What is intellectual history and how can we justify this sub-field to our peers and pay-masters? Those were the questions that Howard Hoston tackled in a rousing keynote address at the Scientiae conference held at the University of Vienna in the last week of April. Hotson's questions were bracing because the Scientiae conferences--this year's event was the third in an ongoing series--are founded on the idea that intellectual history is a coherent and important field of study. Hotson's answers included a provocative argument against managerial meddling in the humanities, namely that past actors (and especially early moderns) achieved great things in the absence of such meddling. I'll summarise Hoston's talk before explaining why I think this argument fails. Hotson began by observing that intellectual history is marginal to the discipline of history. His point was not that practitioners of intellectual history are marginal--after all, Hotson himself is a distinguished professor at a respected university. His point was instead that practitioners of intellectual history find it hard to ply their trade under that banner. Instead they attach themselves to various sub-fields--such as art history or Church history or Renaissance history--depending on the topics they happen to be researching at any given moment. Over the course of a career, an intellectual historian may join many different scholarly communities, and make a solid contribution to them all, without ever feeling truly at home in any of them. Why is this so? Why are intellectual historians "stateless citizens in the Republic of Letters"? Hotson's answer was simple. Almost by definition, intellectual historians are those who trace the histories of the disciplines that make up the present-day university. As a result, any given practitioner of intellectual history is drawn towards the present-day discipline whose past she investigates. Historians of philosophy are tugged in the direction of philosophy; historians of physics have one foot in physics departments; art historians have umbilical ties to artists; and so on. These disciplinary ties have two consequences, according to Hotson (and here I simplify his argument to the point of distortion). Firstly, they tend to lessen intellectual history in the eyes of other historians, who are suspicious of scholars who consort with the present while claiming to study the past. The other effect of disciplinary ties is that they weaken the inter-disciplinary ties that would otherwise bring together different bands of intellectual historians into a single, stable tribe. Historians of physics (for example) will not merge with historians of theology until the former have diverged from physicists and the latter from theologians. Given this diagnosis, one might think that the best remedy for the rootlessness of intellectual historians is for all of them to move into history departments. I think it is fair to say that Hotson equivocated on this point. At one point in his talk he clearly stated that intellectual historians are better off in history departments than they are in the departments of the disciplines they study. Later in the talk he appeared to reconsider this judgement in light of the great diversity of institutional arrangements that one finds across Europe and North America. In the UK, where many philosophers are stridently a-historical, a historian of philosophy is indeed better off in a history department. But the same may not be hold in France or Italy, where philosophy is already a quasi-historical discipline. So intellectual historians may not need to move out of their home departments in order to collaborate with each-other. The important point--here Hotson was unequivocal--is that such collaboration is necessary if we want to unify the field of intellectual history and thereby bring it in from the academic cold. So far Hotson had been learned and insightful but not provocative. He ended his talk with what he candidly called a "polemical twist." Why should intellectual historians collaborate with eachother, and more generally why should they be free to choose who they collaborate with? The answer that Hotson offered is that open collaboration of this kind was responsible for some of the most important breakthroughs in the history of thought, and in particular for the bursts of human creativity that are sometimes called the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution. If it worked in the past, it will work again. If we want to emulate Leonardi da Vinci or René Descartes (and who doesn't?) we should start by adopting their interdisciplinary approach. I'll call this argument the optimistic induction (not to be confused with its pessimistic cousin). At this point it is worth noting that Hotson has been a vocal critic of UK higher education policy, speaking out against the government's plans to run universities along free-market lines. He is especially critical of schemes that reward academics for doing research that "meet[s] the demands of industry" or that is "tied to party-political slogans." These schemes "impoverish teaching, undermine creativity, trivialise research, and alienate teachers." Hotson intended his optimistic induction as an argument against these external influences on research agendas. He also intended it as an argument for interdisciplinary intellectual history. In my view the argument misses both of these targets. The problem with the second target is that the argument works at least as well for disciplinary collaboration as it does for interdisciplinary collaboration. Why? Because the creativity of the early moderns drew on both kinds of collaboration. It is true that early modern historians wrote books that covered (what we would call) the histories of art, politics, and science. But it is also true, for example, that advances in astronomy were due partly to re-interpretations of the history of astronomy (here I am thinking of Johannes Kepler's Defense of Tycho Against Ursus, written in 1600). Indeed, before about 1760 the history of science barely existed as an area of study independent of the sciences whose past it described. There are also two other problems with the optimistic induction. The first is simply that the present is not always like the past. The fact that open collaboration worked for Da Vinci and Descartes does not mean that it will work in the 21st century. This is a problem for any induction, of course. But it is especially sharp in this case because intellectual historians make much of the fact that the early modern disciplines were completely different from the disciplines of today's universities. Indeed, this is a common argument in favour of collaboration between historians of different disciplines, an argument that Hotson used himself in his keynote. We are asked to believe that the fruitfulness of interdisciplinary collaboration is a historical constant even though the structure of the disciplines is not. More is needed to defend this paradoxical premise. The other, related problem is that intellectual creativity did not end when the modern-day disciplines began. Indeed, historians of science can cite at least one example of intellectual ferment that was accompanied by decisive steps towards the modern disciplines. This is the episode known as the second scientific revolution, a period around 1800 which saw the creation of new disciplines such as geology and biology and the reconstitution of old ones like physics and physiology. Many leading scientists in this period worked across these new disciplines, but on the whole they were more specialised than the likes of Descartes or Boyle or Newton. The optimistic induction is even less apt for Hotson's other target, namely political and economic interference in research agendas. The optimistic induction may not support present-day interdisciplinary research, but at least there is a consensus that early modern intellectuals were an interdisciplinary bunch and that their boundary-crossing was one source of their creativity. There is no such consensus when it comes to the scale or fruitfulness of political and economic pressures in early modern intellectual life. If anything, recent research shows that these pressures were greater in the early modern period than we previously thought, and that they nourished intellectual life rather than starving it. This is surely true for historians of science, who for several decades have been arguing that the intellectual achievements of the scientific revolution were linked in one way or another to political or economic or military agendas. Galileo's discovery of the moons of jupiter was a move in a patronage game; the motion of cannonballs inspired the mechanical philosophy; Lavoisier the chemist used the same accounting methods as Lavoisier the tax farmer; and so on. If there is a lesson in these examples it is not that the humanities should resist the advances of politicians and economists and entrepreneurs but that resistance is neither possible nor desirable. Doesn't history teach us that intellectual life is always political? Don't we know that the military and the market-place are cultural resources that the greatest thinkers have used to their advantage? These questions are awkward not just for Hotson but for any historian who places past thinkers in context while trying to free herself from her own context. There are various ways around this dilemma, and probably Hotson is aware of both the dilemma and the solutions. However his optimistic induction ignores the dilemma rather than solving it. There are good arguments against current UK higher education policy, and Hotson has articulated these arguments in compelling ways in his public appearances. He is also right to urge academics to use their intellectual resources--such as their knowledge of history--to defend those resources against creeping corporatism in universities. However the optimistic induction is not the best way to do this. Expand post.