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John Patrick Leary
Wayne State University (Detroit, MI 48201-1347)
A Cultural History of the Concept of Innovation, from the 17th Century to the Present

Research and writing leading to publication of a book exploring the cultural history of the concept of innovation.

This project’s primary aim is to unearth the intellectual history of a ubiquitous concept that, in its zeal for the new, seems to have no history at all. When “innovation” was first used as a synonym for false prophecy and radical dissent in the seventeenth century, the salvation it offered was a ruse amplified by the innovator’s art of persuasion. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that “innovation” began to shed its ties to deceit and conspiracy to become a byword for business dynamism. What was once an act of political and religious heresy became a process of material transformation. As I argue, however, innovation's enduring associations with moral and aesthetic traits like creativity and "vision" are a complex legacy, rather than a simple departure, from its long political history. Ranging from economics to literary and religious history, this project will provide this important concept with the interdisciplinary intellectual history it has thus far lacked.

Project fields:
American Studies; Cultural History; Intellectual History

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2018 – 6/30/2018