Intellectual History in an Anti-intellectual Age, Part 1: Roundtable Sponsored by Modern Intellectual History in Honor of Charles Capper

AHA Session 190
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Buckingham Room (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Pennsylvania
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin
Isabel Gabel, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

We appear to be living in a highly anti-intellectual age. Fabricated news stories sway elections. Expert scientific opinion on climate change carries little weight with large swaths of the population. The value of higher education itself has come under scrutiny, especially when it doesn’t lead to explicit financial reward. What is the status of intellectual history in this context? Arguably, it has never been more important as a field. Intellectual historians are charged with the task of asking about the status of intellectual work in context. They ask how ideas form, gain credence, find resistance; how some come to prominence and others get marginalized. And they reflect on what constitutes an “intellectual” and “intellectual work,” often finding both in surprising places – some in the universities, some in the streets. Recognizing that the field itself is going strong, as indicated by the proliferating number of journals, books, and organizations dedicated to it, this roundtable will reflect on its status in our seemingly anti-intellectual setting. We aim to discuss how developments in the field in the last two decades have helped us to substantially expand our understanding of what constitutes “intellectual history,” what kinds of sources fill our formal and informal archives, what kinds of topics we study and what questions we pose. The roundtable itself is organized by the journal Modern Intellectual History in honor of one of its founders and now – after 15 years – its out-going coeditor, Charles Capper.
For this two-part roundtable, we have assembled a range of junior and senior scholars working on diverse methodologies and in various parts of the globe. In Part I, three speakers address the intellectual work that existing historiographical categories can obscure. Jorge Canizares-Esquerra reflects on ideas of “print culture” and “republic of letters” and how they have rendered invisible entire intellectual communities throughout the global south. Russell Rickford will think about how “post-racial” ideology and inattention to “political economy” have left people unable to address material realities. Speaking from the perspective of the history of science, Isabel Gabel reflects on the problems that result when intellectual history and the history of science are treated as separate subfields, arguing that a richer cross-over would have much to offer in terms of current reflections on science as an intellectual discourse.