Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Art of Intellectual History: For some people, intellectual history is nothing more than the history of philosophy. To others, it is the history of ideas. The variety of -isms conceived throughout history are essentially ideologies or sets of beliefs that determine the way a society functions. For the Puritans, it was providentialism, which saw the hand of God playing an active role in everyday life. Intellectual historians, therefore, find that what happens in people's minds is more valuable and intriguing than what occurs on battlefields or in courtrooms. Religious movements like the four Great Awakenings and cultural movements like the Enlightenment are just a few examples of when ideas changed the fundamental course of social progress in Western civilization. More specifically, the Puritan settlements in seventeenth-century New England had profound implications for the intellectual development of early America. Some intellectual historians actually prefer an anti-intellectual approach to history whereby instinct trumps reason. Thus, what people feel is more important than what they think. Feelings presuppose thoughts, and hence, they are more visceral in defining human experiences. And as Martin Heidegger so eloquently stated in his essay What Is Called Thinking?, "the most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking."
Thursday, January 1, 2009
That "Otherness": In twentieth-century America, race relations were often unstable. As noted civil rights activist and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois suggested, the African American constantly battled with the dilemma that existed between his blackness and his American citizenship. There was a distinct "color line" that persisted among whites and blacks. How could the United States endorse liberty as a civic virtue and then substantiate de jure segregation to keep blacks in their place? This contradiction tugged at the root of the African-American identity crisis. Du Bois argued that African Americans possessed a kind of "double consciousness" in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). What was it about being a black American in the early twentieth century that elicited feelings of "otherness" in the faces of whites? Nevertheless, the United States could no longer promote a colorblind society. Recognizing race was vital to realizing inequalities. If one recognized race, then one became cognizant of the separation that existed between the races. And like the Brown decision in 1954, which stated that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal, Americans began to understand that programs such as mandatory busing and affirmative action had to be enacted to rectify the inequities among black and white Americans.