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Masterclass – Sudipta Kaviraj & Siep Stuurman, Global Intellectual History

Date: Friday 16 May 2014
Time: 9.30 – 17.00 (with lunch break and followed by drinks at 17.00)
Venue: Bungehuis 1.01, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam
Taught by: Prof. Sudipta Kaviraj (Columbia University, NY) & Prof. Siep Stuurman (Utrecht University)
Credits: 1 ECTS (available upon request)
Open to: PhD candidates and Research Master students registered with the Huizinga Institute, or with another Graduate Research School in the Netherlands
Fee (non-members): €50
Coordinated by: Prof. Siep Stuurman
Registration (register by April 15th, max. 15 participants)

Why Global Intellectual History? Why Now?

At the present time, many intellectual historians feel that the history of ideas, concepts and discourses should “go global.” Obviously, this cannot mean that every intellectual historian should study the intellectual history of the “entire world”. That would be a self-defeating strategy. What it does imply is that every intellectual historian should seek to retrieve the global ramifications of his/her particular subject. As the British economic historian Patrick O’Brien observed in the opening essay of the first issue of the Journal of Global History: “Everything has its history, and nearly everything has a global history as well” (JGH, 1 (2006), 36-37). The “globalization” of our scholarly field also appears from a comparison of the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (2005) with the Dictionary of the History of Ideas (1973).

World History became an established academic field with the Journal of World History (1990–). Its early phase centered on big, structural themes, such as economics, demography, ecology and the study of states, empires and civilizations. According to William McNeill, the dean of post-1945 world history, a civilization can be defined by its literary canon. It follows that cultural and intellectual matters are a centerpiece of world history: ideas matter and canonized ideas matter a lot.

Nowadays, a distinction is often made between world history and global history. World history then stands for chronologically framed narratives of human history from its early beginnings to the present day. As civilizations define themselves by their differences and commonalities with “other” civilizations, world history is by its very nature comparative. Global history, by contrast, focuses on worldwide connections and exchanges, on the trans-civilizational flows of people, goods, skills and ideas – in short, on what, since the 1990s, is called “globalization.” Bruce Mazlish has even contended that as late as the 1950s one could be a world historian but not a global historian. That may be an overstatement, but even so it is salutary to be aware of the contemporary conditions (say, after the fall of Soviet communism) that made global history imperative and attractive to an increasing number of historians.

One aspect of the recent trends in global history that is of particular importance for intellectual historians is the intercrossings/ histoire croisée approach. Replacing the old notion of “influence” by the dialectical notion of a two-way process in which both sides give and take and, so doing, transform each other as well as themselves, this approach calls for a less “centric” approach to intellectual transfers and global circuits (“centric” can refer to Eurocentric, but also to Sinocentric etc.).

Over the past ten years the global turn has been taken by an increasing number of intellectual historians. The major journals in the field (Journal of the History of Ideas, Modern Intellectual History, etc.) no longer confine themselves to the Western Canon. The volume Global Intellectual History, which will provide the point of entry for our master class, is among the first books to focus on the methodological challenges of this emergent field of intellectual history.

Required Readings

  1. Sudipta Kaviraj, “Global Intellectual History: Meanings and Methods,” in Samuel Moyn & Andrew Sartori (eds.), Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), pp. 295-319.
  2. Samuel Moyn & Andrew Sartori, “Approaches to Global Intellectual History,” in Global Intellectual History, pp. 3-30.
  3. Bruce Mazlish, “Crossing Boundaries: Ecumenical, World, and Global History,” in Philip Pomper, Richard H. Elphick and Richard T. Vann (eds.), World History: Ideologies, Structures, and Identities (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 41-52.
  4. Sudipta Kaviraj, “Modernity, State, and Toleration in Indian History,” in Alfred Stepan & Charles Taylor (eds.), Boundaries of Toleration (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), pp. 233-266.

