At the University of Chicago "intellectual history" is a capacious umbrella covering many different approaches to history-writing. It may mean any or some combination of the following kinds of studies:
- Inner logics (or illogics) of the formal systems of thought prevalent in a given era
- Mutual influences of such systems of thought, especially across cultural boundaries
- Relations of collaboration or contestation between systems of thought and political institutions and movements
- Formation of academic disciplines, including history itself and the institutionalization and professionalization of knowledge more generally
- Different taxonomies of knowledge in different times and places
- Productions of individual thinkers and of collective "schools"
- Impersonal intellectual formations called discourses
- Power of discourse to constitute its objects, e.g., "self," "society," public/private"
Subfields like political history, economic history, the history of education, the history of science and medicine, the history of law, and the history of religion often share significant terrain with intellectual history. The boundary between intellectual history and cultural history is notably porous.
Put differently, students of intellectual history at Chicago are welcome to focus on the internal features of systems of thought, on the way systems of thought shape and are shaped by other historical forces, or both. They are also welcome to focus either primarily on intellectual history or to use the latter as an auxiliary in other pursuits.