This course is concerned with the recent convergences between two fields of inquiry that have previously seemed orthogonal to each other: the history of ideas and cultural studies. On the side of cultural studies, a tendency to acknowledge the relevance of historical narratives to current conceptions of cultural identity has opened up the field to historical-cultural investigations. On the side of the history of ideas, an increased recognition of the shaping powers of cultural and social context and its relevance to the fate of ideas and forms of knowledge has led to such culturally embedded varieties of historiography as the social history of knowledge or the history of intellectual cultures. We will therefore study the methodological assumptions and critical tools of the kind of intellectual history that has taken a ‘cultural’, or a ‘cultural-anthropological’ turn, as well as their historical conceptual resources.  

By the end of the course, students will be equipped to understand and discuss such questions as: what are the presuppositions of the various attitudes to the reconstruction of the past captured by such terms as ‘anachronism’, ‘presentism’, ‘perspectivism’ or ‘contextualism’? What ideological load is behind such notions as ‘progress’, ‘canon’, ‘tradition’ or ‘origins’? What constitutes relevant context? How are we to define agency in historical terms and balance it with the force of context? How do self- and other-representations and discursive formations constitute particular intellectual cultures? How are the practices of knowledge intertwined with the body and with power? In what ways are words carriers of cultural representations? Throughout we will try to combine theoretical discussions with the study of actual historiographic examples and to reflect on the relevance of all of this to our self-understanding today.

Instructor: Dr Sorana Corneanu


Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: Why bother with the past?

Reading: Johnson et al., ‘Time please!’, in The Practice of Cultural Studies, , Sage Publications, 2004, pp. 119-134.

Week 3: Core concerns of intellectual history

Readings: Burrow, ‘Intellectual history in English academic life’, in Whatmore and Young (eds.), Palgrave Advances in Intellectual History, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 8-24; Cowan, ‘Intellectual, social, cultural history’, in Palgrave Advances, pp. 171-188.

Weeks 4-6: Foucauldian historiography

Readings: Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Penguin Books, 2017, #481-507, pp. 287-297; Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader, Pantheon Books, 1984, 76-101; Drolet, ‘Foucault’, in Whatmore and Young (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Intellectual History, Wiley Blackwell, 2016, pp. 83-96.

Weeks 7-8: Histories of the self

Readings: Foucault, ‘Genealogy of Ethics’, in Foucault Reader, pp. 340-351; Condren et al, The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe: The Nature of a Contested Identity, Cambridge University Press, 2006, Introduction, pp. 1-16; Corneanu, Regimens of the Mind: Boyle, Locke and the Cultura Animi Tradition, University of Chicago Press, 2011, Introduction, pp. 1-13.

Week 9: Round-up

Weeks 10-11: Cambridge linguistic contextualism

Readings: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Wiley Blackwell, 2009, #65-72, pp. 35-39; Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding’, in Visions of Politics, vol. I, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 57-89; Whatmore, ‘Skinner’, in Blackwell Companion, pp. 97-112.

Week 12: Historical perspectivism

Reading: Laerke, ‘The Anthropological Analogy and the Constitution of Historical Perspectivism’, in Laerke, Smith, Schliesser, eds., Philosophy and Its History: Aims and Methods in the Study of Early Modern Philosophy, OUP, 2013, pp. 30-49.

Week 13: Word history

Reading: Marr et al., Logodaedalus: Word Histories of Ingenuity in Early Modern Europe, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018, Introduction, pp. 1-17.

Week 14: Round-up and discussion of essay/exam topics.


  • A minimum of 50% attendance
  • Participation in class discussions, counting for 25% of the final mark
  • An end-of-term written essay or written test, counting for 75% of the final mark