In recent years intellectual history has reestablished itself as a distinct and vital field of scholarship, with a new attention to the social and cultural contexts of thought as well as to language, rhetoric, and meaning. Even as the field has applied insights from a broad range of other disciplines, and especially from literary studies and philosophy, its practitioners have sought an understanding of thinkers, ideas, and texts that is emphatically historical.
The Limits of Empiricism: The Utility of Theory in Historical Thought and Writing
Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University
Freedom East and West
Jerrold Seigel, New York University
David Hollinger, UC Berkeley:
American Jewish and American Protestant history both display “communalist” and “dispersionist” tendencies. The first focuses on the particular population that accepts the symbolic capital and institutional leadership of the community, the second the ways in which experiences within the community affects the larger history of the United States. “Communalists” are inclined to analyze historical developments in terms of their impact on the community’s survival; “dispersionists” are less likely to display “survivalist” concerns. Post-Protestant and Post-Jewish syndromes thus have much in common.
Dorothy Ross, Johns Hopkins University
The “thinning of the social,” attributed to the post-1970s rise of market logic and postmodernism, was actually set in motion during the long 1950s by the social science and modernist culture. Paul Lazarsfeld’s teaching at Columbia University and his Bureau of Applied Social Research shaped the language of public culture and policy, and C. Wright Mills made his “abstracted empiricism” an emblem of the postwar sociological imagination gone awry. In an ironic and revealing history, the Viennese born Austro-Marxist emerges as an exemplar of the postwar American social scientific liberalism.
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The history departments at three Triangle Area universities – Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill – have established a Program in Intellectual History for students pursuing the MA and Ph.D. in Modern European, Russian, or American History. Within easy access of each other, these universities now form a major national center for graduate teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences. The Program is designed to take advantage of their unique concentration of resources:
The uniqueness of our program lies in both its thematic inclusiveness and its methodological orientation. The faculty is committed to a contextual approach to intellectual history. Context is broadly defined, but we believe that intellectual historians make their distinctive contribution to knowledge when they study texts to recover the historical meanings of ideas. To that end we seek to understand how ideas were formed, reformulated, argued, and received in specific historical contexts. We also wish to develop a closer relationship between European and American intellectual history – one that will enrich both areas. Hence we encourage research that draws comparative conclusions about thinkers and ideas on both sides of the Atlantic, and that explores transactions and mediations between American and European intellectual discourses.
Students develop plans of study involving intellectual historians from all three universities. Thanks to the diversity of faculty, students can explore a wide variety of themes, combining intellectual history with cognate fields in history and other disciplines. They can apply concepts and insights from feminist theory, literary and cultural theory, psychoanalytic theory, studies of the construction of national and ethnic identity, the history of science, the history of philosophy, political theory, and social theory.