Triangle Intellectual History Seminar


In recent years intellectual history has reestablished itself as a distinct and vital field of scholarship, with a new attention to the social and cultural contexts of thought as well as to language, rhetoric, and meaning.  Even as the field has applied insights from a broad range of other disciplines, and especially from literary studies and philosophy, its practitioners have sought an understanding of thinkers, ideas, and texts that is emphatically historical.

Fall 2017- Spring 2017 Seminar Dates and Speakers:
(All seminars will meet from *5:00-7:00pm* on Sundays at the National Humanities Center in RTP.)

Sunday August 27, 2017

Terence McIntosh (UNC-Chapel Hill): 'The Voice of Forgiveness: Evangelical Controversies concerning Penance and Absolution during the Reformation and Beyond'

Terence McIntosh teaches in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work focuses on early modern Germany, especially its political, economic, and religious history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His publications include Urban Decline in Early Modern Germany: Schwäbisch Hall and Its Region, 1650-1750 (Chapel Hill, 1997) and several articles and book chapters. His current project, “Disciplining the Parish: Godly Order, Enlightenment, and the Lutheran Clergy in Germany, 1517-1806,” examines the dynamics by which a shifting array of social, theological, and intellectual forces induced prominent churchmen, rulers, and secular thinkers to examine critically and recast significantly the purpose, scope, and nature of Lutheran church discipline at key moments in the early modern period. In doing so, the study opens up fresh perspectives for understanding important facets of the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, German Pietism, and the early Enlightenment.

Abstract: Major elements of Lutheran church discipline in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Germany emerged during the Reformation from theological controversies among evangelicals about private confession and absolution. Consisting of three parts, the paper examines these controversies and their long-term significance in fundamentally new ways. The first part contends that the dispute between Luther and Zwingli in the 1520s promted the Wittenberg reformer in 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, to sharpen his critique of the Roman church with a novel argument about the papists’ conditiona absolution that previous scholarship has not fully appreciated. In revising recent work on the Nuremberg absolution controversy in the 1530s, the second part shows the enormous influence of this argument on the reformer Andreas Osiander, the principal protagonist, who strongly argued for a more consequential use of Lutheran private confession in the imperial city. The paper closes by briefly sketching how the Wittenberg reformer’s condemnation of conditional absolution, reinforce indirectly by the outcome of the Nuremberg controversy, prevented private confession for many decades from becoming an effective pastoral aid for aggressively sharpening Lutheran church discipline.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Janek Wasserman (Alabama / Duke Hope Fellowship): 'Depression, Emigration, and Fascism: The Austrian School Goes Transatlantic'

Janek Wasserman is Associate Professor of Modern German and Central European History at the University of Alabama. He is a fellow at the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University in 2017. His first book, Black Vienna: The Radical Right in the Red City, 1918-1938 appeared in paperback with Cornell University Press in 2017. His current book project, Marginal Revolutionaries: Austrian Economics from Coffeehouse to Tea Party, is under contract with an anticipated publication date in 2018.

Abstract: The rise of the most famous cohort of the Austrian School of Economics—Haberler, Hayek, Machlup and Morgenstern—during the era of the Great Depression and fascism is the subject of this essay. It shows how interwar Viennese experience left an indelible imprint on the school, which continued to inform its members’ work in emigration. After a period of intellectual dormancy, the vicissitudes of the world economy awakened interest in Austrian concepts of the business cycle, international trade, equilibrium theory and liberal society. Consequently the Austrians featured in the largest controversies of the period—on the nature of the depression, the possibility of socialism and the future of liberal capitalism—challenging the Keynesians and the Chicago School for early preeminence in transatlantic economic policy discussions. The positions they adopted and the alliances they cultivated provided a template for the postwar neoliberal order they helped to create.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Eric Brandom (Kansas State): 'Georges Sorel and the Problem of Liberalism'

Eric Brandom is a James Carey Research Fellow in the History Department at Kansas State University. He earned his PhD in History from Duke University in 2012. His book manuscript is titled Autonomy and Violence: Georges Sorel and the Problem of Liberalism.

