Dispatches from the Archives

Dispatches from the Republic of Letters

The Republic of Letters is knit together not only by virtual connections, but also by interactions in the flesh! As March draws to a close and we look ahead to spring and summer, here are a few events, workshops, exhibitions, and programs which the JHIBlog editors look forward to participating in, or wish we could attend.

Are there events around the world that we’ve left out? Please share them in the comments! And if there’s an event you’re attending that you’d like to report on for the blog, we always welcome pitches from guest contributors. You’re welcome to get in touch.

April 1 (New York): Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium Medieval Conference
March 31-April 1 (New York): The Max Weber Conference 2016—Democracy and Expertise
April 1 (New York): The EU Refugee Crisis and the Future of Europe
April 1, (Paris): Journée d’étude—Emine Sevgi Özdamar
April 4 (New York): The Politics of Emergency
April 4 (New York): Judith Surkis, “Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria” (workshop)
April 4 (Philadelphia): Alan Niles, ‘Posterity’s Domesticke Examples’: Memorial Culture in the Seventeenth-Century English Family Album (workshop)
April 4 (Cambridge, MA): Scott Mandelbrote, The Newton Project and the Development of a Digital Edition (lecture)
April 6 (New York): Matthew Kirschenbaum, Bookish Media (annual Fales Lecture, NYU)
April 6 (New Haven): Belinda Jack, “What Can We Really Know? The History of the Book versus the History of Reading”
April 7 (Paris): Recherche/Roman. Expériences de l’écriture
April 7 (Philadelphia): Trudy Rubin, The Relevance of Dreyfus in the Age of Isis (lecture)
April 7 (New York): Hannah Barker, “Slavery and Law in a Fourteenth-Century Genoese Colony”
April 7 (New York): Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic” (lecture)
April 8 (New York): Duncan Kelly, “Michel Foucault as Historian of Political Thought” (workshop)
April 11 (New York): Isabel Gabel, “Causality and Scale: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenological Natural History” (workshop)
April 11 (Philadelphia): Daniel Balderston, “Borges in Love” (workshop)
April 12 (New York): Prince of Darkness: ​The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire (lecture)
April 13 (Cambridge, MA): Stephen J. Milner, Printing, Parchment, and Protein: The Bioarcheology of Harvard’s Books on Skin (lecture)
April 13 (New York): Brent D. Shaw, Bringing Back The Sheaves: Agrarian Life and Material Culture in Late Antique Africa (lecture)
April 18 (Philadelphia): Roger Chartier, “When Shakespeare Met Cervantes” (workshop)
April 21 (New York): Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Where Are You? A Panel Discussing New York’s Forgotten, Postwar, Three-Term Mayor
April 21 (New York): Katherine D. Harris, The Rise of the Literary Annual, Powerful Femininity, and Beautiful Books (lecture)
April 18 (New York): Anthony Grafton, “Christianity and Philology: Blood Wedding?” (Columbia Program in World Philology Lecture Series)
April 19 (San Marino, CA): Asif Saddiqi, The Dibner Lecture in the History of Science and Technology at the Huntington Library
April 25 (New York): Mayanthi Fernando, “Unsettling the Secular” (workshop)
April 25 (Philadelphia): Michael Suarez, “William Hamilton’s Cabinet and Its Afterlives” (workshop)
April 25 (Cambridge, MA): Peter J. Scharf, “The Sanskrit Manuscripts at Harvard: Genres, Texts, Acquisition, and Access via a New Digital Catalogue” (lecture)
April 26 (New York): Iain Davidson, Iconicity, Conventions of Representation in Prehistoric Art, and the Modern Mind (lecture)
May 1 (Los Angeles): The Dover Quartet, Chamber Music at the Clark Library (performance)
May 2 (New York): Cathy Gere, Orphic Modernism: Some Thoughts on Epiarchaeology and the History of the Human Sciences
May 10 (New York): Priced Out: Stuyvesant Town and the Loss of Middle-Class Neighborhoods (lecture)
May 13 (Cambridge): The State of ‘The State of Nature’ in the History of Political Thought: 2016 Cambridge Graduate Conference in Political Thought and Intellectual History

Dispatches from the Archives

Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: Morris D. Forkosch Prize

The Journal of the History of Ideas awards the Morris D. Forkosch Prize ($2,000) for the best book in intellectual history each year.

Eligible submissions are limited to the first book published by a single author, and to books published in English. The subject matter of submissions must pertain to one or more of the disciplines associated with intellectual history and the history of ideas broadly conceived: viz., history (including the histories of the various arts and sciences); philosophy (including the philosophy of science, aesthetics, and other fields); political thought; the social sciences (including anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology); and literature (including literary criticism, history and theory).

