This weblog is dedicated to the history of the humanities in general and to the book "De Vergeten Wetenschappen" (translated into English as "A New History of the Humanities") by Rens Bod in particular.
We can look back on what proved to be a very stimulating conference in Oxford. Next to three keynote lectures, there were over 125 papers presented during the conference spread over 32 sessions, covering the history of the humanities from all continents.
For the second time a prize of 500 Euro was awarded for the best Graduate Student paper. Out of 37 graduate papers Christopher Bahl (University of London) was selected as the winner for his paper “The Shaping of a Transoceanic Reading Community of Arabic Philological Texts.”
We encourage all participants to submit their papers, presented at the conference, to our journal History of Humanities. Looking forward to 2018 we are happy to announce the venue and date for The Making of Humanities VII conference: it will be held in Beijing (China), Tsinghua University, from 29-31 August, 2018. The Call for Papers will be posted soon.
Issue 2.2 of our journal “History of Humanities” is now online.
It contains a Forum section on the “Origins of Musical Disciplines”. As well as five research articles on the “History of Knowledge in the Age of Transition”, on “Otto Jespersen’s “Progress in Language””, on “The Dante of Alessandro Torri”, on “Gendered Philology”, and on “The Comparative Method in the Modern Humanities”. And not to forget: 13 book reviews.
The Making of the Humanities VI (MOH-VI) is the sixth international conference on the history of the humanities, and the largest since its inception: 123 papers from 25 countries and 5 continents will be presented.
The MOH-VI conference will be held at the University of Oxford, Somerville College, 28-30 September 2017.
For more information (program and registration), click here.
The latest issue of History of Humanities 2(1) deals with Practical and Material Histories of the Humanities.
The so-called practical and material turns that have occurred in recent historiography of science also apply to the history of the humanities. The present issue therefore begins with a “Theme” section on the practices of historical research in archives and libraries. The six articles in this section deal with seemingly mundane aspects such as editing, copying, inventorying, and the handling of archival objects (including boxes and paper clips), as well as with the limitations of archival access, their ergonomics, and even their lighting and temperature. The authors contend that such practical aspects are relevant for understanding continuities in the humanities to a much larger extent than has previously been thought.
The “Forum” section explores the history of the analysis of materials and techniques in art. The “material turn” is clearly one of the characteristic features of the humanities in the early twenty-first century. It has dislodged the centrality of the human element and foregrounded the social life of things, the agency of objects, and actor-artifact assemblages. Textual and language-oriented models of knowledge are complemented by studies of “tacit” and “embodied” knowledge.
Here's my essay in the Chronicle Review that has just been published. I make a case for studying the general history of the humanities on par with (and in close alliance with) the history of the sciences.
"Unlike the history of science, the history of the humanities is not an academic discipline. This is surprising — humanists are among the most historically minded scholars. How can it be that humanists care about the history of everything except about their own? The situation is of course more subtle: There is historiography of philology, of history writing, of religious studies, of art history, of musicology, of literary studies, and more, but what is missing is an academic discipline that explores the history of the humanities together. For the "humanities" to be more than just an umbrella term, this bewildering gap in intellectual history must be remedied. [...]"
What are the classics of humanistic scholarship? Most historians of science or historians of philosophy would be able to produce a list of classical texts within their field in a short time. Such texts are well known, often reproduced, and recommended in syllabi and readers around the world. Nothing similar exists for the history of the humanities. Even if much debate in recent decades has criticized the idea of cannons, there may be good reasons why we need one. An established list of classics would not only make the history of humanities a more teachable topic, but also to promote new research in the field. On the one hand, such a list could inspire scholars to reinvestigate the classics. On the other hand, it could provoke others to question what should and should not be considered classics, as it has happened in recent decades in other historical fields.
We focus upon the formative period of the modern humanistic disciplines from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of twentieth century. We are especially interested in texts that exemplify the methods and research practices of the modern humanistic scholarship. These texts can be foundational texts in specific disciplines and/or text that have had long lasting influence beyond disciplinary and national boundaries. However, we are also interested in texts from “lost” scholarly traditions, which were once considered as foundational, but no longer are read. This could, for example, be texts from traditions of scholarship that are now considered as outdated, such as antiquarianism, traditions that have been discarded as political and scholarly mistakes, such as racist anthropology, or non-western scholarly traditions.
Organizers: Rens Bod, University of Amsterdam, and Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen, Roskilde University
For more information and registration, click here.
[IMAGE: Juana Inés de la Cruz (1666). Signed J. Sánchez. Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695) was a self-taught scholar, poet and dramatist.]
The sixth conference on the history of the humanities, ‘The Making of the Humanities VI’, will take place at the University of Oxford, Humanities Division and Somerville College, UK, from 28 till 30 September 2017.
