As I mentioned in the first part, these are the subjective reflections of one quite new to the field. I chose to strike a polemical and somewhat assertive note precisely since I feel inhibited to do so with regard to early American intellectual history, which I feel has become too sanctified a space. I would be grateful for any push back.
I’d like to pick things up where I left them at the end of the first post in this series, in which I hope I made a compelling case for assessing the use and abuse of intellectual history as applied to early U.S. history. As I implied in that post, by the 1990s revisionist approaches to early US history, compounded by a sense of saturation, had rendered intellectual history a somewhat antiquated subfield for early Americanists.
Back in the mid 1960s, when Bailyn recognized the significance of classical republicanism to the debates over British policies in North America leading up to American Revolution, he advocated employing a fresh conceptual approach for explicating the relationship between ideas and causality in history. The key term for Bailyn was ‘ideology,’ which he understood as a complex matrix of interrelated ideas, amounting to a prism through which people understand the world. Influenced by Clifford Geertz’s approach to the “interpretation of cultures,” this theoretical framework linked intellectual history with a wider range of texts and cultural artifacts as legitimate subject matter for intellectual historians of Early America. Indeed, Bailyn sought not only to take ideas much more seriously than progressive historians, but also to reconstruct the ideological landscape that lent them their particular historical meaning and function.