Intellectual history is a genre of inquiry that focuses on the role that explicitly-articulated concepts and theories, whether legal, political, religious, artistic, philosophical, or scientific, play in the thinking and action of human beings. Inside the discipline of history, the focus of attention is most often on how these concepts and theories interacted with and influenced economic, social, cultural, and political developments. Closely related to intellectual history is the interdisciplinary subgenre of the history of ideas. The focus of attention there is most often on investigating the formation and structure of past concepts and theories with an eye both to understanding better the ideas themselves and to illuminating unresolved issues in the present connected with those ideas.
Many members of the Corcoran Department of History work in these interrelated fields in an effort to understand what was and is most often overlooked in everyday life, namely, the hidden roots of people’s most deeply adhered to ideas and practices.