U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Missives from the OAH: State of the Field

I was late to today’s panel on the State of the Field in US Intellectual History because I was chatting with a publisher. I invited those present to continue the conversation here, so I hope many will do so. I’ll have more analysis on a future post about the afternoon’s panel on Black Women’s Intellectual History. Let me summarize the comments by James Kloppenburg and the audience (the pieces I did hear):

Kloppenburg said that he imagines the field will continue to be dominated by the study of individuals and biography. That it will focus on expression rather than lived experience, because that is all we can access through texts. That race, gender, and ethnicities will be part of the conversation.

He urged us to have a division of labor, so that some will study ideas and textual content, while others will study production and reception of texts

He suggested that there will be vertical, horizontal, and technological growth in intellectual history.
Vertical: continued expansion in religious questions. Consider the new text “For God and Wallmart”
History of social movements.
Since the 1960s, social history has become cultural history through discussion of meaning making.
Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution
Enslaved Atlantic–universal rights ideas circulating among slaves, even if not literate
Inventing “The American Way” The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement, which is social, cutltural, political and intellectual history
Legal History–much of the current work on the constitution

Transnational Studies, Leslie Butler, Angus Burgin
Shifting from Atlantic Studies to connections between the US and Asia (particularly South Asia)
Trans-disciplinary studies, because intellectual historians can be found in many different, diverse departments and disciplines.

Access to quantity of texts, which presents an opportunity and a challenge. Our discipline and methodologies are important to make sure that people continue to consider the meaning–the why–not just counting evidence and concluding the what and how.

We will continue to be relevant as we understand the past on its own terms and interpret its relevance for the future.

Question and Answers

Jeffrey Sklansky: “Pragmatism is for Intellectual History what Marxism was for Social History”

“Is division of labor the only way to overcome the problem of how hard it is and how long it takes to learn one person’s thought?”
Kloppenburg said in response that he has been very dependent upon other historians to be able to contextualize the individuals he has studed throughout his career. He finds Review Essays to be deeply valuable to keep up with growing fields that are impossible to master.

Charles Capper–our job is to faciliate interaction, negotiate discourses. Self-reflection, cultural capital, conversations broaden field.

Joan Rubin–quoting someone whose name I didn’t catch “Artists’ use of language is the highest form of cultural history”
Both quantitative and qualitative are right. Large numbers need quantiative analysis to understand and demonstrate influence. In terms of experience, we can talk about a lone individual.

Hollinger reminded us to look at distinctions (social, cultural, political, intellectual) modestly in terms of insittutions and administrative politics. Space in departments, journals are chosen in part by making sure that all these different areas are covered, because it make sures that no kinds of questions are ignored. Intellectual History remains important as a label because it preserves things like:

History of philosophy, literary criticism, art, sociology, political science, theology, etc.

Those things aren’t being done by cultural history.

Rubin–US Intellectual History conference panel on this same question was very different because of traing and traditions. Moral dimension in terms of critique of materials (rather than, perhaps, George Cotkin‘s Morality’s Muddy Waters).

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  1. I’d love to see a transcript of Professor Kloppenberg’s paper. I may not agree with his vectors, but I like tropes for memory’s sake! – TL

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