No translations or collections of essays will be considered. The judges will favor publications displaying sound scholarship, original conceptualization, and significant chronological and interdisciplinary scope.

Publishers: The deadline to submit books published in 2015 is February 1, 2016. Please send three copies of each book you wish to submit for consideration to the JHI office at the address below:

Journal of the History of Ideas
3624 Market Street Ste. 1SB
Philadelphia, PA 19104-2615

For further information, please contact the office at

Submissions are also accepted directly from authors: please send three copies of your book to the address above.

(And should you not have seen the most recent print issue, do take a peek here.)

Dispatches from the Archives

From and for the Republic of Letters

Herman Moll's A new map of the whole world with the trade winds (1736)
Herman Moll’s A new map of the whole world with the trade winds (1736)

The JHI Blog welcomes pitches for guest posts from across the world and across the republic of letters. Our readers will also know that we’ve happily branched out into reviews of conferences, public lectures, and exhibitions. We would like to extend an invitation to new contributors interested in writing the latter sort of posts as well for both public and (if appropriate) closed events of broader interest to intellectual historians. And here the new academic year has already begun to furnish several interesting events beginning with a conference on interdisciplinarity and pluralism at the University of St. Andrews and open lectures at the London Summer School in Intellectual History. See our calendar feature above or in the sidebar for more happenings in the world of intellectual history, and please don’t hesitate to contact us here with news of others we might have missed or with an offer to review one that looks promising.

Dispatches from the Archives Think Piece

August Boeckh in the 21st Century: Methodological Questions for Globalized Classics

by guest contributor Colin Guthrie King

August Boeckh, depicted in a 1911 lithograph. (Wikimedia Commons)
August Boeckh, depicted in a 1911 lithograph. (Wikimedia Commons)

August Boeckh (1785–1867) is in a certain sense the great unknown classicist of the nineteenth century. Boeckh was professor eloquentiae et poeseos (“of rhetoric and composition”) at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität of Berlin (today’s Humboldt-Universität) from the university’s founding in 1810/1811 until 1864. Though we find him at the bottom of many a foundational development in modern classics—he was the founder of the Inscriptiones Graecae, and an early institutionalizer of the highly productive research and teaching model of the philologisches Seminar—the success and fame of later Berlin scholars such as Lachmann, Mommsen, Diels, Wilamowitz, and Jaeger would long eclipse him, along with much else which occupied the first half of the nineteenth century. In his Sachphilologie (“material philology”), Boeckh performed a detailed reconstruction of the history of culture and science in Greece that was well before its time, ranging from a study of the public economy of Athens to a reconstruction of real ancient weights and measures and the Greek chronological use of the cycles of the moon. It embraced a cultural-historical approach, opened new landscapes in the history of ancient science, and revealed formative influences on Greece from the Near East. But Boeckh’s restrained and often highly technical publications never managed to launch a program like the one he himself embodied in the breadth and depth of his learning.

Yet there was one important exception, a book he never published, but often read: Die Encyklopädie und Methodologie der philologischen Wissenschaften (The Encyclopedia and Methodology of the Philological Sciences). This was a series of lectures which Boeckh first gave when he became professor in Heidelberg in 1809, and which he delivered a total of 26 times throughout his career. Toward the end of Boeckh’s career, a young philosopher by the name of Ernst Bratuschek heard these lectures and was enthralled, and it is to Bratuschek that we owe an edition of them, published posthumously in 1877, and again in a second edition in 1886. The influence of these lectures on their over 1,500 listeners, among whom we can count several leading scholars of the nineteenth century, has only begun to be studied. But their importance as a document of methodological self-reflection in the field of classics is clearly great. In the “formal theory of philological disciplines” which begins the lectures, Boeckh articulates a theory of interpretation and organization of knowledge with wide scope and a powerful agenda. Philology, according to Boeckh’s famous definition, is the business of “understanding knowledge” (Erkenntnis des Erkannten), and philology’s objects in this business are not only, or not primarily, texts:

The entirety of the life and activity of mind and spirit constitutes the field of the known, and philology is thus committed to showing, for each nation, the whole of its mental development and the history of its culture in all directions. In all of these directions there is a logos which in its practical tint is already the object of philology; and in the cultivated nations the logos extends itself in all directions as conscious knowledge and reflection, so that these are subject to philological inquiry in a two-fold relation. The philology of antiquity has, then, as the material or object of its understanding the whole historical phenomena of antiquity (Boeckh, ed. Bratuschek 1877, 56, my translation).

