About the Seminar

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.

Upcoming Events

Tom Prendergrast

The Sociological Staatsidee: Legal Education, the Theory of the State, and the Meaning of Austrian Multinationalism, 1885-1914

Judith Surkis

More information coming shortly.

Michael Behrent

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Quinn Slobodian

A World Economy of Signals: F. A. Hayek, Cybernetic Legalism and the Intellectual Origins of the WTO

Scholars now recognize that cybernetics and systems theory were foundational to the Austrian-British economist F. A. Hayek’s epistemology.  What they have failed to elaborate, however, is the extent to which Hayek translated his cybernetics into his understanding of jurisprudence, producing what I call cybernetic legalism, which saw individual humans as units within a self-regulating system for which the lawmaker had the primary responsibility of transforming the system’s rules into binding legislation. Scholars have also missed how Hayek’s cybernetic legalism was itself foundational to the theories of the international economic lawyers most pivotal in reforming the GATT into the World Trade Organization. My paper shows how Hayek’s students at the GATT developed an understanding of the world economy as a system of signals for communicating prices for which binding constitutionalized legal frameworks were necessary to preserve conditions of predictability and stability for individual economic actors.  This thinking was an important intellectual stream leading into the creation of the WTO and helps illuminate the epistemology that underpins latter-day universalist solutions to write hard law for the world economy.

Slobodian Faculty PhotoQuinn Slobodian is associate professor of history at Wellesley College. He has been a scholar in residence at Freie Universität Berlin, Center for Contemporary History Potsdam and Minda de Gunzburg
Center for European Studies at Harvard University.  He is the author of Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (Duke University Press, 2012) and editor of Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World (Berghahn, 2015). His current book project on neoliberals and the idea of the world economy after empire is under advance contract with Harvard University Press.

Anne Kornhauser

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Our Coordinators
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K. Steven Vincent

Professor of History, North Carolina State University
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Malachi Hacohen

Associate Professor and Bass Fellow, History, Political Science and Religion, Slavic, German and Jewish Studies, Duke University
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Martin Miller

Professor of Slavic & Eurasian Studies, Duke University
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Lloyd Kramer

Professor of History, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
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Emily Levine

Assistant Professor of Modern European History, University of North Carolina - Greensboro
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Anthony LaVopa

Professor emeritus, North Carolina State University
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Noah Strote

Assistant Professor of European Studies, North Carolina State University
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David Weinstein

Professor emeritus, Wake Forest University
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James Chappel

Assistant Professor of History, Duke University


Our Affiliates


Our Faculty

The Graduate Program

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:

  • An unusually large community of scholars engaged in teaching and research in modern European and American intellectual history
  • Three outstanding history departments, representing the entire spectrum of current historical scholarship
  • Excellent library resources for graduate research in intellectual history
  • The National Humanities Center, which brings approximately thirty-five visiting scholars to the Triangle Area each year, and which has hosted an Intellectual History Seminar since the spring of 1995

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.