Intellectual and Cultural History

Undergraduate History Major:
Intellectual and Cultural History Track

Students can fulfill the requirements for the History major while pursuing their specific interest in one regional or thematic area. One of those areas is intellectual and cultural history.

The study of past thought and culture is one of the most influential fields in history. At its deepest level, it addresses the “why” of history: the reasons and meanings thinking people have given for the practices in which they and their society have engaged. Specifically, it is concerned with an era’s intellectual texts and discourses—with understanding their contextual origins and reception, and with recovering their historical meaning. Intellectual and cultural history is also broad. It encompasses the circulation of ideas in all periods and countries as well as transnational intellectual exchanges. And, as the most interdisciplinary field in history, it deals with all forms of expressive thought, including philosophy, religion, literature, political thought, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the arts.

Intellectual and cultural history has a major presence at Boston University. One of the history department’s greatest strengths is its large cohort of accomplished teachers and scholars in the field. Its faculty often offer courses attended by students from other programs and departments. From 1979 to 2002 the history department produced American intellectual history’s influential Intellectual History Newsletter, and since 2004 it has been the editorial home of the field’s premiere international scholarly journal, Modern Intellectual History, published by Cambridge University Press. Numerous conferences and colloquia in intellectual history, often cosponsored with other Boston area universities and academic institutions, give undergraduates further opportunities to experience the lively debates among the field’s leading scholars from around the world.

Students choosing to focus on intellectual and cultural history must complete the requirements for the History concentration as outlined below. Note that selecting a special track for the History major is optional, and students may fulfill as much of it as they wish. In the lists below, move the cursor over a course number to view that course’s description. Note that course numbers are effective as of fall 2011; previous numbers are provided in parentheses.

