Global intellectual history? A contextualist perspective – Masterclass with Quentin Skinner (Queen Mary)

In recent years intellectual history has re-established itself as a distinct and vital field of scholarship which focusses on the social and cultural contexts of thought as well as to language, rhetoric, and meaning. This is to no small extent thanks to Quentin Skinner, who has propagated the so-called ‘contextualist method’ as the gold standard of intellectual history. At the same time, however, contextualism has also been contested from various perspectives. In particular, contextualism has been criticised by scholars embracing ‘big’ or even ‘global’ intellectual history.

Postgraduate students participating in the Masterclass will have the unique opportunity to discuss these issues with Quentin Skinner himself. The actual practice of contextualism and the main conceptual challenges to its value as a tool for the practice of intellectual history will be discussed, as well as the desirability and feasibility of writing ‘big’ or ‘global’ intellectual history.

Date & time: 25 May 2017, 14.00 hrs. – 17.00 hrs.
Location: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Registration: open for postgraduate students in history or a related field.
Students participating in the Masterclass will also come together on Friday 19 May, 16.00 hrs. at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to discuss Skinner’s work on historical method.

Please contact Thijs Bogers in order to register:

This event is organised together with the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies (

Public Lecture by Shruti Kapila (Cambridge University)

History as Violence: Hindutva’s War and the Battlefield of India

Often described as ‘conspiratorial’ and a form of  ‘crypto nationalism’, Hindutva (political Hinduism/Hindu nationalism) was articulated simultaneously with Gandhi’s assertion and signature politics of nonviolence in the last century. Hindutva was a new name as an attempt to bridge the empty gap between the political and Hinduism.  Secrecy, fraternity, territory inasmuch as blood and the significance of history and its writing were foundational to the conceptual repertoire of Hindutva. The overarching idea of war and the political as a war formation, rendered Hindutva a specifically twentieth century ideology. In elaborating these themes, and contrary to dominant understandings, I argue that Hindutva is not the expression of ‘Hindu nationalism’ signifying a variant form of Indian nationalism — authentic, hidden or fabricated. Instead, as a distinct theory of violence, Hindutva as elaborated by its ideologue, Savarkar, is a series of conditions of enmity for a potential and new fraternity. As a political idea, Hindutva conceptualised enmity as perpetual while detaching India from its territorial specificities and transforming it into a battlefield. The paper will contextualise Hindutva in global intellectual history and the political thought of conservatism and fascism.


Dr. Shruti Kapila lectures and researches on modern Indian history, political thought and global history at the Faculty of History and is Fellow and Director of Studies at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. She is editor of An Intellectual History for India (CUP, 2010) and co-editor of Political Thought in Action: The Bhagavad Gita and Modern India (CUP, 2013). She is currently completing a book on political ideologies and violence in twentieth century India. She has published on political thought, global intellectual history and violence in Modern Intellectual History, Past and Present, Social Text and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of History of Ideas.  She also does commentary most recently on Indian elections for BBC (radio and television) Bloomberg TV and Al-Jazeera and for print media including, Financial Times, Economic Times, Outlook and Indian Express.

Tuesday November 1: 15-17h: VOC Kamer / East India Room 
Bushuis/ Oost Indisch Huis, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam
Information: Matthijs Lok (

Workshop with Hilde de Weerdt

Workshop with Hilde de Weerdt: Towards a Global Intellectual History of “Mirrors of Princes”


Eurasian elites in medieval times shared not only luxury items, marriage ties, or military practices that set them off from the populations they sought to rule, but also political ideas and practices whose changing appeal in different contexts can be examined in political advice literature. Some work has already been done on the shared features of Christian and Islamic political advice manuals but the comparative and connective studies typically stop at the Indian border. In this presentation I focus on the best-known Chinese “mirror,” The Essentials of Government in the Zhenguan Reign, a classic to which both Korean and Chinese leaders still pay tribute. I will discuss its emergence as a product of the tensions between Eurasian military aristocrats and Chinese scholar-officials and then discuss how we can move towards a transcultural history of ideas about rulership and ministerial power in very different contexts through the transmission history of this text in the worlds of Japanese samurai, Tangut and Khitan rulers, Mongol and Manchu emperors, and Chinese literati who learned about it in a variety of literary, theatrical, and historical adaptations as well as in translations of The Essentials itself.

