Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of ideas
The history of ideas is a field of research in history and in related fields dealing with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. Scholars often consider the history of ideas a a sister discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history. Work in the history of ideas usually involves close research in the history of philosophy and the history of literature.
The historian Arthur O. Lovejoy first used the phrase history of ideas and initiated its systematic study in the early decades of the twentieth century. For decades Lovejoy presided over the regular meetings of the History of Ideas Club at Johns Hopkins University, where he worked as a professor of history from 1910 to 1939. Aside from his students and colleagues engaged in related projects (such as Rene Wellek and Leo Spitzer , with whom Lovejoy engaged in extended debates), scholars such as Michel Foucault and others influenced by his work have continued to work in a spirit close to Lovejoy's history of ideas.
Lovejoy's history of ideas takes as its basic unit of analysis the unit-idea, or the individual concept. These unit-ideas work as the building-blocks of the history of ideas: though they are relatively unchanged in themselves over the course of time, unit-ideas recombine in new patterns and are expressed in new forms in different historical eras. As Lovejoy saw it, the task of the historian of ideas was to identify such unit-ideas and to describe their historical emergence and recession in new forms and combinations.
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas. Ed. Philip P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973-74. (Online edition from the University of Virginia library's Electronic Text Center.) This book also appeared in Chinese- and Japanese-language editions.
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