Today, however, a new breed of young intellectual historian is aiming to integrate the spirit of “history from below” with an approach that doesn’t chop American history off at the neck. Young intellectual historians, scholars at the conference were quick to emphasize, have fully absorbed the lessons of the profession’s increased attention to questions of race, class and gender, without losing hold of the premise that ideas matter, even in a culture that still considers “intellectual” a term of abuse.
“We still want to talk about ideas, but we see ideas everywhere,” said Andrew Hartman, a professor at Illinois State University and president of the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which sponsored the conference. “Big ideas affect everybody. It’s not elitist to talk about them.”
The conference hardly neglected high culture, with papers on the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Barnett Newman, the philosopher Stanley Cavell, and the history of the reception of “Moby-Dick.” . . .
But the lineup tilted markedly toward postwar political history, with discussions of charged topics like the economist Friedrich von Hayek’s writings on the rule of law, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s infamous 1965 report on the black family, and the art-historical theories of the evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, who has been much in the news in recent months because of his supposed influence on Michele Bachmann.