JHI 78:2 Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 78 number 2, is now available in print, and is already available online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:
Jacomien Prins, Girolamo Cardano and Julius Caesar Scaliger in Debate about Nature’s Musical Secrets
Henrie Leitão, Anotonia Sànchez, Zilsel’s Thesis, Maritime Culture, and Iberian Science in Early Modern Europe
Wiep van Bunge, Spinoza’s Life: 1677–1802
Amos Bitzan, Leopold Zunz and the Meanings of Wissenschaft
Mark Bevir, John Rawls in Light of the Archive: Introduction to the Symposium on the Rawls Papers
David A. Reidy, Rawls on Philosophy and Democracy: Lessons from the Archived Papers
P. MacKenzie Bok, “The Latest Invasion from Britain”: Young Rawls and His Community of American Ethical Theorists
Daniele Botti, Rawls on Dewey before the Dewey Lectures
Andrius Gališanka, Just Society as a Fair Game: John Rawls and Game Theory in the 1950s
Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article to JHIBlog. And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.

JHI 78:1 Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 78 number 1, is now available in print, and will shortly be online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:

J.S. Maloy, Bodin’s Puritan Readers and Radical Democracy in Early New England, 1-26

Mara van der Lugt, The Body of Mahomet: Pierre Bayle on War, Sex, and Islam, 27-50

Adam Foley, Miltonic Sublimity and the Crisis of Wolffianism before Kant, 51-72

Colin Heydt, The Problem of Natural Religion in Smith’s Moral Thought, 73-94

Simon W. Taylor, Between Philosophy and Judaism: Leo Strauss’s skeptical Engagement with Zionism, 95-116

Carol Summers, Adolescence versus Politics: Metaphors in Late Colonial Uganda, 117-136

Andrew Hui, The Many Returns of Philology: A State of the Field Report, 137-156

Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article to JHIBlog. And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.

2017 Morris D. Forkosch Prize

The Journal of the History of Ideas is currently accepting submissions for the Morris D. Forkosch Prize ($2,000), awarded to the best first 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 2016 is March 1, 2017. 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 Hilary Plum, managing editor, at plumh  (at) upenn.edu.

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


The winner of the 2015 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for the best first book in intellectual history was Mark Greif, for his The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 (Princeton University Press).

Announcing 2015 Forkosch Book Prize Winner

greifThe editors at the Journal of the History of Ideas are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2015 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for the best first book in intellectual history is Mark Greif, for his The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 (Princeton University Press).

Statement from the judging committee: In The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973, Mark Greif is in pursuit of the mid-century Americans who pursued the idea of human nature, despite their dark fear that such a thing might not exist. If some philosophies of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment had insisted that there was something intrinsically dignified in mankind, confidence in that belief took a beating during the racism, genocide, and global war that defined all public life from the 1930s onward. Greif demonstrates that the perceived “crisis of man” represented both concern that universal human nature (and human rights) might not exist and anxiety that such rights might not be extended beyond the white men who had traditionally represented mankind, to the exclusion of others. As a problem in moral philosophy, the crisis of man was profound—so much so that it flowed abundantly into American literature. Rather than accept the problem, Greif endorses a re-enlightenment to revive conviction that humans have basic, intrinsic value. This book will be at the heart of many arguments over twentieth-century thought.

JHI 77:3 (July 2016) Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 77 number 3, is available in print form from Penn Press and online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:

Marcia L. Colish, 2015 Arthur O. Lovejoy Lecture The Boys on the Beach: Children’s Games and Baptismal Grace in Medieval Thought, 359-378

Giuliano Mori, Democritus Junior as Reader of Auctoritates: Robert Burton’s Method and The Anatomy of Melancholy, 379-399

Ian W.S. Campbell, John Punch, Scotist Holy War, and the Irish Catholic Revolutionary Tradition in the Seventeenth Century, 401-421

Heikki Haara, Pufendorf on Passions and Sociability, 423-444

Ethan L. Menchinger, Free Will, Predestination, and the Fate of the Ottoman Empire, 445-466

Mark Sinclair, Bergson’s Philosophy of Will and the War of 1914–1918, 467-487

Dennis Sölch, Wheeler and Whitehead: Process Biology and Process Philosophy in the Early Twentieth Century, 489-507

Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article to JHIBlog. And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.

Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: JHI 77.2 Now Available

We’re pleased to note that the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas (Volume 77.2) has been published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. The table of contents is as follows:

“Walter Odington’s De etate mundi and the Pursuit of a Scientific Chronology in Medieval England” by Carl Philipp Emanuel Nothaft

“Land and Nation: The Ancient Modernity of National Geography (Piedmont, 1750–1800)” by Marco Cavarzere

“John Adams’s Montesquieuean Moment: Enlightened Historicism in the Discourses on Davila” by Jonathan Green

“Empiricism and Rationalism in Nineteenth-Century Histories of Philosophy” by Alberto Vanzo

“A Contingent Affinity: Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and the Challenge of Modern Politics” by Pedro T. Magalhães

“Big Is a Thing of the Past: Climate Change and Methodology in the History of Ideas” by Deborah R. Coen

“Dialogue, Eurocentrism, and Comparative Political Theory: A View from Cross-Cultural Intellectual History” by Takashi Shogimen

Pedro T. Magalhães and Philipp Nothaft have written wonderful previews of their articles for the blog. Keep an eye out for these articles and the others on Project Muse or, better yet, please consider subscribing directly to the JHI. Student subscriptions cost only $32 per year; otherwise, individual subscriptions cost $38 (online only) or $47 (print and online). The blog editors would like to add that every issue of the review is wonderfully balanced between subjects, periods, and areas—something seen in the above table of contents but often missed when downloading individual articles in PDF form!

Max Weber and Carl Schmitt: Crossroads of Crisis

by guest contributor Pedro T. Magalhães

Ideas have unintended consequences. Max Weber, the founding father of German sociology, must have been keenly aware of this. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904/05), he put forward the bold thesis that Protestant asceticism had unintentionally provided the spiritual conditions for the rise of modern capitalism. Ironically, one of Weber’s own political ideas—the notion of a plebiscitary leadership democracy, which he developed in the aftermath of World War I—would also end up being interpreted as having inadvertently paved the way to the rise of totalitarian dictatorship in Germany.

The first commentator to suggest that Weber’s vision of democracy had aroused the inclination of moderate, bürgerlich German minds to accept radical, authoritarian solutions to the predicaments of parliamentary democracy was the historian Wolfgang J. Mommsen. Mommsen argued, in the conclusion to his book, that Carl Schmitt’s theory of the plebiscitary legitimacy of the President of the Reich, astutely exploited in the early 1930s against the supposedly shallow legality of Weimar’s parliamentarianism, constituted a valid and coherent extension to Max Weber’s post-WWI demands. Carl Schmitt was a conservative Catholic legal scholar: drawn early to the political philosophies of the European counterrevolution, and flirting with Italian fascism throughout the 1920s before joining the Nazi ranks shortly after Hitler’s rise to power. It was therefore quite controversial when Jürgen Habermas suggested, in his final remarks at a Weber centenary conference (Heidelberg, 1964), that Schmitt was a “legitimate pupil”—perhaps even a “natural son”—of Max Weber’s.

There is, I believe, something more shocking in the assertion that the ideas of a mainstream liberal thinker—even if of a gloomy, late-modern variety—were “logically,” “legitimately,” or “naturally” taken to unanticipated extremes by a radical colleague than in the numerous instances of des extrêmes qui se touchent in the history of political thought (e. g. the “dangerous liaisons” between Carl Schmitt and the neo-Marxist Walter Benjamin). Extremes frequently meet because they oppose the same status quo—even if for utterly different reasons, or because they share methods, ways of thinking, or a fascination with limit cases. The circular movement of opposites that meet is less disquieting than the drift from the center to the fringes, from moderation to radicalism, because the latter entails a reconfiguration of the political space as a whole, a redefinition of the frontiers of what is politically tenable.

As regards the affinity between the political ideas of Weber and Schmitt, some commentators have tried to relativize the whole controversy. Leading Weber scholars (Lawrence A. Scaff, Joachim Radkau) have claimed that Weber’s politics is a particularly unsuitable key for considering the author’s main intellectual concerns. Others still have sought to defend him from the charge of being a forerunner of Weimar political radicalism, arguing that the supposed similarities between Weber’s ideas and those of notorious radicals—particularly the reactionary Schmitt, but also the Marxist György Lukács, who was a protégé of Weber’s in Heidelberg before joining the cause of Leninist revolution—are outweighed by much more significant dissimilarities (Dana Villa). Indeed, one must agree that the notion of a “natural” intellectual paternity is much too rigid. If one looks at the multiple sources of political ideas in each author’s fundamental theoretical positions and personal motivations, crucial differences surely prevail over the more disturbing points of continuity. But these cannot be explained away that easily. They are interesting and revealing in their own right.

