In recent decades Intellectual History has emerged as a field of enquiry that is of importance to a wide range of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. Nowadays the field stands fairly freely at the crossroads of, for example, art and literature, history, law and politics, theology and philosophy. Where previously the “history of ideas” or, in Germany, Geistesgeschichte was pursued by those chiefly concerned with studying the “pre-history” of single disciplines, or with searching for the timeless wisdom of canonical texts and great thinkers, recent work in Intellectual History is done by scholars with a distinct historical interest in a particular historical period or place, thinker or topic. Nowadays intellectual historians not only study canonical texts but a wealth of sources – from pamphlet to print and painting.
At Göttingen and the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, named after one of the most versatile and funniest representatives of the Enlightenments in Europe, Intellectual History is eclectic and ecumenical in its agenda and tastes. It does not favour any specific theoretical or methodological approach, recognising that within Intellectual History a rich variety of alternative approaches are explored and debated with great Passion – varying from Begriffsgeschichte to the “Cambridge School”, the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory up to a wide range of approaches inspired by recent French theorists, from Foucault to Derrida, from Balibar to Badiou.
In terms of subject matter the Göttingen focus is on the history of political thought, in the broadest historical sense, i.e. from the classics of antiquity to contemporary political theory – or as the phrase goes, “from Plato to Nato”. Given the emphasis on “European” there is a preference for projects that want to open up comparative perspectives and study thinkers, topics and traditions within wider transnational, European or even global vistas.
In terms of topics there is room for projects on, for example, freedom and religion, toleration and recognition, natural law and human rights, art and politics, republicanism, etc.
Internationally there is, in institutional terms, cooperation with amongst others SCAS (the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala) and the “Centre for Comparative Studies of Toleration and Recognition” at the Ural Federal University (Ekatrinburg Russia).
For further information about Intellectual History read Martin van Gelderen on ‘Doing Things with Intellectual History‘.