Nicole Bauer, "Tracing the Shadow of Secrecy and Government Transparency in Eighteenth-Century France" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022)


Between September 1793 and July 1794, the French politicians and even the general public seemed positively overcome by the urge to denounce their peers: helping so-called crimes, devious machinations, and secret plots come to light. When the so-called “Reign of Terror” ended, however, liberal, radical, and conservative critics of the era alike continued to suggest that the problem was not an excess of public denunciations, but so many shadowy dealings that had yet to be revealed. By early nineteenth century France, transparency had taken hold as an almost necessary precondition to government legitimacy and public trust.

In her new book, Tracing the Shadow of Secrecy and Government Transparency in Eighteenth-Century France (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), Nicole Bauer traces the emergence of this discourse and the rejection of secrecy over the course of the eighteenth century. Bauer’s cultural and political history of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary France argues that while secrecy was at first envisioned as a way to ensure privacy and honor, it eventually came to be seen as proof of weakness, treachery, and, ultimately, betrayal. Her careful reading of sources—from lettres de cachet to Gothic novels—helps her parse this complex subject and sheds new light on the emergence of key modernizing concepts like public opinion and government transparency that we now often take for granted. Filled with riveting and dramatic stories about prisoners, spies, and screams in the night, Tracing the Shadow of Secrecy is both academically rigorous and a real page-turner.

Sarah K. Miles is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who specializes in global francophone history and the history of the French Left. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (

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