Weber was one of the first observers to recognize that the structural change of modern mass politics threatened the basic tenets of nineteenth-century liberal parliamentarianism. Old liberal principles and beliefs seemed helpless to deal with the new political challenges of mass parties and interest groups in an increasingly rationalized world. To this crisis of liberalism he formulated risky answers, which were later developed in a radical, resolutely anti-liberal direction by Carl Schmitt. Retrospectively, this story became tied, as a paradigmatic instance, to the broader narrative of the collapse of mainstream German liberalism, of its ultimately tragic dislocation to the radical right.

Contexts of crisis are marked by a shifting political center—the space of acceptable political solutions and practices—whose standard answers to the challenges of the day have been exhausted. Carl Schmitt’s escalation of Max Weber’s idea of leadership democracy is a fateful example of the fluidity of such critical contexts. After years of relative stability in Western Europe, the ground of the political center has started to shake again, at least since the dawn of the great recession in 2008. In France, a populist right-wing party conquers relevant shares of the vote election after election. In Greece, a coalition of radical leftists and nationalists tries, with little success, to contest the austerity measures imposed upon the country by foreign creditors. More recently, large-scale migration to the continent from Africa and the Middle East seems to have reawakened dormant culturalist fears, as high walls and barbed-wire fences rise again in some European borders. Every answer to the present political quandaries in Europe is inherently risky, since it can help shift the shaky political center in unforeseeable, and possibly undesired, directions. The story of Weber and Schmitt recommends precaution, but it cannot justify immobility. Ideas have unintended consequences, because the future is uncertain.

Pedro T. Magalhães is a graduate student at NOVA University of Lisbon. His article “A Contingent Affinity: Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and the Challenge of Modern Politics” appears in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

Chronology’s Forgotten Medieval Pioneers

by guest contributor Philipp Nothaft

According to a metaphor once popular among early modern scholars, chronology is one of the “two eyes of history” (the other being geography), which is an apt shorthand for expressing its tremendous utility in imposing order on the past and thereby facilitating its interpretation. Yet in spite of the undiminished importance chronology possesses for the study and teaching of history, latter-day historians tend to lose relatively little sleep over the accuracy of the years and dates they insert into their works. Assyriologists may continue to argue among themselves about variant Bronze Age chronologies, but for that happy majority focused on the development of civilization since the dawn of the first millennium BCE, errors in historical dating appear to be a local possibility rather than a global one. We may be wrong in attributing a Greek astrological papyrus or the foundation of a Roman military fortress to, say, the late second rather than the early third century of the common era, but even then we remain secure in the knowledge that the centuries themselves retain their accustomed place, containing as they do a fixed and familiar inventory of historical events. On the whole, it looks like the timeline is under our control.

Like so many amenities of modern life, this feeling of security is the hard-won result of a long process of trial and error, one that can be shown to have started a good deal earlier than commonly assumed. For the thirteenth-century Dominican philosopher Giles of Lessines, who turned to historical chronology in a pioneering Summa de temporibus (ca. 1260–64), the intervals of years between the major events of biblical and profane history were still a bewildering patchwork of individual puzzles, not all of which allowed for an easy solution. Problems were posed above all by the Old Testament, which in spite of its status as a divinely inspired, and hence exceptionally reliable, record of history since the world’s creation confronted Christian historians with a range of pitfalls. Even those who felt equipped to smooth out some of the contradictions encountered in the Bible’s chronological record still had to admit the existence of two discrepant versions: the Hebrew Masoretic text, represented to Latin Christians by St Jerome’s Vulgate translation, and the Greek Septuagint, which differed from the former in several numerical details. On Friar Giles’s count, the Greek translation added a total of 1374 to the Vulgate’s tally of years between Creation and Christ, which effectively double the nine different chronological readings he had been able to extract from the “Hebrew truth,” leaving him with a range of possibilities between 3967 and 5541 years. The margin of plausible intervals was mystifying and threatened to expose the scriptural exegete to the same sort of uncertainty that was encountered in profane chronicles and works of history, where scribal corruption, but also mendacity and ignorance on the part of authors, could mean that dates, years, or even centuries suddenly vanished or were retroactively inserted into the historical record.

