The contest over context in intellectual history

History and Theory 58 (2):185-209 (2019)

Recent articles critical of the use of context in contextual intellectual history have identified contextual method with the post-1960s work of the “Cambridge School,” which is regarded as being grounded in a flawed theory of textual interpretation. Focusing on German cultural and political history, this article shows that a contextual historiography was already fully developed in seventeenth-century ecclesiastical history, and a parallel version of this approach had developed in the field of constitutional history. The modern critique of context emerged only with the appearance of dialectical philosophical history in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The article argues that rather than representing a scholarly engagement with contextual historiography, the central plank of the dialectical critique of contextualism—the notion that contextual explication of thought is insufficient because context itself has transcendental conditions—is actually a cultural-political attack on it launched on behalf of a hostile and incommensurable academic culture.
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DOI 10.1111/hith.12109
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