U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Regional U.S. Intellectual History: The Right Direction?

[From Tim Lacy]

At a site devoted to promoting the United States’ overall intellectual history, how does regional history come into play? Clearly there’s a regional interest in intellectual history, evidenced by long-running and successful Southern Intellectual History Circle (SIHC). Every report I’ve heard about their meetings is colored with smiles and success. I must admit, as an outsider looking in, that I’m somewhat jealous.

But what of other regions? Do we need an intellectual history “circle” for the Northwest, the Sunbelt, the West, the Midwest, and New England? How do Alaska and Hawai’i fit in? One might even argue that New England’s intellectual history at least has some foundational texts, namely Perry Miller’s New England Mind volumes. But, as a Midwesterner, do I need to start a “Heartland Intellectual History Circle”? I don’t think so.

Do U.S. states and cities also sometimes need intellectual histories? Of course. The success of Thomas Bender’s New York Intellect is proof of this. As a Chicagoan, I’ve contemplated the need for a similar study.

While I firmly believe regional and micro-analyses have a great deal of validity, there needs to be, in 2007, a professional-level commitment to firming up our national identity as U.S. intellectual historians. Every regional study has national implications. For instance, with regard to SIHC and the U.S. South as a field of study, isn’t their intellectual history firmly linked, at least in terms of the colonial and antebellum periods, to the anti-slavery arguments of the North? I’m sure that not all the South’s intellectual history of that period consists of reactions to the North, but surely there are substantial connections.

I hope that the discipline of intellectual history is not on a road to fragmentation at a time, in terms of overall humanities resources, when unity would be more useful.

Thoughts? – TL

One Thought on this Post

  1. I must admit that I do not share Tim’s concern. No overwhelming trend toward toward regional intellectual history is apparent to me. More importantly, such a development, were it to occur, is just as likely to be a positive force for U.S. intellectual history. I don’t see a zero sum game: perhaps an increase in regional interest, for example, would bring people to U.S. intellectual history who never would have encountered it in the first place.

    By the same token, I do not see the development of a specifically American intellectual history enterprise to be threatening to the contemporary renaissance of the subfield, which seems largely oriented on a Euro-American axis. Emphasizing the U.S. in my own work says nothing more than that is what happens to interest me; I certainly don’t think it slights someone working in a more transnational vein.

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