In spite of such discouraging signals, Giles of Lessines believed that he had identified a class of sources that was worthy of his unreserved trust: works of astronomy, which linked observed phenomena such as eclipses of the sun and moon to particular dates in history, usually identified according to years of the reigns of ancient kings and emperors. Since these observations provided the raw material for astronomical theories, which in turn underpinned computational algorithms and the tables based on them, it was possible to assess their trustworthiness long after the event. Astronomical books, Giles wrote, “depend on years in the past being noted down with utmost certainty—otherwise the rules and principles they contain would not be dependable for the future” (Summa de temporibus, bk. 2, pt. 3, ch. 2). The predictive success of mathematical astronomy hence guaranteed the accuracy of the underlying chronological data, and vice versa. Friar Giles’s pièce de résistance in exploiting this insight were three lunar eclipses the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy had observed during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian: more specifically in years 133, 134, and 136 CE. As a seasoned astronomical calculator, Giles was able to use the specific criteria of these eclipses (their time, magnitude, and location) to establish the interval between Ptolemy’s observations and the present. The exercise gave him an entering wedge into the chronology of the Roman Empire, which, among other benefits, made it possible to confirm—against certain medieval critics—that the Church’s practice of calculating the years of Christ’s birth from 1 CE rested on a sound historical basis.

Giles of Lessines was far from the only medieval author to experiment with astronomical techniques in an effort to put chronology on a sure footing. A prominent case is the English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon (ca. 1214–1292?), who had read Giles’s Summa de temporibus, and who was to use astronomical tables to establish the date when Jesus died on the cross. His result of 3 April 33 CE, though unorthodox at the time, continues to be viewed as plausible by many contemporary scholars. In the following century, the application of astronomy to history was pursued by authors such as the Swabian astronomer Heinrich Selder, who used Ptolemy’s eclipses to bring order into biblical, but also ancient Greek and Near Eastern, chronology. Others, like the Benedictine monk Walter Odington (Summa de etate mundi, 1308/16) and the Oxford astrologer John Ashenden (Summa iudicialis de accidentibus mundi, 1347/48), tried to tame the timeline by bringing in assumptions of an astrological, as opposed to just astronomical, nature. In Odington’s case, his efforts to extort the age of the world from a calculation based on 360-year planetary circles proved irreconcilable with biblical chronology, prompting him to boldly surmise that the numbers encountered in Scripture had to be read in an allegorical rather than a plain historical way—an idea that stands in striking contrast to the assumptions made by present-day Young Earth Creationists.

Seven centuries down the line, we possess sufficient hindsight to discern more or less exactly where authors such as Giles of Lessines and Walter Odington went wrong or, conversely, where their arguments produced results of lasting validity. More so than any particular date proposed in these medieval texts, what remains unchanged is the fundamental soundness of their insight that the predictive capacities of natural science can furnish historical chronology with the sort of security its conclusions would otherwise be lacking. To this day, astronomical phenomena, from comets and the positions of stars to the intervals revealed by ancient eclipses, remain absolutely essential to the basic grid of ancient dates displayed in our reference works. In addition, the range of possibilities has been greatly expanded by novel chronological tools such as stratigraphy, radiometric dating, dendrochronology, and the study of Greenland ice cores.

Owing to these methodological developments, our conventional chronology of the past three millennia rests on such a solid basis that twenty- and twenty-first century attempts to subvert it have been staged almost exclusively from the fringes of respectable scholarship. One of the few flavors of such chronology revisionism to have captivated a larger audience is Heribert Illig’s so-called phantom time hypothesis, which argues for the fictitious character of the period we usually refer to as the Early Middle Ages. If Illig is right, which is more than unlikely, the reign of Charles the Great and all the other persons and events historians of medieval Europe assign to the years 614–911 were no more than an invention, retroactively inserted into the historical record by a cabal of powerful men involving the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III (980–1002) and Pope Silvester II (999–1003).

Beyond the tiresome hermeneutics of suspicion and outright falsehoods that pervade the hypothesis propagated by Illig and his followers lies a valuable reminder to the effect that historians should, at least on occasion, try to assure themselves of the foundations on which their accepted narratives rest. In a sense, the revisionists are indeed correct in assuming that some of these foundations can be unearthed deep in the Middle Ages. Their actual shape, of course, looks very different from what they would have us believe.

C. Philipp E. Nothaft is a post-doctoral research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He is the author of “Walter Odington’s De etate mundi and the Pursuit of a Scientific Chronology in Medieval England,” which appears in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

2016 Lovejoy Lecture: Joyce E. Chaplin, “Can the Nonhuman Speak?”

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 Can the Nonhuman Speak?
Breaking the Chain of Being in the Anthropocene
a lecture by Joyce E. Chaplin

A syllogism: 1. The environmental crises that go under the name of the Anthropocene represent the most important problems of our generation. 2. As characteristically careful analysts of the human condition, historians of ideas are excellently qualified to address those problems. 3. Therefore historians of ideas should take up the task, however much contemplation of the Anthropocene might challenge assumptions that humans have a distinctive status as idea-generating beings.

Joyce E. Chaplin (BA, Northwestern; MA, PhD, Johns Hopkins) is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University and director of Harvard’s American Studies program. A specialist in environmental history and the history of science, she is the author of An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730–1815 (1993), Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500-1676 (2001), The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius (2006), Round about the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit (2012), and (with Alison Bashford) The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Rereading the Principle of Population (2016). She is also the editor of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: A Norton Critical Edition (2012) and (with Darrin McMahon) of Genealogies of Genius (2015).

Friday, May 6, 2016    5 pm
Fisher-Bennett Hall 401, University of Pennsylvania
Reception to follow

Introducing Our New Contributing Editors

It is with great excitement that we announce a new direction for JHIBlog—or, that is, several new directions. Beginning this month, several contributing editors have agreed to join us and broaden the website’s historical scope and depth. This will entail more than just a broader base of expertise, we hope. Rather, a larger masthead will better reflect the mission of the Journal of the History of Ideas in terms of bringing disparate scholarly communities into closer dialogue with one another. Scholars of all stripes all stand to learn from one another in terms of historiography, advances in scholarship, and resources and texts crossing periods, fields, and regions. It is our hope that this is only the beginning of both increased content and increased ability to speak to a larger audience of historians and beyond.

Without further ado then, it is our pleasure to introduce our first contributing editors in their own words:

Daniel London: Jersey-Born, Gotham based. My main research interests revolve around urbanization, public policy, and concepts of “the public” and “interdependence” in the late 19th and early 20th century North Atlantic. I’ve written about the class politics of bicycles, the political economy of post-war urban tourism, labor politics in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, notions of “public space” in the works of John Dewey, and the political effects of urban decentralization on Tammany Hall. I received my Masters at the CUNY Graduate Center, and am now pursuing my Ph.D at New York University.

Brooke Sylvia Palmieri is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at University College London. Her current project details the archival and publication habits of Quakers in late seventeenth-century England — specifically, how their highly collaborative methods of printing made it possible to spread their ideas in England and across the Atlantic. More broadly, she is interested in the role of publication in building communities.

Jake Purcell is getting his PhD in early medieval history at Columbia University. He studies the production of facts within medieval legal and religious institutions, and especially the administrative and documentary practices surrounding relics in France and Germany. In addition to his fondness for the old science of diplomatics, Jake’s academic interests include the literary analysis of formulaic language; medieval ideas about authenticity, evidence, proof, and truth; and the relationship between legal and religious cultures.

Erin Schreiner is the Special Collections Librarian at the New York Society Library, the oldest Library in New York City.

Carolyn Taratko is a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University, where she studies Modern European history. Her research focuses on the reconceptualization of the German countryside in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is particularly interested in the interaction between ideas about the economy and the natural world.

Please note that submissions from guest contributors are still encouraged: anyone is welcome to send a pitch to blogjhi@gmail.com, or to contact one of the editors directly. Should you wish to contact any of the primary or contributing editors, please write to this address, and we’ll forward your message along to the correct individual. We look forward to hearing from you as readers, writers, and colleagues. With thanks and the promise of more to come,

Madeline, John, and Emily