  • HI 200: The Historian’s Craft (taken in the sophomore year or no later than one semester after declaring the major)
  • Four courses to fulfill the distribution requirement:
    • One course in American history
    • One course in European history
    • One course in World history
    • One course in premodern history
  • Seminars (two required). It is recommended that students with a focus on intellectual and cultural history select seminars (400 and 500 level) from the list below. The intellectual and cultural history track can be customized by selecting from the following courses:
    • CAS HI 203 (306): Magic, Science, and Religion from Plato to Voltaire Boundaries and relationships between magic, science, and religion from late antiquity through the European Enlightenment. Topics include transformation of pagan traditions, distinctions between learned and popular traditions, and changing assumptions about God and Nature.
    • CAS HI 220 (235): The Culture of World War I Studies World War I through works of literature, art, and music. Themes include initial optimism, the brutal reality of the trenches, and consequences of the peace. Works by Owen, Sassoon, Brooke, Kandinsky, Picasso, Grosz, Mahler, Stravinsky, Berg, Jünger, Céline, Woolf.
    • CAS HI 223 (315): Intellectual History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century Major figures and movements from 1799 to 1890. Topics include the impact of the French Revolution, romanticism, social utopias, the rise of nationalism, the artistic avant-garde, conflicts between science and religion, technology and urban planning, the aesthetic ideal.
    • CAS HI 224 (316): Intellectual History of Europe in the Twentieth Century Major figures and movements from 1890 to the present. Topics include the critique of positivism, the exploration of the unconscious, modern styles in art, reshaping Marxist theory, advances in sociology, the impact of war on modern literature and ethics.
    • CAS HI 300 (379): Modern American Cultural History Examines Americans’ beliefs and the cultural forms used to convey their experiences since the late nineteenth century. Includes challenges to the Victorian order, growth of commercial entertainments, new rules and reactions to modern life, and changing understandings of the self.
    • CAS HI 302 (368): Science and American Culture From the colonial period to the present. Such topics as the American reception of Copernicus and Newton, scientific exploration, the interaction of science and religion, the impact of science on social theory, the rise of “big science,” and contemporary “science wars.”
    • CAS HI 308 (354): Religious Thought in America This course surveys many of the strategies that American religious thinkers have adopted for interpreting the cosmos, the social order, and human experience and examines the interaction of those strategies with broader currents of American culture.
    • CAS HI 349 (382): History of Religion in Pre-Colonial Africa The study of the development of religious traditions in Africa during the period prior to European colonialism. An emphasis on both indigenous religions and the growth and spread of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the continent as a whole.
    • CAS HI 361 (388): Black Radical Thought Black radical thought in America, Europe, and Africa since the eighteenth century through writings of abolitionists, leaders of revolutions and liberation movements, Black nationalists, and Black socialists. Emphasizes the global nature of the “Black World” and its role in world history.
    • CAS HI 305 (373): American Thought and Culture, 1776 to 1900 Major thinkers and movements in intellectual and cultural history from the Revolution to 1900. Topics include Revolutionary republicanism, evangelical theology and democratic theory, Transcendentalism and Romantic culture, antislavery and nationality, Victorian realism, liberal Protestantism and Darwinism, and evolutionary social science.
    • CAS HI 306 (374): American Thought and Culture, 1900 to the Present Major thinkers and movements in intellectual and cultural history since 1900. Topics include pragmatism and progressivism; ethnic and cultural pluralism; Marxism and liberalism; Cold War ideology and neoconservatism; artistic modernism; psychoanalysis and modernization theory; the New Left, multiculturalism, and postmodernism.
    • CAS HI 424: European Socialism, 1789-1989 Explores the social origins and theoretical traditions of European socialism, including conceptions of social justice and economic organization, women’s rights and internationalism. Investigates the Russian Revolution, Marxism in the West, Eastern European communism after 1945, and communism’s collapse in 1989.
    • CAS HI 426: Music and Ideas from Mozart to the Jazz Age Studies musical masterworks in historical context. Critical essays, literature, and philosophy from the period illuminate each work’s setting, and recent scholarship provides varied approaches for understanding the influences affecting each work.
    • CAS HI 428: Postwar European Culture Selected topics in western European culture since 1945, including the legacy of war, the impact of economic recovery, the press, colonialism and its critics, new departures in literature and film, the decline of Marxism, attitudes toward America.
    • CAS HI 435: Histories of Human Rights Traces Westerners’ development of a humanitarian sensibility in the eighteenth century and considers how this sensibility was deployed in struggles over the rights of various groups during the modern period. Anglo-American contributions will be emphasized.
    • CAS HI 440: Refugee Intellectuals (1933-1950) Examination of the flight of intellectuals (including Mann, Adorno, Schoenberg) from Europe to the United States in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power, drawing on accounts by the exiles themselves, their works, and subsequent studies by historians of the period.
    • CAS HI 445: Introduction to Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Russian Intellectual History Critical evaluation of the Russian revolutionary movement from the 1880s to 1917. Particular attention to Russian populism and Marxism and to the works of such socialists as Herzen, Plekhanov, and Lenin.
    • CAS HI 448: Science and Modern Culture: Darwin, Freud, and Einstein Development of scientific theories of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein; impact of those ideas in different national cultures and their influence on literature, art, religion, and politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
    • CAS HI 514: Enlightenment and Its Critics Explores how eighteenth-century criticisms of the Enlightenment have been taken up by twentieth-century thinkers such as Heidegger, Horkeimer, Adorno, Gadamer, and Foucault; discusses recent defenses of Enlightenment ideals of reason, critique, and autonomy by Habermas and others.
    • CAS HI 551: Modern Jewry and the Arts Ways in which central issues in modern Jewish history—nationalism, antisemitism, integration, socialism, religious life—can be illuminated through the study of the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, music). The role of Jews in European and American culture.
    • CAS HI 560: The American Transcendentalists Led by Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and others, the Transcendentalists constituted the first “counter-cultural” movement in American history. How and why they did so within the philosophical, religious, literary, antislavery, communitarian, and ecological currents they inhabited is the topic of the seminar.
    • CAS HI 566: Ideas and American Foreign Policy Examines the intellectual foundations of U.S. foreign policy from the founding of the republic to the present.
    • CAS HI 579: Race and the South: Questions of Interpretation in History and Literature Methodological seminar for English or History concentrators. Examines theories and examples of interdisciplinary analysis based on historical and literary interpretation. Focus on problem of race in the U.S. South, 1880-1940.
    • CAS HI 580: The History of Racial Thought Study of racial thinking and feeling in Europe and the United States since the fifteenth century. Racial thinking in the context of Western encounters with non-European people and Jews; its relation to social, economic, cultural, and political trends.