Eavesdropper on the Past: John W. Burrow , Intellectual History and Its Future

History of European Ideas 40 (7):905-924 (2014)

Abstract
Focused on the much-debated historiographical and academic status of intellectual history, this article addresses for the first time and in detail the methodological views of the British historian John Wyon Burrow . Making use both of his published works and of unpublished material left to the University of Sussex Library , its goal is to provide a thorough account of an original and eclectic intellectual historian and, at the same time, cast new light on the role of the discipline in the scholarly context of the last few decades in Europe and the US. More specifically, the following pages will illustrate Burrow's work and career, with particular attention being paid to his insistence on narrative, imagination, irony and style; present his writings as an original instance of the anti-methodological practice of intellectual history; and study his opinions of what it means to carry out the métier d'historien. Finally, by examining Burrow's idea of the intellectual historian as a creative ‘eavesdropper’ on the ‘conversations of the past’ and as a ‘translator’ of past dialogues, this article will both pose some central questions and advance some proposals concerning the future of intellectual history
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2014.882053
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