Making natural history: Doing the enlightenment

Bettina DIETZ*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The image of the Enlightenment as an era has proved to be remarkably constant, repeatedly resisting protracted and subtle attempts to de-ideologize, pluralize, and reperiodize it. Historians have turned away from a pure history of ideas in favor of a cultural history of publishing and reading, a social history of intellectual sociability, and the situating of ideas within historical-political constellations. The concept of a homogeneous, quasi-monolithic Enlightenment has been pluralized and parceled into a large number of geographically and thematically distinct Enlightenments. At the same time, the chronological scope of research interests has been extended and refined. Whereas the decades of the high Enlightenment in Britain and France were the initial focus of interest, the phase of the radical early Enlightenment has since achieved a firm place in a total panorama that also takes account of chronologically different developments in various national contexts. Nonetheless it is true, although necessarily a generalization, to say that the interpretation of the Enlightenment as a whole concentrates on an "Enlightenment thinking" characterized as rational, critical of dogma, and systematic, and whose main emphases are seen as political ideas, philosophy, criticism of superstition, and the experimental sciences. The intention here is to focus on the aspect of active mass participation in the intellectual project of the Enlightenment and to supplement the image of an intellectual history centered on the triad of ideas, authors, and texts (more rarely books) with a perspective that focuses on learned practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-46
Number of pages22
JournalCentral European History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • History


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