statistics) collected by Professor Goluboff in Fall 2011 about dating and hookup behavior at our college. Students will work in groups to post their weekly analyses on a class WordPress site. The ultimate goal of the course is to develop a variety of interpretations of the data that might challenge, as well as reaffirm, the conclusions drawn by Professor Goluboff in her recent article manuscript.