School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Intellectual History Research Group seminars

The Intellectual History research group brings together staff and students from across the School who are interested in the history of ideas, intellectuals, and intellectual movements.

All meetings will be held online, using Zoom, from 1 to 2 pm UK time. You can gt the latest news from the Intellectual History Research Group on Twitter. 

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Semester 1, 2021/22

Date Speaker Topic Register

Wednesday 27 Oct

Professor Joshua Ehrlich (University of Macau)

'The history of ideas and the history of knowledge: Towards a synthesis.'

Abstract: If knowledge is power, as the aphorism goes, then it would seem to follow that knowledge is political. Yet the venerable history of political thought has not dealt much with knowledge; nor has the upstart history of knowledge dealt much with political thought. In order to remedy this mutual oversight, the present paper suggests, the methods of the old field may be adapted to the concerns of the new one. A “history of ideas of knowledge” would enrich both fields and, perhaps, contribute resources to knowledge debates in the present.

Joshua Ehrlich is a historian of knowledge and political thought, who is currently writing a book on the East India Company and the politics of knowledge. Since receiving his PhD from Harvard in 2018, he has been an assistant professor at the University of Macau.

Wednesday 10 Nov Zachary Purvis (Edinburgh Theological Seminary)

‘How Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia read the Reformers’

Friedrich Wilhelm III of Hohenzollern (1770-1840) is remembered as Prussia's sluggish king, doubtful and tentative when it came to Napoleon and the age of reform. Yet he was an active and creative reader of the Protestant reformers. This paper considers how he read and how he pursued his passion into policy - political, ecclesiastical, and academic. It led - at least in part - to a process that transformed the relationship of the Protestant confessions to the Prussian state and helped launched modern critical Reformation historiography. 

Zachary Purvis, DPhil (Oxon), is Lecturer in Church History at Edinburgh Theological Seminary. Previous posts include Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Göttingen, Kingdon Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at New College, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Theology and the University in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Wednesday 24 Nov Linda Andersson Burnett (Uppsala University)

‘Racing the Curricula: Teaching Human Variety at the University of Edinburgh c 1770-1820’ 

Scotland was a crucible in which an Enlightenment ‘science of man’ was forged. At its core stood the concept of humanity. Scholars have long identified a coterie of intellectuals residing in Edinburgh after 1750 (David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson among them) as the architects of a distinctly Scottish understanding of humanity as universal. Humanity was an artefact of philosophical propositions that became embedded within a widely shared scheme of stadial history that construed all humans as subjects alike of social development and historical progress. In recent years scholars have complicated this interpretation by showing that after 1770 Scottish concepts of humanity became more variable; internally differentiated not only by attributions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘savagery’, and by the identification of gendered, national, racial, and even species separations. As yet, this scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the articulation of these questions in the work of canonical figures of Scotland’s Enlightenment. In my presentation, I will discuss how humanity was taught at the University of Edinburgh and how travelers educated at the University conceptualised humanity through their engagement in colonisation and in their encounters with non-European and Indigenous peoples across the globe.

 Linda Andersson Burnett is a Wallenberg Academy Fellow at the Department of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University in Sweden. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Edinburgh (2012). Her research focuses on the exchange of scientific and cultural thought between Britain and Scandinavia in the long eighteenth century. She is principal investigator of two ongoing research projects: one on natural-history instructions and early citizen science and one on the collection of human remains in Britain and Scandinavia in the early nineteenth century. She is the author of a number of articles on scientific networks, travel writing, Linnaean natural history and ethnographic thought. She has edited a special issue on the concept of savagery for the History of the Human Sciences, an issue on Nordic colonialism for Scandinavian Studies and a forthcoming issue on colonial mobility for Global Intellectual History (2022). She is currently co-writing, with Bruce Buchan, a book on the concept of humanity in 18th-century Scottish university curricula and student writing for Yale UP.


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The School of History, Classics and Archaeology offers an exciting programme of seminars across many subjects areas. Visit the research seminars website to find out what else is happening.

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