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Chrastil How to Be Childless cover copy.
How to Be Childless

In How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children, I explore the long and fascinating history of childlessness, putting this often-overlooked legacy in conversation with the issues that childless women and men face in the twenty-first century. Eschewing two dominant narratives, that the childless are either barren and alone, or that they are carefree and selfish, How to Be Childless instead argues that the lives of childless individuals from the past can help all of us expand our range of possibilities for the good life.

In uncovering the voices and experiences of childless women from the past five hundred years, I demonstrate that the pathways to childlessness, so often simplified as "choice" and "circumstance," are far more complex and interweaving. Balanced, deeply researched, and richly realized, How to Be Childless (Oxford, 2019) empowers readers, parents and childless alike, to navigate their lives with purpose.



Modern international humanitarianism on behalf of civilians began in 1870 at the siege of Strasbourg. As I recount in The Siege of Strasbourg (Harvard, 2014), Swiss humanitarians intervened to help civilians in Strasbourg leave the city. 


This research led me to develop a new course, A History of Saving the World, in which my students study the histories of humanitarianism and human rights, while partnering with local nonprofits.

The Great War

How did European countries enter into the Great War?  This question led to my first book, Organizing for War: France, 1870-1914 (LSU Press, 2010). After losing the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, French civilians at first blamed their political leaders.  But within a generation, they started to prepare for a future conflict--they joined the Red Cross, gymnastics societies, and memorial societies. By 1914, many in France were willing to contemplate war because they already had been rehearsing for it.


In my courses on the Great War, I guide students through the complexity of war and its consequences on civilian life, before, during and after times of conflict. I offer a 100-level course, "Europe at War, 1914-1945" and a 400-level seminar, "The Great War."



Quantitative Literacy

Quantitative literacy is the ability to use numbers fluidly to solve problems and explore the world. It is the rigorous and sophisticated application of relatively elementary mathematics to new situations. Much like writing, QL encompasses a wide-ranging set of skills and cuts across the undergraduate curriculum. Just as good writing skills support the sciences and mathematics, good QL skills support the humanities. We unlock new possibilities and tools for precision when we incorporate mathematical thinking into our disciplines. At the same time, robust QL is not possible without the values, nuance and range of experience encountered in the humanities. QL cannot eliminate uncertainty; mathematics alone cannot stand in for good judgment. In this era of big data, humanistic QL is an urgent need. It makes the humanities stronger and more necessary than ever.


I've developed a resouce for humanities faculty looking to incorporate quantitative literacy into their courses.


Read my piece on quantitative literacy at the humanities, "Justice in the Era of Little Data," at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice blog.

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