Abstract: Georges Sorel (1847-1922) has a sulfurous reputation as a vitalist Marxist, whose writings on violence and myth opened the way to fascism. For many of his 20th century readers he came to stand for a politics of radicalism for its own sake. Although Sorel was not straightforwardly a liberal, his radicalism is intelligible only by recognizing as liberal his problematics, values, and even many of the textual resources on which he drew. Indeed his radicalism itself otherwise appears incoherent and thin, and we miss the most significant and useful pieces of his work. The French Third Republic as Sorel knew it defended basic freedoms and a degree of mass democratic participation, but profound political, economic, and religious divisions threatened to overwhelm its plural and liberal aspects. How to understand the genesis of Sorel’s radicalism out of the liberal nineteenth century? Sorel and his antirationalist defense of violence were not against the French Third Republic, but of it. Sorel’s critique of liberalism and rationalism continues to resonate today because he consciously shaped it to protect those values held most dear by liberals.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Charly Coleman (Columbia): 'The Economy of the Mysteries: Penance, the Eucharist, and the Proliferation of Sacramental Wealth in Early Modern France'

Charly Coleman is an assistant professor of history at Columbia University, where he teaches courses on early modern and modern Europe, as well as in the Core Curriculum. He received his Ph.D. in history at Stanford University. Before coming to Columbia, he taught at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis. Coleman specializes in the history of eighteenth-century France, with a particular emphasis on the intersections between religion and Enlightenment thought. His first book, The Virtues of Abandon (Stanford University Press, 2014; awarded the 2016 Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies), fundamentally recasts the French Enlightenment as a protracted struggle to fix the self’s relationship to property in its myriad forms. In so doing, it uncovers a wide-ranging, coherent, and influential culture of dispossession, the partisans of which fought to strip the self of its property, its personality, and even its very existence as an individual. Coleman has further elaborated the stakes of this anti-individualist history of the period in a series of articles and book chapters, including pieces for Modern Intellectual History, The Journal of Modern History, and The Cambridge Companion to the French Enlightenment. His most recent research has turned to the crucial role played by economic theology during the long eighteenth century in France, with an eye to revealing a distinctly Catholic ethic that animated the spirit of capitalism at its inception.

Abstract: My paper takes as its point of departure the seventeenth-century resurgence in the adoration of the Eucharist and its singularly productive elements, not only in theological and philosophical treatises, but also among lay confraternities, members of which were authorized to receive specific spiritual advantages, including plenary and partial indulgences. The Cartesian position, advanced by the Oratorian Jean Terrasson among others, reinforced Eucharistic associations with boundlessness, by characterizing the metamorphoses it implied as representative of the infinite power of God. An economic logic, I argue, underpinned such practices, which furnished the believer a means of cancelling the debt occasioned by sin through the inexhaustible font of grace accumulated by the labor of saints and administered by the Church. This Catholic ethic, pace Weber’s account of its Protestant counterpart, privileged the marvelous over the mundane, consumption over production, the pleasures of enjoyment over the rigors of delayed gratification.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Peter Galison (Harvard / NHC Fellow) and Caroline Jones (MIT): 'How Images Obscure the Anthropocene, or, How Not to See'

Peter Galison is the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University; Galison’s work explores the complex interaction between the three principal subcultures of physics–experimentation, instrumentation, and theory. His books include Image and Logic (1997), Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps (2003) and, with L. Daston, Objectivity (2007). With Robb Moss, he directed “Secrecy” (2008, 81 minutes) and “Containment” (2015, premiered at Full Frame), about the need to guard radioactive materials for the 10,000 year future. Galison is also greatly concerned with the impact of technology on the self, and how this influences science, policy, and development. He is now finishing a book, Building Crashing Thinking, about the back and forth between the self and modern technologies. In 2016, he established the Black Hole Initiative with colleagues in Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, and Observational Astrophysics—and is now working on a film about knowledge, philosophy, and these strangest of all objects.

