U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Call for Participants: “Dead White Males: Is Intellectual History Elitist History?” (OAH roundtable)

I am looking to put together a roundtable to propose to the Organization of American Historians for its next annual meeting, to be held March 28-31, 2008 in New York City.

The conference theme is “Bringing Us All Together,” and the “us” here refers specifically to historians. In its call for papers, the OAH celebrates the “far more expansive definition…of what it means to live an American life” that has resulted from the scholarship of the last several decades. Yet it also notes that an unanticipated result of such diversity can be “a fragmentation of concept” that allows us to “lose sight of what brings our subjects and our fields together.” By way of addressing these developments, the conference seeks to provide “an attempt at synthesis and unity.”

In this light the subfield of U.S. intellectual history provides a particularly interesting focus. As the influence of social and cultural history has grown, that of intellectual history has waned. Is there a connection between these two factors? If intellectuals are, by definition, elites, then must studying them be an elitist pursuit? If so, can it still be instructive and valuable? What, if any, relationship can exist between intellectual and other forms of history?

At the heart of these issues is, in my opinion, the contested legitimacy of intellectual history itself. Thus the roundtable will be organized around the question, “Is intellectual history elitist history?” Anyone who is interested in addressing the broad collection of issues orbiting this question is encouraged to send a CV (in MS Word or .pdf format) and a few thoughts on the matter to me (Mike O’Connor) at [email protected]. Please send all material by February 7, 2007.