About the lecturer:

Hilde De Weerdt works on imperial Chinese intellectual and political history focusing on the question of how elite networks shaped Chinese politics. Her first book is an intellectual history of the civil service examinations. Her latest book examines the formation of a new information regime in imperial Chinese history, characterized by the production and dissemination of court- and polity-related texts by cultural elites (literati) instead of the court and high officialdom. It also examines the impact of this shift in cultural production on political identities and the structure of the polity.

Location: F.211B, Bushuis/Oost-Indisch Huis, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam

Time: October 18th, 3PM-5PM

For more information, please contact Annelien de Dijn (


Public Lecture by Jennifer Pitts (Chicago), January 22nd

Public Lecture by Jennifer Pitts (Chicago): Empires and the Law of Nations: A Contribution to the Critical History of International Law


International law is in important respects a product of the history of European commercial and imperial expansion, and it proved a powerful discourse in that context, supplying both justifications and criticisms of imperial actions, as recent scholarship has shown. Law of nations discourse could also efface the imperial aspect of European states and deny theoretical space for the consideration of imperial violence, by conceptualizing states as territorially compact nations rather than the global empires that the most powerful of them were, and by misleadingly depicting the international realm as a community of free and equal nations. This talk considers the relationship between empire and international law in the work of the two European political and legal thinkers who had, arguably, the greatest global influence in the first decades of the nineteenth century, Emer de Vattel and Jeremy Bentham, and some implications for later understandings of international law and the extra-European world.

About the lecturer:

Jennifer Pitts is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She is author of A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton 2005) and editor and translator of Alexis de Tocqueville: Writings on Empire and Slavery (Johns Hopkins 2001). She is currently working on a book, tentatively entitled Boundaries of the International, which explores European debates over legal relations with extra-European societies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Location: Faculty of Law, Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, room A.009

Time: 22 January, 15.30h-17.00h.

Public Lecture by David Armitage (Harvard University) “Worlds of Civil War: Globalizing Civil War in the Late Twentieth Century”

May 11th, 3-5PM

PCH 1.04

Organisers: Annelien de Dijn & Matthijs Lok (UvA)


“Worlds of Civil War: Globalizing Civil War in the Late Twentieth Century”

This lecture will discuss three ways in which the conception of civil war was globalized in the latter part of the twentieth century. First, it looks at the place of civil conflict in post-War international humanitarian jurisprudence, a global discourse applicable to “non-international armed conflict” around the world. Second, it examines the emergence of civil war as an object of social-scientific inquiry, beginning in the 1960s, with consequences that still determine what is, and what is not, held to be a civil war by the international community. Thirdly, it traces the emergent language of “global civil war” from its early twentieth-century roots to its usage in various global languages, including Schmittian political theory, counter-terrorism discourse and the analysis of civil war as the most globally widespread form of contemporary conflict.

David Armitage is the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University, where he teaches intellectual history and international history. He was born in Britain and educated at the University of Cambridge and Princeton University; before moving to Harvard in 2004, he taught for eleven years at Columbia University. A prize-winning teacher and writer, he has lectured on six continents and has held research fellowships and visiting positions in Britain, France, the United States and Australia. David Armitage is the author or editor of fifteen books, among them The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000), which won the Longman/History Today Book of the Year Award, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (2007), which was chosen as a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year, Foundations of Modern International Thought (2013) and (with Jo Guldi) The History Manifesto (2014), a New Statesman Book of the Year.



Public Lecture by Darrin McMahon (Dartmouth College) “The Return of the History of Ideas?”  