Caroline A. Jones is Professor in the History, Theory, Criticism section of the Department of Architecture at MIT. She studies modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on its technological modes of production, distribution, and reception, and on its interface with science. Jones has also worked as a curator, recently with MIT’s List Visual Art Center: Sensorium (2006), Video Trajectories (2007), and Hans Haacke 1967 (2011). Her exhibitions and/or films have been shown at NY MoMA, SF MoMA, the Hirshhorn in DC, and the Hara Museum Tokyo, among other venues; her publications include Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist (1996/98, winner of the Charles Eldredge prize), Picturing Science, Producing Art (co-edited, 1998), Sensorium: embodied experience, technology, and contemporary art (as editor, 2006), Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (2005/08), Experience: Culture, Cognition, and the Common Sense (co-edited, 2016), and The Global Work of Art (2016).On leave at the National Humanities Center for 2017-18, she is engaged in a collaboration with historian of science Peter Galison, researching patterns of occlusion and political contestations in what she calls “the anthropogenic image” of environmental disaster.

Abstract: Since the 1970s, activists have often assumed that pictures of environmental disaster would mobilize the public against ecological degradation. But there are deep-set patterns of occlusion and political contestation surrounding such images. When does the volunteer cleaning an oil-soaked bird on the shores of Prince William Sound in 1989 impede our capacity to understand the ecology, regulations, or the political economy of oil extraction and transport? What impact do the “ag-gag” laws seeded in the 1990s (with the follow-on 2002 “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” and its progeny) have on the legal status of citizens’ imagery from industrial animal facilities? How did communities struggle, technically, to make visible the unseen methane plumes from the 2015 Aliso Canyon blowout, and what were the political-epistemic results of their efforts? Under water, on the ground, and in the air, images proliferate; states and corporations attempt to control the visual narrative, even as activists and scientists rely on images as never before. Given the daunting literature on the Anthropocene, we tackle specific cases in which visual arguments were mustered, in order to offer some steps toward a theoretical understanding of how images have formed simultaneous regimes of obscurity and visibility in our times.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sarah Igo (Vanderbilt): 'Reflections on a Material History of Citizenship'

Sarah E. Igo is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Program in American Studies at Vanderbilt University, with appointments in Law, Political Science, Sociology, and Medicine, Health & Society. She is the author of the prize-winning The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens and the Making of a Mass Public (2007), which was an Editor’s Choice selection of the New York Times and one of Slate’s Best Books of 2007, and the forthcoming The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America (2018).

Abstract: My paper offers a foray into what I think of as a material and affective history of American citizenship by examining the career of the U.S. Social Security number: the now-familiar nine digits that came to be annexed to most Americans’ lives over the course of the twentieth century. I argue that the biography of the SSN from the 1930s onward offers us a window onto the ways Americans have envisioned the modern state and their own responsibilities to it. In the paper, I trace the specific role these numbers played in American political culture in the second half of the twentieth century, an era in which citizens’ attitudes toward the federal government shifted dramatically. By examining individuals’ material, political, and philosophical relationship to this particular identity document, I aim to illuminate the inner workings of civic feeling against a backdrop of global political and economic uncertainty. By pursuing the SSN, I contend, we can trace Americans’ changing attitudes toward bureaucracy and federal authority as well as the shaping power of identity practices and the unintended consequences (including insecurity) of the most successful social program in the modern United States.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Claudia Stemberger (Duke PhD Student): 'Writing Intellectual History as Art Historian'

Claudia Marion Stemberger works on her Ph.D. in art history at Duke University, specializing on modern and contemporary art. Her research interests focus on the intellectual history of contingency in art, and the history of art in South Africa. Peer-review publications include “Postmodernity’s Vertigo: Chance and Increase of Contingency in Performance and Film” (ilinx – Berliner Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft), and “Teaching Back: Towards a Decolonized Pedagogy of Art History in South Africa” (Muséologies). Previously, in Austria, she completed a Magister Degree in Art History, a Master’s in Arts Management, and a Doctor of Medicine.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Mia Bay (Rutgers): 'Talking Back to Thomas Jefferson: African American Nationalism in the New Republic 1776 – 1808'

Mia Bay is Professor of History at Rutgers University and the Director of the Rutgers Center for Race and Ethnicity. Her publications include To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (2009) and The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925 (2000). She is also the co-author (with Waldo Martin and Deborah Gray White of the textbook Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans with Documents (2014), and the editor of a couple of other works, the most recent of which is Race and Retail: Consumption Across the Color Line (2015), which she co-edited with Ann Fabian. Currently, she is at work on two new projects: a book examining the social history of segregated transportation and a study of African American views on Thomas Jefferson.


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