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.





2019 – 2020 Seminar Dates and Speakers

(All seminars will meet from *5:00-7:00pm* on Sundays at the National Humanities Center in RTP.)


Fall Semester

  • September 23, 2019

Matthew Specter, U.C. Berkeley: The First Atlantic Realist Moment: U.S. and German Intellectual Discourse on “World Politics,” 1880-1910


Matthew Specter (Ph.D. Duke), is an intellectual historian who focuses on German intellectuals and politics in the 20th century. His first book, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography (Cambridge 2010), was widely reviewed and translated. He is now completing  Atlantic Realisms: Political Thought and Foreign Policy, 1880-1980 for Stanford University Press. He has published articles in Modern Intellectual History and History and Theory. A former Associate Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, he is currently Lecturer in Global Studies at U.C. Berkeley, and Associate Editor of the journal History and Theory.


  • October 13, 2019

Margarita Fajardo,  Sarah Lawrence College: The World that Latin America Created: An Intellectual History of Capitalism from the South



Margarita Fajardo is an Assistant Professor at Sarah Lawrence College. She received her BA in History and Economics from the Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, followed by her MA and PhD from Princeton University. She has published several pieces on the history of dependency theory and the social sciences in Latin America in the post-WWII era.  She recently received a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities to complete her book manuscript tentatively title The World that Latin America Created. Her research and teaching interests span the fields of global intellectual history and the politics of science and expertise as well as the history of Latin American and global capitalism. 


  • October 27, 2019

Anne Vila, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Spectacles to ‘Confound All of Philosophy’ — The Paris Crucifixions of 1758-60

A bizarre sort of spectacle rivetted Paris in 1758-60: assemblies organized by fringe cells of the Jansenist convulsionary movement, where female adepts endured crucifixions and other brutal mortifications—often before sizable audiences. These assemblies were rooted in beliefs and practices that took shape 30 years earlier, when some Jansenists began convulsing ecstatically around the tomb of François de Pâris. They were also tied to the battles that pitted Jansenists against philosophes in the late 1750s: as one apologist declared, they were meant to “confound all of philosophy” by demonstrating the power of faith over incredulity and godless rationality (ills imputed to the Encyclopedists). To uncover both the ideological stakes of these spectacles and the attraction they held, I take a Rashomon-style look at how they were described by different eyewitnesses: defenders of the convulsionary movement, aristocratic curiosity seekers, physicians, and allies to the philosophes. I also consider their textual afterlives from the 1760s into the 20th century.


Anne Vila is the Pickard-Bascom Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on the interplay of literature, medicine and philosophy in the context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France, while also venturing into other areas of European culture and intellectual history. Her publications include the monographs Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine of Eighteenth-Century France (1998) and Suffering Scholars: Pathologies of the Intellectual in Enlightenment France (2018). This paper draws on her new book project, tentatively entitled  “Convulsive Enlightenment: Lives and Afterlives of  the Convulsionnaires in French Culture (18th to 21st Centuries).”


  • November 17, 2019

Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Pennsylvania: VOTING AND THE INVENTION OF CHOICE

This paper considers an uneventful event in British history.  That is the introduction of the secret ballot in a parliamentary bi-election in Yorkshire in August 1872. What draws our attention now is not only what this late and unspectacular turn to privatized, individuated voting tells us about the history of democracy, but also what it tells us about how and why the development of choice-making became so central to modern conceptions of freedom.



Sophia Rosenfeld is Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (2001), Common Sense: A Political History (2011), and Truth and Democracy: A Short History (2019), as well as numerous articles in journals ranging from the American Historical Review to The Nation. She is currently Vice President (Research Division) of the American Historical Association. She was previously Professor of History at the University of Virginia and at Yale.


Spring Semester


  • January 12, 2020

Nima Bassiri, Duke University: Truth of the Simulator — Traumatic Accidents and Insurance Pathologies at the Turn of Century.


Nima Bassiri is an assistant professor at Duke University, where he teaches in the Graduate Program in Literature and Global Cultural Studies, Duke’s interdisciplinary humanities, cultural studies, and critical theory department. He is an intellectual historian of the human sciences, and his scholarship is deeply informed by the history and philosophy of science and critical theory.


  • February 9, 2020

Isaac Nakhimovsky, Yale University: ‘The Most Liberal of All Ideas’: The Holy Alliance and the History of Global Order


Isaac Nakhimovsky is Associate Professor of History and Humanities at Yale. His first book, The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte (Princeton, 2011), showed how, in the context of the French Revolution, the German philosopher J.G. Fichte came to undertake a systematic treatment of economic independence as an ideal, or the political theory of what John Maynard Keynes later termed “national self-sufficiency.” He has also collaborated on an edition of Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation (Hackett, 2013), and two volumes of essays on eighteenth-century political thought and its post-revolutionary legacies: Commerce and Peace in the Enlightenment (Cambridge, 2017), and Markets, Morals, Politics: Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought (Harvard, 2018). His next book, A World Reformed: Liberalism, the Holy Alliance, and the Problems of Global Order, is under preparation for Princeton University Press, and in June 2020 he will deliver the annual Quentin Skinner Lecture at the University of Cambridge.


  • March 1, 2020

James Chappel, Duke University: TBA

James Chappel is the Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. His first book will appear from Harvard University Press in the Spring of 2018: “Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church.” The book is primarily an intellectual history of European Catholics between the 1920s and 1960s, focusing on their conceptualization of the family, the economy, and the state. It argues that the experience of the 1930s were a watershed in the history of the Church, as the twin threats of fascism and (especially) Communism pushed Catholic thinkers towards a wholly renovated form of social Catholic ethics. Essentially, Catholics ceased struggling against modernity, and began struggling for Catholic forms of modernity — as they do today.

He is at work on two further projects. The first is provisionally entitled “Old Volk: The Invention of Old Age in Modern Germany.” Building on recent interdisciplinary investigations into the relationship between political economy and the family, this book ponders the invention of “old age” as a category of cultural life, social-scientific expertise, and policymaking. The second is provisionally entitled “The Second Reformation: Global Christianity and the Logic of Sanctuary, 1960-1980.” Building on a set of case studies in the United States, Latin America, and Europe, this book integrates Christianity into the rapidly-expanding literature on the global 1960s and 1970s, showing how the New Left and the New Right both capitalized on capitalist expansion, countercultural experiment, and decolonization.


  • April 5, 2020

Capper Fellows Presentation, more info TBA