This passage, representative of many others in the Encyklopädie, implies an account, reason, or regularity (thus logos) which are implicit in the actions of certain cultural practices, and explicit in the form of self-reflection: philology seeks to understand both. It is fitting, then, that Boeckh’s Encyklopädie should be reconsidered in light of recent attempts to study the practices and self-understanding of learned guardians and interpreters of texts across history, literatures, and cultures. The extension of philological understanding of non-Western canonical texts leads us to understand forms of knowledge which have been and remain beyond the horizon of classics, but from which classicists and historians of ideas can greatly profit.

The seminar “Methodological Questions for Globalized Classics,” now coming to a close as the first part of the Globalized Classics summer school organized by the August-Boeckh Centre for Classical Studies of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, has recently undertaken such an effort. Lead by Anthony Grafton and Constanze Güthenke, and comprising early-career scholars of diverse classical disciplines and from North and South America, South Africa and Central Europe, the seminar focused on questions and problems entailed in opening classics to learned practices from outside the modern West. The participants both studied Boeckh and his Encyklopädie in their time and place, and discussed two recent major contributions to the emerging field of globalized classics: World Philology and Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Europe and China.

When drawing this connection, one quickly apprehends the delicacy of appreciating other “philologies.” For some time, and certainly since the nineteenth-century age of nationalism, philologists have sometimes been at the center of projects of vital cultural and political importance: the appropriation of Greece into a set of normative cultural topoi in Germany, for example, or the project of reconstructing an original Japanese literature. Classical philologists like Nietzsche who questioned the normative ends of their colleagues could run the risk of ostracization. Recent studies such as the chapters in World Philology, which build on Momigliano’s seminal 1950 paper “Ancient History and the Antiquarian,” have shown that the forces at work in the history of the collection and study of ancient artifacts and texts are shifting and manifold across cultures and times—and perhaps much more important for contemporary scholarly practices than it might seem.

When we open our understanding of philology to include a variety of legitimate learned practices outside the classics and the Western academy—a tendency evidenced by Sheldon Pollock in his introduction to World Philology—we have to ask if we deem these practices legitimate with regard to one coherent concept of philology, or by accepting a variety of equally legitimate context-specific philologies. The title “World Philology” would seem to tend towards the former option, and one might think that Boeckh would approve. But comparative studies in fact suggest a different tale: philologists across time and space employ very different approaches which hardly resemble each other: not least because problems of interpretation vary widely with the systems of writing and conventions of the texts they study, but also on account of fundamental differences in normative cultural contexts and the demands these make upon the interpreters.

Ultimately, then, the methodological questions for Globalized Classics may well become normative and practical, and particularly institutional: whose philology and which classics should be learned and studied? A cosmopolitan but shallow curriculum which includes a bit of everything is obviously flawed, and dallying in many disciplines while mastering none cannot be recommended as philological training. On another level, it would be foolish to think that an unquestioning acceptance of all other cultures and their attendant canons and norms could serve as a basis for “dialogue” and understanding. But engagement between philological and historical disciplines with a view to their respective histories and ends can help their practitioners better understand their own knowledge in a wider, and eventually perhaps truly global, context.

The institutional framework for such work is rare and fragile still. But there are, at least, theoretical foundations for this enterprise. As a project in understanding both knowledge of antiquity and our grasp on it, Boeckh’s Encyklopädie offers considerable resources in this regard—though they are sometimes difficult to mine in the absence of a genetic and critical edition of the text (and a decent English translation). But we also have the recollections of those who heard Boeckh speak. One such testimonial comes from Heymann Steinthal, the Berlin linguist and Sinologist who co-founded the Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (“Journal for the Psychology of Peoples and Linguistics”) in 1860. Boeckh remarks, in his lecture manuscript, “Steinthal understood me best” (Boeckh ed. Bratuschek 1877: 68), and he refers to two passages in Steinthal’s 1847 treatise De pronomine relativo (“On the Relative Pronoun”). In one of them, we find this:

And unless I am wrong, from our demonstration it will appear with the greatest clarity that the languages of the African peoples – against whom the most cultivated Christian nations have sinned so grievously, as do all those peoples who deem themselves the most free in the whole world right up to the present day, and whom some gladly despise on account of love of system and form – the languages of these, I say, will be shown most clearly to be excellent (Steinthal 1847: 54).

If this is how Boeckh thought his theory of philology should be understood, then it is clear that he still has much to say.

