Intellectual history

Intellectual history

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Note: this article concerns the discipline of intellectual history, and not its object, the whole span of human thought since the invention of writing. For clarifications about the latter topic
Global intellectual history
Global intellectual history is the history of thought in the world across the span of human history, from the invention of writing to the present. For information about the methodology of intellectual history, please see the relevant article....

, please consult the writings of the intellectual historians listed here and entries on individual thinkers.


Intellectual history refers to the history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of human thoughts in written form
Writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

 . This history cannot be considered without the knowledge of the men and women who created, discussed, wrote about and in other ways were concerned with idea
Idea
In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

s. Intellectual history is closely related to the history of philosophy
History of philosophy
The history of philosophy is the study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include : How can changes in philosophy be accounted for historically? What drives the development of thought in its historical context? To what...

 and the history of ideas
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

. Its central premise is that ideas do not develop in isolation from the people who create and use them and that one must study idea
Idea
In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

s not as abstract propositions but in terms of the culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, lives and historical contexts that produced them.

Intellectual history aims to understand ideas from the past by understanding them in context. The term 'context' in the preceding sentence is ambiguous: it can be political, cultural, intellectual and social. One can read a text both in terms of a chronological context (for example, as a contribution to a discipline or tradition as it extended over time) or in terms of a contemporary intellectual moment (for example, as participating in a debate particular to a certain time and place). Both of these acts of contextualization are typical of what intellectual historians do, nor are they exclusive. Generally speaking, intellectual historians seek to place concepts and texts from the past in multiple contexts.

It is important to realize that intellectual history is not just the history of intellectuals. It studies ideas as they are expressed in texts, and as such is different from other forms of cultural history
Cultural history
The term cultural history refers both to an academic discipline and to its subject matter.Cultural history, as a discipline, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural...

 which deal also with visual and other non-verbal forms of evidence. Any written trace from the past can be the object of intellectual history. The concept of the intellectual
Intellectual
An intellectual is a person who uses intelligence and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity.- Terminology and endeavours :"Intellectual" can denote four types of persons:...

 is relatively recent, and suggests someone professionally concerned with thought. Instead, anyone who has put pen to paper to explore her thoughts can be the object of intellectual history. A famous example of an intellectual history of a non-canonical thinker is Carlo Ginzburg
Carlo Ginzburg
Carlo Ginzburg is a noted historian and proponent of the field of microhistory. He is best known for his Il formaggio e I vermi which examined the beliefs of an Italian heretic, Menocchio, from Montereale Valcellina.- Biography :The son of Natalia Ginzburg and Leone Ginzburg, he was born...

's study of a 16th-century Italian miller, Menocchio, in his seminal work The Cheese and the Worms.

Although the field emerged from European disciplines of Kulturgeschichte and Geistesgeschichte
Geistesgeschichte
Geistesgeschichte , a concept in the history of ideas denoting the branch of study concerned with the undercurrents of cultural manifestations, within the history of a people, that are peculiar to a specific timeframe...

, the historical study of ideas has engaged not only western intellectual traditions, but others as well including, but not limited to, those in the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

, Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. Increasingly, historians are calling for a global intellectual history
Global intellectual history
Global intellectual history is the history of thought in the world across the span of human history, from the invention of writing to the present. For information about the methodology of intellectual history, please see the relevant article....

 that will show the parallels and interrelations in the history of thought of all human societies. Another important trend has been the history of the book
History of the book
The history of books follows a suite of technological innovations for books. These improved the quality of text conservation, the access to information, portability, and the cost of production...

 and of reading
Reading (process)
Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols for the intention of constructing or deriving meaning . It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas...

, which has drawn attention to the material aspects of how books were designed, produced, distributed and read.

Intellectual Historiography


Intellectual history as a self-conscious discipline is a relatively recent phenomenon. It has precedents, however, in the history of philosophy
History of philosophy
The history of philosophy is the study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include : How can changes in philosophy be accounted for historically? What drives the development of thought in its historical context? To what...

