Current Issue Article Abstracts

Volume 81, Number 3, July 2020 


The Early Modern Debate over the Age of the Hebrew Vowel Points: Biblical Criticism and Hebrew Scholarship in the Confessional Republic of Letters
Timothy Twining

This article presents a reassessment of the seventeenth-century debate over the origin of the Hebrew vowel points. Previous accounts have treated this debate from the perspective of Protestant scholarship, with the reception of Louis Cappel's Arcanum punctationisrevelatum (1624) used to measure progress or reaction according to how far scholars accepted or rejected—the latter for theological reasons—the critical advance his work has been taken to represent. The article argues this mischaracterizes the issue, showing why the question only became especially pressing in the mid-1640s in the context of broader developments in Catholic and Protestant biblical criticism.

Montesquieu's Considerations on the State of Europe
Nathaniel K. Gilmore

In 1748 Montesquieu simultaneously published his immense Spirit of the Laws and republished his brief Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline. Both the date of publication and the evidence of the texts themselves correct contemporary scholars' tendency to discount the status of the Considerations as the unique partner of the Laws. Reading the two works together illuminates Montesquieu's account of the state, his assessment of historical progress, and his predictions for the future of Europe.

The Idea of Liberty, 1600–1800: A Distributional Concept Analysis
Peter de Bolla, Ewan Jones, Paul Nulty, Gabriel Recchia, John Regan

This article uses computational and statistical methods for analyzing the concept of liberty 1600–1800. Based on a bespoke set of tools for parsing conceptual structures it contributes to the literature on the concept of liberty and engages with the thesis concerning negative liberty first put forward by Isaiah Berlin and subsequently modified by Quentin Skinner.

Immanuel Kant on Race Mixing: The Gypsies, the Black Portuguese, and the Jews on St. Thomas
Joris van Gorkom

What is too often lacking in contemporary interpretations of Immanuel Kant's racial thinking is a more thorough overview of the context and of the literature that he used to support his ideas. This article is mainly limited to Kant's brief discussion on race mixing at the end of this 1785 essay. He presented there the cases of the gypsies, the black Portuguese, and the Jews on St. Thomas in order to show the consequences of this practice. A contextual understanding will reveal how Kant wished to contribute to on-going discussions and how he used his source material.

The Rural Economics of René de Girardin: Landscapes at the Service of L'Idéologie Nobiliaire
José M. Menudo, Nicolas Rieucau

René-Louis de Girardin is remembered for having invited Rousseau to his Ermenonville estate. Girardin believed it necessary to further the debate on gardens on the basis of a principle of continuity that rejects any idea of enclosure. This made it possible to establish an agricultural model that increased production and finally allowed the monopoly in grain sales to be broken. At the service of l'idéologie nobiliaire, his analysis shows the existence of a form of economic thinking in the second half of the eighteenth century that, giving primacy to agriculture, nevertheless cannot fall within the paths of physiocrats and agronomists.

History, Nation, and Modernity: The Idea of "Decadência" in Portuguese Medievalist Discourses (1842–1940)
Pedro Martins

Well-studied in historiography, nineteenth-century debates on Portugal's decadence ("decadência") left a deep and long-lasting impression in this country's historical culture. The idea that Portugal had reached its apogee and was inexorably losing ground in the concert of other European peoples led its intellectuals to search in the past for elements capable of inspiring a national rebirth. Among the most sought epochs was the Middle Ages, revalued in the context of romantic culture. This article explores how the concept of national decadence was examined in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Portuguese medievalist discourses.

Searching for Orientation in the History of Culture: Aby Warburg and Leo Frobenius on the Morphological Study of the Ifa-Board
Carlotta Santini

Why compare Aby Warburg, talented cultural and art historian, creator of the eponymous library, and Leo Frobenius, pioneer of primitive art studies and the father of modern Africanism? Not merely for biographical reasons. The work of Warburg and Frobenius offers two clear examples of a cultural and scientific trend between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, which aspired to the organization of universal knowledge, in order to establish a method for the study of the most unstable field of human culture.

Books Received