Monday February 2: 15:00-17:00

Doelenzaal, UB Amsterdam,  Singel 425  Amsterdam

Organisers: Annelien de Dijn & Matthijs Lok (UvA)


The Return of the History of Ideas : Long dismissed as a hopelessly outdated form of inquiry, the “history of ideas” is today making a comeback as a viable form of intellectual history.  What are the promises and the pitfalls of a renewed history of ideas?  In this discussion, Professor McMahon will take up the question both from the standpoint of past criticism and current methodological concerns.

Darrin M. McMahon is a historian, author, and public speaker, who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and is a Professor of History at Dartmouth College. Formerly McMahon was the Ben Weider Professor of History and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University. Born in Carmel, California, and educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Yale, where he received his PhD in 1998, McMahon is the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2001) and Happiness: A History (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), which has been translated into twelve languages and was awarded Best Books of the Year honors for 2006 by the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Library Journal, and Slate Magazine. McMahon has just completed a history of the idea of genius and the genius figure, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, published in October of 2013 with Basic Books. He is also the editor, with Ryan Hanley, of The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies, 5 vols. (Routledge, 2009), and, with Samuel Moyn, of Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Public Lecture by Siep Stuurman “Universal Concepts in Global History”, December 11th

On December 11th, Professor Siep Stuurman (Utrecht University) will give the second lecture in the Global Intellectual History Lecture Series, on “Universal Concepts in Global History”.

The lecture will take place in the P.C. Hoofthuis 1.04, Spuistraat 134, 1012 VB Amsterdam, from 5PM to 6:30 PM, and will be followed by a drinks reception.


The question addressed in this lecture is: How to write the (global) history of universal concepts? My chief example will be the concept of equality. Universal concepts are always theory-charged. You cannot “see” universal equality like you can “see” economic or political inequality. The very notion of equality conjures up an imagined world. Equality is not simply a word but a concept. It is an abstract concept, that is, it abstracts from some aspects of “reality”, creating a space for the imagination  the potential power of abstractions. Moreover, universals usually convey a double meaning, both factual and normative.

The lecture will discuss how universal concepts are invented, deployed, and transformed. As against the philosophical conceit that universal concepts are universal by definition I shall argue that the question the intellectual historian should ask is: how are such concepts universalized, across which dimensions, to what extent, and what are the limits of universalization. In this context, I will also discuss Christopher Hill’s distinction between “generalizing” universal (e.g., human rights) and “relativizing” universals (e.g. national self-determination).
My examples I will take from Diderot’s Encyclopédie (égalité naturelle, droit des gens). In particular, I will examine how universal concepts are transformed in the textual flow of such entries. Taking it from there, I will investigate how a global intellectual history can/should approach universal concepts.

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).

Public Lecture: “The Political Origins of Global Justice” by Samuel Moyn (Harvard University), 22nd September 2014

The Global Intellectual History Research Group of the University of Amsterdam is delighted to announce that Professor Samuel Moyn will open its 2014-2015 seminar series with a talk about “The Political Origins of Global Justice”.

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. It is organised with the generous assistance of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies, the Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence, and the Political Science Department of the University of Amsterdam.


  • When? Monday 22nd September 2014, 3-5pm.
  • Where? Nina van Leerzaal, Oude Turfmarkt 129, 1012 GC Amsterdam


Against the background of the broader history of the idea of human rights, this lecture investigates when and why the contemporary field of “global justice” in philosophy and political theory was invented. Returning to the engagement of American liberals with the decolonization process in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and even as more powerful tendencies were about to bring the welfarist ideal of the postwar era low, this lecture presents contemporary “cosmopolitanism” as a response to a forgotten revolt of the global south against the prevailing economic order of our age.


Samuel Moyn is professor of law and history at Harvard University. He earned a doctorate in modern European history from the University of California-Berkeley in 2000 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 2001. He returned to HLS after thirteen years in the Columbia University history department, where he was most recently James Bryce Professor of European Legal History. He has written several books in his fields of European intellectual history and human rights history, including The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard University Press, 2010), and edited or coedited several others. His areas of interest in legal scholarship include international law, human rights, the law of war, and legal thought, in both historical and current perspective.