History of ideas


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 has been a distinct university subject since the 1930s, when Johan Nordström, a scholar of literature, was appointed professor of the new discipline at Uppsala University. 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 studyArthur Lovejoy: "The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea" (1936), ISBN 0-674-36153-9] in the early decades of the twentieth century. For decades Lovejoy presided over the regular meetings of the "History of Ideas Club" at Johns Hopkins University, where he worked as a professor of history from 1910 to 1939. [Arthur Lovejoy, "Essays in the History of Ideas," ISBN 0-313-20504-3]

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, [Isaiah Berlin, "Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas", ISBN 0-691-09026-2] 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/lecture 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.

Unit-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.

Modern work

Quentin Skinner has been influential with his critique of Lovejoy's "unit-idea" methodology. Instead, he proposes a sensitivity to the cultural context of the texts being analysed and the ideas they contained.

References

ee also

*Anthropology
*Great Chain of Being
*Herbert Spencer
*Historiography, other approaches to history.
*Idea, and compare sociology of knowledge, the History of Consciousness, conceptual history and intellectual history.
*Isaiah Berlin
*Mark Bevir, author of "The Logic of the History of Ideas" (ISBN 0-521-64034-2)
*James Burke and "The Day the Universe Changed"
*Marjorie Hope Nicolson, A. O. Lovejoy student and colleague (1894-1979)
*Meme
*Robert Boyle
*Peter Watson, author of "Ideas: A history of thought and invention, from fire to Freud" (2005), ISBN 978-0060935641

External links

* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/DicHist/dict.html "Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas"] . Ed. Philip P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973-74. (Online edition from the University of Virginia library's Electronic Text Center.) Studies of selected pivotal ideas. This book also appeared in Chinese- and Japanese-language editions.


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