, the history of ideas
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

, and in cultural history
Cultural history
The term cultural history refers both to an academic discipline and to its subject matter.Cultural history, as a discipline, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural...

 as practiced since Burckhardt
Jacob Burckhardt
Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history, albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today...

 or indeed since Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

. The history of the human mind, as it was called in the eighteenth century, was of great concern to scholars and philosophers, and their efforts can in part be traced to Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

’s call for what he termed a literary history in his The Advancement of Learning
The Advancement of Learning
right|thumbnail|Title pageThe Advancement of Learning is a 1605 book by Francis Bacon.-Darwin:...

. However, the discipline of intellectual history as it is now understood emerged only in the immediate postwar period, in its earlier incarnation as “the history of ideas
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

” under the leadership of Arthur Lovejoy, the founder of the Journal of the History of Ideas
Journal of the History of Ideas
The Journal of the History of Ideas is a peer-reviewed academic journal which publishes research in intellectual history. The journal "defines intellectual history expansively and ecumenically," and includes the histories of philosophy, literature and the arts, natural and social sciences,...

. Since that time, Lovejoy
Lovejoy
Lovejoy is a TV series about the adventures of Lovejoy, a British antiques dealer and faker based in East Anglia, a less than scrupulous yet likeable rogue. The episodes were based on a series of picaresque novels by John Grant...

’s formulation of “unit-ideas” has been discredited and replaced by more nuanced and more historically sensitive accounts of intellectual activity, and this shift is reflected in the replacement of the phrase history of ideas
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history...

 by intellectual history.

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the history of political thought has been a particular focus since the late 1960s and is associated especially with the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, where until recently such scholars as John Dunn and Quentin Skinner
Quentin Skinner
Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London.-Biography:...

 studied European political thought in its historical context, emphasizing the emergence and development of such concepts as the state and freedom. Skinner
Quentin Skinner
Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London.-Biography:...

 in particular is renowned for his provocative methodological essays, which were and are widely read by philosophers and practitioners of other humanistic disciplines, and did much to give prominence to the practice of intellectual history. The University of Sussex
University of Sussex
The University of Sussex is an English public research university situated next to the East Sussex village of Falmer, within the city of Brighton and Hove. The University received its Royal Charter in August 1961....

 in the UK has also achieved a reputation in this field of study, and the Sussex emphasis on broad interdisciplinary study has been particularly useful in relevant teaching and research.

In the United States, intellectual history is understood more broadly to encompass many different forms of intellectual output, not just the history of political ideas, and it includes such fields as the history of historical thought, associated especially with Anthony Grafton
Anthony Grafton
Anthony Grafton is a historian and the current Henry Putnam University Professor at Princeton University. He is also a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and a recipient of the Balzan Prize...

 of Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 and J.G.A. Pocock
J.G.A. Pocock
John Greville Agard Pocock , as a writer known as J. G. A. Pocock, is a historian noted for his trenchant studies of republicanism in the early modern period , for his treatment of Edward Gibbon and his contemporaries as historians of Enlightenment, and, in historical method, for his contributions...

 of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

. Despite the prominence of early modern intellectual historians (those studying the age from the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 to the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

), the intellectual history of the modern period has also been the locus of intense and creative output on both sides of the Atlantic. Prominent examples of such work include Louis Menand
Louis Menand
Louis Menand is an American writer and academic, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Metaphysical Club , an intellectual and cultural history of late 19th and early 20th century America....

’s The Metaphysical Club
The Metaphysical Club
The Metaphysical Club was a conversational philosophical club that future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., psychologist William James, and polymath Charles Sanders Peirce formed in January 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and dissolved in December 1872. Upon Peirce's arrival at...

 and Martin Jay
Martin Jay
Martin Jay is the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a renowned Intellectual Historian and his research interests have been groundbreaking in connecting history with other academic and intellectual activities, such as the Critical Theory of...

’s The Dialectical Imagination.

In continental Europe, equivalents of intellectual history can be found. An example is Reinhart Koselleck
Reinhart Koselleck
Reinhart Koselleck was a German historian, considered as one of the most important historians of the twentieth century...

’s Begriffsgeschichte (history of concepts), though there are methodological differences between the work of Koselleck and his followers and the work of Anglo-American intellectual historians.

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