Areas of Expertise & Civic Involvements
McDonald’s work falls into three primary areas. First, her scholarly work has addressed the way in which literature interacts with other disciplines (philosophy, history, anthropology, the arts) on questions ranging from to ethics (how do thinkers balance of liberty and equality?) to aesthetics (how does an author or artist look to or break with the past to engage his or her own time?). Her special fields have been work from the Enlightenment and the 20th-21st centuries, primarily but not only in the French tradition. McDonald is particularly interested in ways in which Enlightenment ideas (liberty and equality) return in contemporary politics and culture.
Second, McDonald recently convened, with co-organizer Gary Wihl of Washingtno University, a Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar titled “Modeling Humanities in Higher Education.” They have discussed and hope to implement ways to support the humanities both within and outside universities in this challenging climate.
Third, McDonald just finished a seven-year tenure, along with her husband Michael Rosengarten, as Faculty Dean of Mather House at Harvard. During that time, she worked on many projects, among them the challenge in the setting of a residential house of creating and maintaining an inclusive and tolerant community.
Examines how women began to enter the Republic of Letters as writers during the Old Regime in France, how they stepped at their peril into the public sphere: daring to know and to write involved a double jeopardy for them from which we can learn today: writing from within a hierarchy (as subjects, they were considered minors and later ‘passive’ citizens), women wrote in fiction and non-fiction about gender equality and freedom, ethics and the sins of history, education, science and truth, and women as humans with rights.
Analyzes the history of Rousseau's thought on empathy and human rights (philosophy, literature, and anthropology).
Discusses how the problem of freedom is increasingly compromised and a subject for deep concern. Presents historical analysis of the relationship between freedom and equality with respect to humankind and to the citizen. Proposes several conceptions of liberty.
Analyzes literary history in the context of broad geographical and historical contexts rather than national borders; the global approach is defined as “the senese of a globe that is interconnected, of cultural difference within and beyond the nation;” reading the past as a way to read the present and to connect peoples of the world together in order to see through others’ eyes. Exploration of the relationship between language (in this case French), literature, and culture, and the importance of the humanities in the 21st century.
McDonald has been regularly interviewed by the Harvard Crimson and Harvard Gazette since 2010 on issues surrounding residential life and the arts at Mather House.