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Sydney Intellectual History Network

Exploring ideas from intellectual history
We bring together scholars to think through the problem of communicating significant conceptual innovation in the modern world. We aim to establish a centre in Sydney for research in the field of intellectual history.

At the Sydney Intellectual History Network, we gather to interrogate ideas through the lessons learned from intellectual history. This incorporates:

  • history of the arts
  • legal history
  • history of economics
  • political history
  • history of philosophy
  • history of science
  • history of disciplines.

We develop new perspectives on the past that will allow us to reshape intellectual history as a multidisciplinary field of research, and to offer novel insights into the continuities and discontinuities between the past, present and future.

Our events

The network organises and hosts a number of events and activities including public events, reading groups, seminars, workshops and international conferences.


When: 3 December 2020, 12.30–2pm
Where: Online (Zoom)

Speaker: Dr Lucia Pozzi, University of Queensland

Co-presented with the Department of Italian Studies

Historical research cursorily acknowledges the Catholic contribution to Italian eugenics. Yet there is a substantial link between Catholic discourses on morality and the emergence of Italian eugenics. Sexual normalisation was a key source of consensus during Fascism. Masculine and patriarchal values strengthened the strategic collaboration between Fascist demographic policies, the Italian interpretation of eugenics, and Catholic doctrine.

Listen now on SoundCloud

Past events

When: 2 December 2019, 2–4pm
Venue: SOPHI Common Room, Level 8, Brennan MacCallum Building (A18), University of Sydney

Speaker: Emeritus Professor Stephen Gaukroger

Co-presented with the Translatability of Cultures Reading Group at the School of Languages and Cultures

During the 17th- and early 18th-centuries, civilisation had been associated with such things as successful political institutions, a cultural and religious life, literacy levels, social cohesion, prosperity, and a system of laws. There was a fascination with the Orient, with its languages and its cultures. By contrast, by the 19th century, investigation of the Orient became focused on a contrast between the civilised West and the uncivilised East, a contrast in which what was considered to be the distinctive history of the Orient played a key role.

Various historiographical models—in terms of decline, or degeneration, or stagnation—were proposed to account for the assumed backwardness of the Orient. The problem was that these phenomena could also be found in the history of the West. What was needed was an account of how the West had been able to overcome the degeneration and stagnation that had afflicted it as much as it did the Orient. The answer was found in science.

Stephen Gaukroger is Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney. As well as books on Descartes and Francis Bacon, he is author of a recently completed four-volume series on science and the shaping of modernity: The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210-1685 (OUP, 2006); The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760 (OUP, 2010); The Natural and the Human: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1739-1841 (OUP, 2016); Civilization and the Culture of Science: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1795-1935 (OUP, Jan. 2020).

Date: Monday, 26 August 2019
Time: 4–5.30pm
Venue: Kevin Lee Room

Presenter: Andrew Benjamin (Kingston University, London and University of Technology, Sydney)

There is a particular form of philosophical dialogue – a form that includes as much Nicholas of Cusa’s De Pace Fidei (1453) as it does Malebranche’s Entretien d'un philosophe chrétien, et d'un philosophe chinois (1708) – in which what is taken to be a series of spaced differences, thus original differences refusing automatic relations, are reconfigured such that differences, in becoming merely apparent, are elided yielding the synthesis of what were at the beginning purely differential relations.

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Date: Thursday, 9 May 2019
Time: 11am-12.30pm
Venue: Kevin Lee Room

Presenter: François-Xavier Fauvelle – National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Toulouse, France

The Cape Khoekhoe, a people who lived at the southernmost tip of Africa when the Portuguese first circumnavigated the continent at the very end of the fifteenth century, were among the many different peoples on earth who fell victim to early modern European expansion. A few decades after the Dutch settled a colony among them in 1652, the Khoekhoe had been virtually destroyed as a people. However, the Khoekhoe are not just an example of how the “globalisation” of the world brought about the loss of its cultural diversity.

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31 August 2018 


  • Ariane Cäcilie Schneck (Hamburg/Humboldt)
  • Laura Kotevska (Sydney)
  • Gabriel Watts (Oxford)
  • Alexander Prescott-Couch (Oxford)

View the workshop program (pdf, 171.8KB) and the abstracts (pdf, 189.4KB)

10-11 September 2018

CCANESA Board Room, Madsen Building (F09), University of Sydney

We will explore a variety of non-Kantian conceptions of autonomy that consider affect and emotional responsiveness as constitutive elements in self-determining agency. To put into perspective the specific way in which deliberation and reflection matter to autonomous agency, we will ask to what extent these capacities are in themselves dependent on the existence of a specific set of emotional dispositions. While the focus of the workshop is on the early modern context where the Cartesian conception of the self as a thinking thing provides the backdrop for discussions on autonomy, we will branch out to investigate the perspective of 18th-century female philosophers and their ideas on what it means to be a self-realising thinker and agent. We will ask how education can be used to become a thinking “thing” that satisfies the demands of self-realisation. These themes lead to reflections on the place of autonomously thinking individuals in civil society and their relationship to autonomy-inhibiting governmental practices.


  • Peter Anstey, The University of Sydney
  • Jacqueline Broad, Monash University
  • Deborah Brown, The University of Queensland
  • Catriona Mackenzie, Macquarie University
  • Stephen Gaukroger, The University of Sydney
  • Moira Gatens, The University of Sydney
  • Lisa Shapiro, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  • Ariane Schneck, Humboldt University, Berlin
  • Anik Waldow, The University of Sydney

View the program (pdf, 62.3KB) and the abstracts (pdf, 94.4KB)

Our research

Core research themes

In this project, biographical approaches are directed towards the history of political thought in ways that demonstrate the neglected place of women in the sharing of liberalism and other important political theories.

This research area concerns itself with the connections between our cognitive and emotional lives. There is much to be learned from how the connections were originally made, and how they differed from those of their predecessors and contemporaries who attempted to deal with cognate problems in metaphysical or theological terms.

This strand focuses on the intimate links between economics and politics, on the understanding that since the eighteenth century, reflection on economic life was intimately connected with broader philosophical thinking.

Our external engagement

Australian collaborations

International collaborations

Recent publications

Volume 41, Number 2, April 2017
Ideas and Enlightenment in the Long Eighteenth Century
Selected Papers from the 15th David Nichol Smith Seminar

We are pleased to announce the release of a special edition of Eighteenth-Century Life, edited by Jennifer Milam and Nicola Parsons and featuring selected essays from the 15th David Nichol Smith Seminar.

Network member Stephen Gaukroger is co-editor of Intellectual History Review, a quarterly journal of the International Society for Intellectual History. It provides a forum for the international intellectual history community through publication of literature surveys, essay reviews of current work in intellectual history and related historical areas.

Junior Research Fellows in Enlightenment Studies

In 2017 we appointed seven Junior Research Fellows in Enlightenment Studies. These fellows form a team of researchers, each with responsibility for a case study, supervised by core members of The Enlightenment and Its Impact program and related to its core research themes: Globalisation, Subjectivity, Empiricism, Prosperity and Tolerance.