Intellectual history is the history of thinking, in all its diverse forms and cultural manifestations across time, and in different parts of the world. The field has a long, complex, and distinguished history, which is itself a rich terrain of intellectual historical exploration.
Traditionally, intellectual history often focused on themes in political thought, but in recent decades its scope has expanded significantly to include a wide range of other areas of human thought. It is now an “umbrella” discipline, embracing a wide diversity of more specialist fields, from the history of mentalities to the history of political thought, and taking in the histories of science and medicine, philosophy, scholarship, religion, literature, art and music, among others. As such, intellectual history is also sensitive to the connections between different fields of knowledge in the past, which are often obscured by the demands of modern disciplinary specialisation.
More recently, intellectual history has also been invigorated by the ‘global turn’ in history, which has led to greater attention being directed to non-Western thought, and the field is now one of the most vibrant and diverse areas of historical scholarship.
Scholars and students interested in the history of the field and on recent debates within it might find these publications useful starting points:
Donald R. Kelley, The Descent of Ideas: The History of Intellectual History (Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002)
Richard Whatmore and Brian Young, eds., Intellectual History (‘Palgrave Advances’ series) (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)
Darrin M. McMahon and Samuel Moyn, eds., Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)
Lucy Delap, Feminisms: A Global History (London: Penguin, 2000)