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Global intellectual history

Global intellectual history is the history of thought in the world across the span of human history, from the invention of writing to the present. For information about the methodology of intellectual history, please see the relevant article.

In recent years, historians such as C. A. Bayly have been calling for a global intellectual history to be written. They stress that to understand the history of ideas across time and space, it is necessary to study from a cosmopolitan or global point of view the connections and the parallels in intellectual development across the world. Yet these separate histories and their convergence in the modern period have yet to be brought together into a single historical narrative. Nonetheless, some global histories, like Bayly's own Birth of the Modern World or David Armitage's The Declaration of Independence: A Global History offer contributions to the huge and necessarily collaborative project of writing the history of thought in a comparative and especially connective way. Other examples of transnational intellectual histories include Albert Hourani's Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age.

The origins of human intellectual history arguably began before the invention of writing, but historians are by definition only concerned with the eras in which writing was present. In the spirit of a historiographic project that is relevant to all human beings and that has yet to be completed, the sections that follow briefly review currents of thought in pre-modern and modern history of the world, and are organized by geographic area (and within each section, chronologically).

The modern intellectual history of Europe cannot be separated from various bodies of ancient thought, from the works of classical Greek and Latin authors to the writings of the fathers of the Christian Church. Such a broad survey of topics is not attempted here, however. A debatable but defensible starting point for modern European thought might instead be identified with the birth of scholasticism and humanism in the 13th and 14th centuries. Both of these intellectual currents were associated with classical revivals (in the case of scholasticism, the rediscovery of Aristotle; in the case of humanism, of Latin antiquity, especially Cicero) and with prominent founders, Aquinas and Petrarch respectively. But they were both significantly original intellectual experiences, as well as self-consciously modern, so that they make an appropriate starting point for this survey.



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