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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 people

School of Humanities

School of Languages and Cultures

School of Art, Communication and English

  • Dr Huw Griffiths, Early Modern English Literature and Culture
  • Dr Nicola Parsons, 18th-century British Literature and Cultural History

School of Economics

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Sydney Law School

Faculty of Science

Faculty of Medicine and Health

  • Professor Ian Kerridge, Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine

Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning

Our research

The Jesuit translations of the Confucian canon not only provided the first European window into Chinese philosophy but also changed the intellectual and cultural history of Europe. This project examines the rich history of these translations and their dissemination, and interrogates how Confucian ideas influenced the development of Enlightenment philosophy.

Aiming to advance our understanding of the personal and textual networks through which the first substantial philosophical exchange was conducted between Europe and China, it will produce the first comprehensive history of these translations and make available to anglophone scholars primary and secondary sources in various European languages and Chinese.

This project is funded by an ARC Discovery Project for the period 2021–2024 (DP210100458).

For more information on this project, please contact Francesco Borghesi:

The project looks at the historical attempts to anchor European culture in classical antiquity, providing it with a sense of identity and continuity. It combines this with an investigation of the way in which the Orient was used to distinguish European culture. The two — ancestors and aliens — interacted in a complex way, with rising and falling fortunes.

For more information on this project, please contact Stephen Gaukroger:

This project investigates the distinctive methodological approach to nature developed by Kant, Herder, Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt and seeks to build connections with the environmental humanities, environmental philosophy through inter-disciplinary collaboration.

For more information on this project, please contact Dalia Nassar:

In collaboration with Extending New Narratives in the History of Philosophy project (SSHRC, Canada), this seven-year project will make available in an anthology the writings of German women philosophers, covering the period from romanticism to phenomenology. The anthology will be accompanied by a handbook, which includes forty contributions by contemporary scholars.

For more information on this project, please contact Dalia Nassar:

This project looks at the role of affect in processes of knowledge transmission. It draws on long-lost resources of the Library of La Fèche to bring into focus the writings of less known Jesuit writers whose reflections on eloquence and the power to sway the emotions of audiences played a central role in the debates on education in 17th-century France.

This project pioneers a new approach towards language and communication by tracing connections between two seemingly disparate bodies of literature: the writings on eloquence and rhetoric associated with the Port-Royal logic, and the treatises on the role of sympathy and the contagion of emotions discussed in early modern Britain.

It runs in association with the University of Sydney–University of Montreal at Quebec Research Group in Early Modern Philosophy. The group meets fortnightly to provide ECRs, students and faculty with the opportunity to discuss their work.

For more information on this project or on the research group, please contact Anik Waldow:

Research scholarships

Our events

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


When: April 20-21, 2022

Where: This workshop will take place in person in Room N494, Quadrangle A14 and online via Zoom.

Keynote speakers

Jacqueline Broad (Monash University)
Daniel Hutto (University of Wollongong)


The desire to satisfy our curiosity, engage in inquiry and acquire understanding are remarkable features of a human life. An individual in pursuit of moral and epistemic (intellectual) excellence seeks the truth above all else and avoids error at all costs. Such an individual is obliged to cultivate character traits and skills that help them to achieve the goal of acquiring knowledge and avoiding errors in their judgement and reasoning. What these character traits were and how they participated in the acquisition of knowledge was a widely discussed topic in early modern philosophy. Alongside these discussions, philosophers asked whether intellectual excellence was a reasonable goal for a postlapsarian individual and prescribed practices as wide-ranging as logic, mathematics, natural history, philosophy and rhetoric for their role in cultivating epistemic virtues. This workshop brings together historians of ancient and early modern philosophy to examine the role of virtue in the acquisition of epistemic goods.

More information

Past events (2018–2020)

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

Speaker: Dr Lucia Pozzi, University of Queensland

Co-presented with the Discipline 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

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.

Learn more

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)

International and Australian partners