Colin Guthrie King is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College. His research concerns ancient philosophy and science, particularly Aristotle, and the history of the modern historiography of ancient philosophy.

Dispatches from the Archives

Days of Letters in the Republic

It’s our pleasure to announce a new feature here at the JHI website. If you look above and to the side, you’ll find a new calendar collecting various happenings in the Republic of Letters. Our hope here matches what we feel about intellectual history: the calendar looks all over the world (or for the time being, at least the places the editors know fairly well) and highlights events we feel will prove of general interest to intellectual historians and others. This includes conferences, public lectures, and workshops as much as museum exhibitions, gallery showings, film festivals and more. This is a work-in-progress, but we look forward to tinkering with it and adding content from here on out.

So please take a peek and also keep an eye out: you can likely find one or the other of the editors and our contributors in attendance. Say hello if you should bump into us! We also welcome suggestions and reviews for events at or @jhideas on Twitter: please keep us posted on interesting happenings for intellectual historians all over the world. (This also certainly includes events in other languages!) The calendar will be updated monthly, so the more advance notice given the better.

In other news, the JHI editors attended the annual Arthur O. Lovejoy lecture in Philadelphia this last weekend. You can see a record of our live-tweeting Professor Marcia Colish’s fascinating talk “The Boys on the Beach: Children’s Games and Baptismal Grace in Medieval Thought” here (Storify courtesy of L.D. Burnett, another of our heroes). We very much look forward to seeing the lecture in print soon; hopefully Tweets will serve to whet our readers’ interest. And in lieu of a proper post today, please take a peek at editor Madeleine McMahon moonlighting at the New York Society Library’s blog where she discusses Jane Austen’s Emma in early America.

Normal posting resumes again on Wednesday. The editors are also excited to roll out another feature or two shortly, so keep an eye on the website and let us know what you think in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from and now meeting our readers!

Dispatches from the Archives What We're Reading

Dispatch from the Republic of Letters

April and May are busy months, not least for our parent journal. This Friday, the Journal of the History of Ideas will present its 2015 Arthur O. Lovejoy Lecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Marcia Colish (Yale University) will speak on “The Boys on the Beach: Children’s Games and Baptismal Grace in Medieval Thought.” The lecture begins at 5:00 at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (northeast corner of 34th and Walnut Streets) with a reception to follow. All those in Philadelphia are most warmly invited to attend.

9771500225037The Journal itself has also seen its latest quarterly issue into print for April. While we may live in an age of JSTOR, Project Muse, and PDFs—perhaps more than we may ever read—every volume of the Journal of the History of Ideas remains a work of editorial and ecumenical wonder. The latest volume is no different. In “Reconsidering Literary Autonomy: From an Individual towards a Relational Paradigm,” Aukje van Rooden ranges from sociology and philosophy to aesthetics and literary theory, and from Schiller, Coleridge, and Karl Philipp Moritz to the recently deceased M.H. Abrams, Charles Taylor, and Nicolas Bourriaud in order to clear a new space for literature qua literature. Willem Styfhals looks to Karl Löwith and Jacob Taubes on modern eschatology—two wonderful thinkers entangled with one another’s thought . Styfhals shows how Löwith and Taubes wrestle with one another as much as with World War II more broadly-speaking. And Raf de Bont takes his readers into the world of the Swiss zoologist, ethnographer, and scientist Paul Sarasin and his work on the global stage, interwar ‘pygmies,’ Malthusian fears of postwar Europe, and finally the environmental activism of Raymond Dasmann.

The Clarenden Edition of Thomas Hobbes's "Leviathan"
The Clarenden Edition of Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan”

The April volume of the JHI also features a symposium of scholars discussing the Clarendon Edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan. The work of a lifetime by Sir Noel Malcolm, this edition has already excited a great deal of both popular and scholarly attention in what can only be called a Hobbesian resurgence in intellectual history today. (For a taste, see the Economist’s review, John Gray’s take in The New Statesman, Blair Worden in the Literary Review, and Keith Minogue’s reading of the edition in The New Criterion.) Kinch Hoekstra, Sarah Mortimer and David Scott, Mónica Brito Vieira, and Jon Parkin all offer spirited readings of Hobbes as well as of Malcolm’s editorial efforts, followed by a masterly response from Malcolm defending both his introduction to the work (itself a separate volume) and the complicated textual and intellectual history of Hobbes’s great work.

The state of the Republic of Letters is strong, and we look forward to hearing our readers’ thoughts on both the print JHI and our efforts here at the blog. (And do take our word that the former’s worth checking out in the library!)