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Maryna Sakalova. Intellectual history as a discipline.

Intellectual history together with «history of ideas» and «social history» emerged when historians realized that it is necessary to balance traditional scholarly preoccupation with political history. The term first became popular among the «new» historians of the 1920s, but the first important scholarly work claiming to be one of intellectual history was Perry Miller’s «The New England Mind» published in 1936. The distinguishing feature of intellectual history is its concern with the problem of context. Whereas in the history of ideas, the ideas themselves are, in certain sense, the actors, intellectual historians seek to establish the relationships between ideas, ideologies, discourses, tropes, texts and particular contexts. The space for debate in intellectual history is opened by the types of contexts one considers to be generally relevant and the types of relationships one posits between the ideas and their contexts.

The linguistic turn and assimilation of the concept of discourse by historians seemed to strengthen positions of intellectual history. But at the same time it was stated that intellectual history might be assimilated into the general current of historically oriented studies of human culture: «we no longer need intellectual history because we have all become intellectual historians.» (W.J. Bowsma). Since then the methods and even the question of usefulness of a special field of «intellectual history» have become the focus of much debate. Nevertheless, judging by the many university courses offerings, dissertations and journal articles that continue to appear in the field one may say that the oft-expressed fear that intellectual history will disintegrate seems unjustified.

Such a situation is due to the fact that the process of institutionalization of intellectual history as a specialized scholarly field is not finished yet. Thus, the bulletin «Intellectual History» was founded only in 1996 by the International Society for Intellectual History (which itself was founded in 1994). Intellectual historians as distinct from scholars working in the fields of the so called «normalized disciplines» how great interest to epistemological and metahistorical problems (postmodernism, relativism and presentism, textcontext relationships, concepts used by historians in their reconstructions of past reality, meaning construction and reality experienced by human beings and etc.)