Tropisms of intellectual history

One incentive in my work is to explore complex issues and ideas with an intricacy that aspires to lucidity but resists ready summary or codification. Intellectual history in this sense not only provides understanding through contextualization but also examines how certain artefacts, processes and signifying practices pose critical challenges to their contexts of production, circulation and reception. Such artefacts, processes and practices also demand responsive understanding on the part of historians who bring them into present contexts with implications for the future. The goal of my early work was to argue for this approach to intellectual history and to carve out a place for it in professional historiography, which exists in close interaction with related disciplines, including both the social sciences and literary or cultural studies and philosophy. More recently, I have attempted to relate intellectual history to a broad understanding of cultural and social history, especially via such problems as the Holocaust, trauma, the sublime, and extreme events or experiences in general. Throughout my work, I have stressed the importance of the close reading of both texts and contexts and enquired into the relations between a self-reflective historiography, with critical perspective on its assumptions and procedures, and varieties of critical theory (including psychoanalysis). I have also argued against two forms of reductionism: the 'theoreticist' subsumption of history as a site of mere illustrations, signs or examples and the narrowly historicist or contextualist construction of historical understanding involving the denial of both a dialogic relation to the past and the transhistorical dimensions of problems, including the way they pose questions to-and may even place in question-historians and other enquirers in the present.