U.S. Intellectual History Blog

USIH Spotlight #3: What Is U. S. Intellectual History? (Guest Post by Mark Edwards)

[Editor’s note: with our S-USIH 2014 coming up in Indianapolis later this week, Mark Edwards, who, along with Cara Burnidge, is co-chairing this year’s conference, wanted to pass along some information about the second plenary panel, which will take place this Saturday. Hope to see many of you there! — Ben Alpers]

Our second conference plenary will take place on Saturday, Oct. 11th, at 2:00pm. Panelists will take up the question: What Is U. S. Intellectual History? This session will provide a formal venue for presenters to engage (should they choose) some of the issues and concerns stemming from Thursday night’s plenary and the Friday night’s keynote address. It will also allow participants, in a truly roundtable format, to talk with each other and audience members about issues central to the field. Here’s a first look at the questions they plan to consider:

1. What isn’t intellectual history?  That is, where are the boundaries between intellectual history and its neighbors, and when do we cross over into a practice that is no longer intellectual history? Those boundaries might refer to both those within the discipline of history and without (e.g. philosophy, cultural studies, religion). Do such boundaries matter as a question of practice?

2. Can we (and/or should we) write intellectual history without intellectuals or without a commitment to formal modes of articulated writing and thinking as subject matter?

We invite everyone to bring your own answers to these questions!

Daniel Wickberg is Associate Professor of Historical Studies/History of Ideas at the University of Texas at Dallas, and the author of The Senses of Humor: Self and Laughter in Modern America (Cornell University Press).  He has written extensively on issues of historiography and historical thought, and is an advocate for a renovated “history of ideas” approach. His essays have appeared in a wide variety of journals, including the American Historical Review, Journal of American History, Critical Inquiry, and Modern Intellectual History. He is currently working on a book entitled The Idea of Tradition in a Culture of Progress: Post-World War II American Thought.

Edward J. Blum is a professor of history at San Diego State University. He is the author of several books on race, religion, and American nationalism, including the co-authored The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He also co-edits the group blog “Then and Now” hosted by The Christian Century magazine.

Kathryn Lofton is a historian of religion with a particular focus on the cultural and intellectual history of the United States. Her research draws upon the histories and anthropology of religions in the U.S. from pre-contact to the present in order to elucidate the meanings of and relationships between religion, modernity, and the secular. Her book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) used the example of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia productions to analyze the nature of religion in contemporary America. Her recent essays have explored the relationship between religious history and religious studies; the office cubicle as a religious artifact; the modernist-fundamentalist controversies; and the challenges attendant to the religious studies classroom.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas, published by the University of Chicago Press. Ratner-Rosenhagen’s research and teaching interests include the history of philosophy, political and social theory, religion, literature, and the visual arts; the transatlantic flow of intellectual and cultural movements; print culture; and cultural studies. Her publications are of both academic and general interest. All explore the links between intellectual life, the trafficking of ideas, and American culture.

Andrew Jewett is Associate Professor of History and of Social Studies at Harvard University. His teaching and research lie at the intersection of intellectual and political history, with an emphasis on the relationship between knowledge and politics and the engagement between science and religion in the United States since the Civil War. His first book, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2012), explores the hopes that many American scholars invested in science between the 1860s and the 1950s. His current project, Against the Technostructure: Fearing Science in Postwar America, focuses on the critical accounts of science’s social impact articulated by a wide variety of cultural and political leaders, as well as ordinary citizens, in the mid-twentieth century.

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