Recommended readings

  1. Moyn & Sartori, “Approaches to Global Intellectual History,” in Global Intellectual History, pp. 3-30.
  2. Frederick Cooper, “How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be,” in Global Intellectual History, pp. 283-294.
  3. Siep Stuurman, “Common Humanity and Cultural Difference on the Sedentary-Nomadic Frontier: Herodotus, Sima Qian, and Ibn Khaldun,” in Global Intellectual History, pp. 33-58.
  4. Sudipta Kaviraj, “Religion, Politics, and Modernity,” in Kaviraj, The Enchantment of Democracy and India (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2012), pp. 161-182.


9.30: brief self-presentations by all participants. NB: the “motivation letters” submitted by the participants will be circulated by mail before the start of the class.

10.00 – 12.00: opening session: Global Intellectual History: Why, what and how? This session has two 30-minute lectures, followed by discussion.

10.00: Siep Stuurman, Different approaches in world history and how they lead to different ways of doing global intellectual history

11.00: Sudipta Kaviraj, Meanings and Methods of Global Intellectual history: Cambridge School, Marxist approaches, Radical historicism (Gadamer).

12.00 – 13.45: Lunch break

14.00 – 17.00: Afternoon session: methodologies for global intellectual history: what we can do and what we should avoid. This session will start with a one-hour lecture by Sudipta Kaviraj, followed by questions and suggestions by all participants. The format is dialogical, with Kaviraj and Stuurman intervening when they think fit.

14.00: Sudipta Kaviraj: Approaches to Global Intellectual History: examples from Indian intellectual history.This section lecture will discuss some significant debates from the intellectual history of India to illustrate methodological questions;

a). ‘Was there feudalism in Indian history?’: Marxist debates about how to conceptualize Indian pre-modernity.
b). Early modernity: was there an indigenous modern before the advent of the colonial modern?
c). How to approach the pre-history of secularity? Should we approach the long history of religious toleration in India as a pre-history of modern secularity?

16.40: concluding reflections

17.00: drinks

Sudipta Kaviraj is professor of Indian Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, New York. He is a founding member of the Subaltern Studies Collective. Prior to joining Columbia University he taught at the Department of Political Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has also taught Political Science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Professor Kaviraj specializes in intellectual history and Indian politics. He works on two fields of intellectual history: Indian social and political thought in the 19th and 20th centuries, and modern Indian literature and cultural production. Main publications include: The Imaginary Institution of India (New York, 2010), The Trajectories of the Indian State (New Delhi, 2010), and The Enchantment of Democracy and India (New Delhi, 2011). Recent articles include: “Said and the History of Ideas,” in Cosmopolitan Thought Zones: South Asia and the Global Circulation of Ideas, eds. Sugata Bose & Kris Manjapra (Basingstoke & New York, 2010) and “Global Intellectual History: Meanings and Methods,” in Global Intellectual History, eds. Samuel Moyn & Andrew Sartori (New York, 2013).

Siep Stuurman is professor of the History of Ideas at Utrecht University. Before coming to Utrecht he was Jean Monnet Chair of European History at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and professor of the History of Political Thought at the University of Amsterdam. Professor Stuurman has done work on the history of European liberalism and European state formation, on the history of early-modern feminist thought, and, more recently of equality and cultural in world history. He is a consulting editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas. Main publications include: Perspectives on Feminist Political Thought in European History: From the Middle ages to the Prresent, ed. with Tjitske Akkerman (London & New York, 1998), François Poulain de la Barre and the Invention of Modern Equality (Cambridge Mass., 2004, De Uitvinding van de Mensheid: Korte Wereldgeschiedenis van het Denken over Gelijkheid en Cultuurverschil (Amsterdam, 2009). Recent articles: “Common Humanity and Cultural Difference on the Sedentary-Nomadic Frontier: Herodotus, Sima Qian, and Ibn Khaldun,” in Global Intellectual History, eds. Moyn & Sartori (New York, 2013).

Practical Matters

Students wanting to participate should submit a short letter explaining why they want to participate and how the problematic of the Masterclass is relevant to their own research topic and their methodological and theoretical interests. Applications are to be sent by email to (cc to NB: send your application as a word document attach (no PDFs or other fancy formats).

There will be ample time for discussion after each lecture. Participants are expected to prepare written questions and comments about all readings, whenever possible drawing on theoretical and methodological problems they have encountered in their own research.