The International Society for Intellectual History is grounded in the recognition that intellectual traditions, disciplines, and practices, as they developed over time, were inextricably interconnected both to one another and to more concrete historical conditions.
The Society was founded in 1994, with the aim of promoting Intellectual History as an interdisciplinary, international, and methodologically diverse discipline. Intellectual history is also inherently international since most major intellectual movements have had international as well as national dimensions. Intellectual history is necessarily ecumenical, embracing a wide range of approaches to the study of past intellectual life, accommodating the priorities and methods of different national and disciplinary traditions of scholarship. Therefore the International Society of Intellectual History considers is purview to be intellectual history in the broadest sense, fully embracing recent interdisciplinary approaches and methodological innovations, and in particular the invigorating impact of the ‘global turn’ on this long Western-dominated field.
The International Society for Intellectual History owes its foundation to the vision, generosity and determination of a remarkable woman: Constance Blackwell (1934-2018). Having studied at Smith College, Massachusetts, and Columbia University, Constance Blackwell was an independent scholar whose own scholarly work focused mainly on Renaissance Aristotelian thinkers including Cajetano, Zimara, Pereira, Zabarella and Keckermann. She also worked intensively on Johann Jakob Brucker’s Historia Critica Philosophiae (1742-1744). She was also an active campaigner for social and political reform, e.g. through the 300 group for women in public life.
In 1988, in memory of her partner, Charles B. Schmitt (1933–1986), Constance set up the Foundation for Intellectual History, which published a regular newsletter, Intellectual News, of which she was editor (2006-2010) and which featured contributions from many of the key figures in the field. Through the Foundation for Intellectual History, Constance Blackwell was an avid promotor of ambitious conferences which often resulted in associated publications all bear witness to her efforts: Method and Order in the Renaissance Philosophy of Nature: The Aristotle Commentary Tradition edited by Daniel A. Di Liscia, Eckhard Kessler, Charlotte Methuen (1997), Philosophy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: Conversations with Aristotle edited with Sachiko Kusukawa (1999). and Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories, Christoph Lüthy, John E. Murdoch, William R. Newman (2001). In 1994, with the encouragement of scholars such as Donald R. Kelley, Stephen Gaukroger, Richard Popkin, Ulrich Schneider, and David Katz, The Foundation for Intellectual History was transformed into the International Society for Intellectual History. In 2007 Intellectual News was replaced by Intellectual Historical Review (founding editors Stephen Gaukroger and Stephen Clucas).
The ISIH has recognised the contribution of Constance Blackwell in two tangible ways. In 2016, a Festschrift in her honour was published in the Intellectual History Review, with essays by many of her colleagues on the theme of “Studies in Intellectual Historiography.” In 2022, the ISIH recognised the encouragement which she gave to young scholars by inaugurating the Constance Blackwell Prize for the best first book in intellectual history.