- Through the walls of time: A Short Reflection on Writing Early Modern Intellectual History
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- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
This short piece takes a longstanding problem from the history of ideas, viz. the use of
contemporary concepts in descriptions of past phenomena, and discusses its implications for broader intellectual history. Scholars have argued that being transparent about anachronism can be a first step towards solving the issue. I would argue, however, that it may actually interfere with proper historical interpretation. As a case study, we shall explore what happens when a modern concept like ‘culture’ is applied to pre-modern intellectual processes. As the idea of cultural transfer is prominent in recent Jewish historiography, we will focus on exemplary early modern intermediary Menasseh ben Israel, and ask ourselves whether his supposed ‘brokerage’ (a notion taken from twentieth-century anthropology) brings us closer to understanding his work. As an alternative, I propose ‘
bricolage,’ again a central analytical tool in modern anthropology but, as I hope to show, one with unexpected hermeneutical potential.
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