An interdepartmental program in History of Ideas

Last updated: November 4, 2010 at 3:20 p.m.


Santayana put it well: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." To understand the significance of our beliefs and commitments—even to understand the significance of the questions and problems that beset us—we need to trace their sources and their history. Because ideas are expressed in social and political institutions as well as in philosophical, scientific, religious, and literary works, the program in the history of ideas (HOID) is distinguished by its multidisciplinary approach. Because political structures and institutions are themselves articulated in vigorous intellectual debates, we need to understand the ideas that have formed and that continue to form them. HOID proposes to provide students with the historical background of the issues and values that have shaped their interests. The program is intended to provide students with the skills and the knowledge, the guidance and the freedom to construct a focused and rigorous course of study, one that explores the historical transformation of a set of ideas and institutions across several traditional disciplines.

How to Become a Minor

In order to declare a minor, students should meet with the undergraduate advising head of the program, who will help them to plan a course of study tailored to their intellectual needs while meeting core and elective requirements.


Bernard Yack, Chair

David Engerman

Richard Gaskins
(American Studies)

Susan Lanser
(Comparative Literature; English and American Literature; Women's and Gender Studies)

Robin Feuer Miller
(German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature)

David Powelstock
(German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature)

Michael Randall, Undergraduate Advising Head
(Romance Studies)

Eugene Sheppard
(Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

Requirements for the Minor

The minor has three requirements:

A. Two history of ideas seminars. Two such seminars will be offered each semester. Topics and faculty for the seminars will change each year. Students should consult the schedule of classes each semester for the specific seminar offerings.

B.  Three courses selected in consultation with the HOID undergraduate adviser, at least two of which will be taken in departments or programs beyond the student’s major(s). When joining the program, students will write a brief statement explaining the intellectual relationships that connect the subject matter of these three courses. Only one course from a student’s major—or one from each major, in the case of double majors—may be counted toward the total of five courses required for the minor.

C.  Students will present a substantial research paper or project to HOID faculty and students at a spring colloquium. This paper or project may develop out of work done in a history of ideas seminar, but it can also be drawn from independent research, such as a senior thesis or independent study, or from other work that students have done since coming to Brandeis. The colloquium is designed to give students the opportunity to engage with each other about their creative work at Brandeis.

Courses of Instruction

(1-99) Primarily for Undergraduate Students

HOID 98a Independent Study
Usually offered every year.

HOID 98b Independent Study
Usually offered every year.

History of Ideas Seminars

ENG/HIST 118b London from Restoration to Regency: People, Culture, City
[ hum ss ]
Sponsored by the Mandel Center for the Humanities as part of its thematic focus on 'The Human and the Inhuman'.
Explores the history and culture of London from the Great Plague of 1665 to the onset of the industrial age. Topics include the natural and built environments, the city's changing population, and its literary, visual, and musical cultures. Usually offered every third year.
Ms. Kamensky and Ms. Lanser

POL 192b Seminar: Topics in Law and Political Theory
[ ss ]
Interplay among law, morality, and political theory. Specific topics vary from year to year. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Yack or Staff