Copyright Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn 2010 3
The best way to become free of the powerful cult of personal identity today as well as the bureaucratized pseudo-sciences of the modern research university is to resurrect orcreate anew a different way of being in the world. Making Intellectual history into ameaningful activity requires a similar discipline. This involves, in part, a recognitionthat identity—or better yet, self-definition--comes only through engagement withsubstance, not prior to it.Our field needs to prove itself. Of course we need introspection and armor. It doesnone of us any good to be so contrary to current trends as to be out of the picturealtogether, no matter how praise-worthy our purity.But what do we really need at this key time if it is to be a real turning point? What we need is a true revival of the passionate commitment to ideas and the bestpractices that have grown up around them, produced them, and made a hospitablespace for them. Any renewal must take into account the hostile conditions I haveoutlined above. It must push onward not just in spite of those conditions, but also because of them.U.S. Intellectual history in particular has a great deal to prove. There is acre after acreof unbroken ground that needs to be put into cultivation. One of the corruptions of today’s careerism and commercialism is that success comes from marketing and self-promotion and not inherent worth. If we agree with this criticism, it falls on us to createsomething of worth.Rather than marketing for marketing’s sake, we should adopt the craft model and draw attention to our efforts through quality. But more than ever now, because theintellectual crafts have all but died out, we need originality as well. What picture do I have in my mind of this emergent intellectual history? It is one thatanswers the following questions, not through defensive strategies but through new work:1.
Why do American History graduate students often have fewer or no languagerequirements for the highest levels of educational attainment than those studyingthe history of other parts of the world? When is it not an advantage to know atleast German, French, Italian, ancient Greek, and/or Latin or other languagesdepending on the subject, for serious U.S. intellectual history?2.
Why have American historians largely ignored developments in ContinentalTheory and other movements that have caused such a stir in other disciplines? What is the cost of leaving assessment of recent intellectual developments tothose without a historical perspective?3.
Why have other fields of history, such as European history, managed to producemore significant individual works and noteworthy schools of thought orapproaches? Why were there no prominent attempts to write in the vein of mentalities or micro-history? Why no beautiful wedding of the best theory andempirical observation? Of institutional and intellectual history as has been done