Advertisement

What is Intellectual History Now?

Chapter

Abstract

It is always difficult to explain what one does for a living; still more so when one is asked in so crisp a manner, and with such apparent expectation of definitive response, as in the question ‘What is intellectual history now?’ I cannot hope to be comprehensive, and my answer will necessarily reflect my own particular specialism and interests. However, I shall attempt to be at least articulate in my reply; and I shall begin by saying that the question seems to me to involve in fact two questions: one, ‘What is intellectual history now?’ (as opposed to then); and two, ‘What is intellectual history now?’ (as opposed to any other kind of history). As we shall see, these two questions cannot be disentangled; for the very same history of intellectual history over the past few decades which has seen such a reinvigoration of the field has at the same time brought into question the distinctive boundaries of that field.

Keywords

Cultural History Linguistic Context Language Game Intellectual History Text Producer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and references

  1. 1.
    W.J. Bouwsma, The Waning of the Renaissance 1550–1640 (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2000), p. ix.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    By Roger Chartier, in a wonderfully lucid and thoughtful overview of the problems involved. See R. Chartier, ‘Intellectual History or Sociological History? The French Trajectories’, in D. LaCapra and S.L. Kaplan (eds), Modern European Intellectual History: Reappraisals and New Perspectives (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. N.J. Christie, ‘From Intellectual to Cultural History: The Comparative Catalyst’, in D.R. Woolf (ed.), Intellectual History: New Perspectives (Lewiston; Queenston; Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 1989), p. 82.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A point very familiar by now, thanks to the seminal work of Quentin Skinner. For its original incisive and sparkling formulation see Q.R.D. Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, History and Theory, vol. 8 (1969), pp. 393–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. reprinted in J. Tully (ed.), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988); see also J.A.W. Gunn, ‘After Sabine, After Lovejoy: The Languages of Political Thought’, in Woolf, Intellectual History. Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    E.H. Carr, What is History? (2nd edn) (London: Penguin, 1987), pp. 134–5.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    For a good treatment of Collingwood within this tradition see D. Boucher, Texts in Context: Revisionist Methods for Studying the History of Ideas (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1985), pp. 39–71.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See, especially, Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding’, and Q.R.D. Skinner, ‘Motives, Intentions and the Interpretation of Texts’, New Literary History, vol. 3 (1972), pp. 393–408, reprinted in Tully, Meaning and Context. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (2nd edn) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    J.R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 13.
    L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (3rd edn) (English text only) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1968): the term is introduced at p. 5. See also the analogy, so suggestive for intellectual history, of our language as an ancient city, with additions from many periods (p. 8).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    For a discussion of this issue see J.G.A. Pocock, ‘Concepts and Discourses: A Difference in Culture? Comments on a Paper by Melvin Richter’, in H. Lehmann and M. Richter (eds), The Meaning of Historical Terms and Concepts: New Studies in Begriffsgeschichte (Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 1996), pp. 47–58Google Scholar
  13. and M. Richter, ‘Reconstructing the History of Political Languages: Pocock, Skinner and the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe’, History and Theory, vol. 29 (1990), pp. 38–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 15.
    For a clear statement of this sort of method see J.G.A. Pocock, ‘The Concept of a Language and the Métier d’Historien: Some Considerations on Practice’, in A.R.D. Pagden (ed.), The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    See, for example, Skinner’s study of the Lorenzetti frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena: Q.R.D. Skinner, ‘Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher’, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 72 (1986), pp. 1–86.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    For these points see L. Giard, ‘Du Latin médiéval au pluriel des langues: Le tournant de la Renaissance’, Histoire, épistémologie, langage, vol. 6 (1984), pp. 35–55, especially pp. 40–1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 19.
    M. Biagioli, ‘The Anthropology of Incommensurability’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 21 (1990), pp. 183–209, especially p. 203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 21.
    For example, in Spiegel, ‘History, Historicism and the Social Logic of the Text in the Middle Ages’, Speculum (1990), reprinted in K. Jenkins (ed.), The Postmodern History Reader (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 180–283.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    M. Foucault, ‘What is an Author?’, in D.F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 113–38, at p. 113.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    M. Foucault, L’archéologie du savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), p. 70: ‘bref, que s’il y a des choses dites — et celles-là seulement —, il ne faut pas en demander la raison immédiate aux choses qui s’y trouvent dites ou aux hommes qui les ont dites, mais au système de la discursivité, aux possibilités et aux impossibilités énonciatives qu’il ménage’.Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    I mean ‘paratext’ in Gerard Genette’s later sense of all the material which surrounds the text and affects how it is read (preface, titles, epigraphs, illustrations, notes, and so on). See G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (trans. J.E. Lewin) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 31.
    See Derrida’s response to Austin: J. Derrida, ‘Signature Event Context’, in his Margins of Philosophy (trans. A. Bass) (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; Brighton: Harvester, 1982), pp. 307–30.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    For an introduction to the various definitions of intertextuality and the issues involved see M. Worton and J. Still (eds), Intertextuality: Theories and Practices (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 1990).Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    In another context Michel de Certeau has analysed how consumption itself can be a form of production through strategies of appropriation and assimilation. See M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (trans. S. Rendall) (Berkeley, CA; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1984), pp. xi–xxiv.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    For a thoughtful discussion of the possibilities for intellectual history ‘after the linguistic turn’ see J.E. Toews, ‘Intellectual History After the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience’, American Historical Review. vol. 92 (1987). pp. 879–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 37.
    Umberto Eco has developed the idea of an intention of the work, intentio operis, in his secod Tanner lecture of 1990. See U. Eco, Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); especially p. 64: ‘To recognise the intentio operis is to recognise a semiotic strategy. Sometimes the semiotic strategy is detectable on the grounds of established stylistic conventions … How to prove a conjecture about the intentio operis? The only way is to check it upon the text as a coherent whole.’ Eco goes on to discuss the relations between this intentio operis and the intentio of both lector and auctor. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 38.
    It seems to me that this is preferable to making a radical separation between ‘meaning’ in the sense of what the author meant, and ‘meaning’ in the sense of the signification of the text, leaving the first — the recovery of intention — to the historian and the second to the literary critic or the philosopher, as argued, for example, in M.P. Thompson, ‘Reception Theory and the Interpretation of Historical Meaning’, History and Theory, vol. 32 (1993), pp. 228–72. For one thing, the intentionality or ‘pointedness’ of the text itself (see note 12 above) lies in between these two poles, mediating between them. For another, it then becomes quite unclear why someone interested in what the text means should have any concern for what the author may have meant. I suggest rather that the task of the intellectual historian is both historical and critical-philosophical (see further above, p. 127).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 40.
    See Chartier, ‘Intellectual History or Sociocultural History?, pp. 18–32; R. Chartier, Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations (trans. L.G. Cochrane) (Cambridge: Polity Press in association with Blackwell, 1988), pp. 20–48Google Scholar
  29. P. Burke, Varieties of Cultural History (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997), pp. 162–82.Google Scholar
  30. 44.
    C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 452.Google Scholar
  31. 45.
    For a helpful diagnosis of their own enterprise, and its origins and effects, by two of the leading ‘new historicist’ scholars, see C. Gallagher and S. Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism (Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    Cf. S. Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare (Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  33. 48.
    J. Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 196–212.Google Scholar
  34. 55.
    See R. Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), for the development of these views of what follows from accepting the radical ‘contingency of language’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations