History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history. Work in the history of ideas may involve interdisciplinary research in the history of philosophy, the history of science, or the history of literature. In Sweden, the history of ideas and science (Idé- och lärdomshistoria) has been a distinct university subject since 6 November 1932, when Johan Nordström, a scholar of literature, was appointed professor of the new discipline in a ceremony at Uppsala University (coinciding with that commemorating the 300-year anniversary of the Battle of Lützen). Today, several universities across the world provide courses in this field, usually as part of a graduate program.
The Lovejoy approach
The historian Arthur O. Lovejoy (1873–1962) coined the phrase history of ideas and initiated its systematic study in the early decades of the 20th century. Johns Hopkins University was a "fertile cradle" to Lovejoy's history of ideas; he worked there as a professor of history, from 1910 to 1939, and for decades he presided over the regular meetings of the History of Ideas Club.Another outgrowth of his work is the Journal of the History of Ideas.
Aside from his students and colleagues engaged in related projects (such as René Wellek and Leo Spitzer, with whom Lovejoy engaged in extended debates), scholars such as Isaiah Berlin, Michel Foucault, Christopher Hill, J. G. A. Pocock, and others have continued to work in a spirit close to that with which Lovejoy pursued the history of ideas. The first chapter of Lovejoy's book The Great Chain of Being lays out a general overview of what he intended to be the program and scope of the study of the history of ideas.
Lovejoy's history of ideas takes as its basic unit of analysis the unit-idea, or the individual concept. These unit-ideas work as the building-blocks of the history of ideas: though they are relatively unchanged in themselves over the course of time, unit-ideas recombine in new patterns and gain expression in new forms in different historical eras. As Lovejoy saw it, the historian of ideas had the task of identifying such unit-ideas and of describing their historical emergence and recession in new forms and combinations.
Quentin Skinner criticizes Lovejoy's "unit-idea" methodology, and he argues that such a "reification of doctrines" has negative consequences. He emphasizes sensitivity to the cultural context of the texts and ideas being analysed. Skinner's own historical methodology is based on J.L. Austin's theory of speech acts. Andreas Dorschel criticizes Skinner's restrictive approach to ideas through verbal language, and points out how ideas can materialize in non-linguistic media or genres such as music and architecture.
Michel Foucault rejects the idea of the traditional way historians go about writing, which is a narrative. He believed that most historians preferred to write about long periods of time instead of digging deeper into a more specific history. Foucault argues that historians should reveal historical descriptions through different perspectives. This is where he comes up with the term “archaeology” for his method of historical writing. His historical method differs from the traditional sense of historical writing and is divided up into four different ideas.
The first is that “archeology” seeks to define the history through philosophical means, which is to say the discourse between though, representation, and themes. The second is that “archaeology,” the notion of discontinuity assumes a major role in the historical disciplines. The third idea is that “archaeology” does not seek to grasp the moment that history at which the individual and the social are inverted into one another. And finally the fourth point is that “archaeology” does not seek the truth of history, rather it seeks the discourse in it.
- Age of Enlightenment
- American Enlightenment
- Charismatic leader
- Great Chain of Being
- Herbert Spencer
- Historiography (other approaches to history)
- Intellectual history
- Isaiah Berlin
- Robert Boyle
- Scottish Enlightenment
- Stage theory
- Arthur Lovejoy: The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), ISBN 0-674-36153-9
- Ronald Paulson English Literary History at the Johns Hopkins University in New Literary History, Vol. 1, No. 3, History and Fiction (Spring, 1970), pp. 559–564
- Arthur Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas, ISBN 0-313-20504-3
- Isaiah Berlin, Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, ISBN 0-691-09026-2
- Quentin Skinner, "Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas," History and Ideas 8.1 (1969), pp. 3-53.
- Andreas Dorschel, Ideengeschichte. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010. ISBN 978-3-8252-3314-3
- Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Foucault: On History." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/newhistoricism/modules/foucaulthistory.html
- Foucault, Michel. "Archaeology Of Knowledge, Introduction.", edited by A. M. Sherida Smith. Vintage, 1982. http://foucault.info/documents/archaeologyofknowledge/foucault.archaeologyofknowledge.00_intro.html
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, edited by Philip P. Wiener, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973-74. Volume 1: Abstraction in the Formation of Concepts TO Design Argument, Volume 2: Despotism TO Law, Volume 3: Law, Concept of TO Protest Movements, Volume 4: Psychological Ideas in Antiquity TO Zeitgeist (online edition courtesy the University of Virginia Library). Revised and updated in 2004 as New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (6 volumes), edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons.