Enlightenment Past and Present

BookEnlightenment Past and Present

Enlightenment Past and Present

Essays in a social history of ideas

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2022:09


September 12th, 2022





Over the last three decades Anthony La Vopa has extended his reach as an Enlightenment historian from Germany to England, Scotland, and France. Enlightenment Past and Present: Essays in a Social History of Ideas provides insights into all four contexts, with a view to understanding the Enlightenment’s contours in spaces that were distinct but nonetheless shared in a European-wide engagement with a cluster of political, social, and cultural issues. The volume explores a wide variety of themes in the formation of modernity, including the construction of a public, the emergence of modern feminism, the problematic legitimacy of sexuality and marriage, the ideal and practice of friendship, patron-client relations, the conversational sociability of politeness, and the evolution of the essay as a genre. La Vopa aims to demonstrate in practice the new interest in restoring the social to intellectual history without falling back into reductionism. He throws a spotlight on a number of key texts in eighteenth-century philosophy. In several essays, La Vopa employs the resources of meaning in rhetorical cultures with thick social contexts to present Enlightenment texts not simply as print records, but as rhetorical performances with specific audiences. He also often intertwines contexts by focusing on biographical experience, using ‘private’ life traces such as diaries and other forms of correspondence, to enhance our understanding of published discourse. While drawing on the history of philosophy, the volume takes a decidedly more historical path through the canon. It includes essay reviews which take stock of developments in Enlightenment studies via critical appraisals of major recent contributions to the field.


Author Information

Anthony La Vopa was born and raised in New York City. Under the direction of Mack Walker, he received his Ph.D. in history from Cornell University in 1975. He is a Professor Emeritus in the history department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He is a founder and emeritus co-editor of the journal Modern Intellectual History. He has had fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, The National Humanities Center, the European University Institute, Fiesole, and the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, University of Goettingen.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Introduction : Finding Meaning in the Enlightenment
Part I. Theory and Method
1."Conceiving a Public: Ideas and Society in Eighteenth-Century Europe" 
2.“A New Intellectual History?” 
3.“Doing Fichte. Reflections of a sobered (but unrepentant) Contextual Biographer” 
Part II. Gender
4.“Women, Gender, and the Enlightenment: A Historical Turn” 
5.“Thinking about Marriage: Kant’s Liberalism and the Peculiar Morality of Conjugal Union” 
6. “The Fragility of Polite Character: The Friendship between James Boswell and William Johnson Temple” 
Part III. Language, Philosophy, and the Imagination
7."Herder's Publikum: Language, Print, and Sociability in Eighteenth-Century Germany" 
8."The Philosopher and the Schwärmer: On the Career of a German Epithet, from Luther to Kant" 
9. “History, Philosophy and the Imagination in Enlightenment Studies”  
10. “Specialization Run Amok?: Contextualizing Denis Diderot”