Goal of the Making of the Humanities (MoH) Conferences
The MoH conferences are organized by the Society for the History of the Humanities and bring together scholars and historians interested in the history of a wide variety of disciplines, including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, media studies, musicology, and philology, tracing these fields from their earliest developments to the modern day.
We welcome panels and papers on any period or region. We are especially interested in work that compares scholarly practices across humanities disciplines and civilizations.
Please note that the Making of the Humanities conferences are not concerned with the history of art, the history of music or the history of literature, and so on, but instead with the history of art history, the history of musicology, the history of literary studies, etc.
Elisabeth Décultot, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg: From an Antiquarian to an Historical Approach? The Birth of Art History in the 18th Century
Shamil Jeppie, University of Cape Town: Styles of Writing History in Timbuktu and the Sahara/Sahel
Peter Mandler, University of Cambridge: The Rise (and Fall?) of the Humanities
Abstracts of single papers (30 minutes including discussion) should contain the name of the speaker, full contact address (including email address), the title and a summary of the paper of maximally 250 words. For more information about submitting abstracts, see http://www.historyofhumanities.org/.
Deadline for abstracts: 15 April 2017
Notification of acceptance: June 2017
Panels last 1.5 to 2 hours and can consist of 3-4 papers and possibly a commentary on a coherent theme including discussion. Panel proposals should contain respectively the name of the chair, the names of the speakers and commentator, full contact addresses (including email addresses), the title of the panel, a short (150 words) description of the panel’s content and for each paper an abstract of maximally 250 words. For more information about submitting panels, see http://www.historyofhumanities.org/.
The Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) has selected "A New History of the Humanities" as one of the "Books of the Year". They seem to refer to the new paperback edition of my book which came out in North America in January 2016, so yes, it's really this year.
At the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences, several research fellowships in History of Humanities are available. These fellowships are meant to stay up to three months at the University of Amsterdam.
While the academic conception of the humanities, or Geisteswissenschaften, may be a Western invention, attempts to analyze literature, art, music, language, theater, and history are not exclusively European phenomena but have originated in different parts of the world. For this reason, one of the stated goals of this journal is to advocate the study of the history of the humanities from a global perspective.1 In the first issue we included one aspect of the humanities in China. The current issue includes essays on the humanities in precolonial Mali, pre-Hispanic America, the Ottoman Empire, and the Soviet Union. What do we gain from a global perspective? A transgeographical history of the humanities not only helps avoid a parochial view but also shows to what extent practices and ideals in the humanities in different parts of the world are connected and comparable. In the current issue, Shamil Jeppie argues that the humanities in precolonial Timbuktu can be properly understood only if they are viewed as part of a larger network of learning that included North Africa and the Middle East. Sara Gonzalez asserts that Peruvian history writing focused on images as the basis for historical narratives in which the pre-Columbian rulers were connected to the Habsburg dynasty. Michiel Leezenberg draws attention to the fact that processes of vernacularization took place simultaneously in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere in the world. Floris Solleveld focuses on Europe but discusses the notion of “revolution” in the humanities across different countries. Boris Gasparov makes us aware that, even in relation to the secluded situation of the Soviet Union, a comparative perspective is rewarding. We wish to further encourage the study of the history of humanities from a pluralistic, comparative point of view. Our argument in favor of a global perspective does not, however, exclude the journal’s other goals. In fact, this issue’s Forum contributions by Herman Paul and colleagues deal with the question of how to write a history of the humanities that transcends disciplines. They hypothesize that scholarly personae offer a promising focus for such a project. By contrasting different disciplines and scholars, they show that a comparative perspective is fruitful not only for a global but also for a primarily local history of the humanities.
"A must-read for anyone interested in the history of a broad range of the humanities. It combines case studies of great historical precision with methodological considerations of historical epistemologies, with the explicit aim of matching the work done in the history of science with equivalent historical epistemologies of the various humanistic disciplines—including philology, musicology, art history, linguistics, archaeology, theater studies, history of philosophy, media studies, Oriental studies, and literary studies—often in light of their intersections with science or the social sciences (the particular innovation of this volume)."
For more information on: Rens Bod, Jaap Maat, and Thijs Weststeijn (Editors): The Making of the Humanities, Vol. 3: The Modern Humanities, see the review by Katherine Arens.
The next Making of the Humanities conference will take place at Johns Hopkins University, 5-7 October 2016. Invited speakers are Karine Chemla, Anthony Grafton and Sarah Kay. More than 100 papers on the history of the humanities and related disciplines will be presented.
Some time ago, I had a two-hour debate with James Turner (author of "Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities") on how to write the history of the humanities. Not long after this debate, Anne van Dam (PhD student at Leiden University) wrote this interesting paper on our debate.
"On the first of February the early modern historical colloquium on the history of the humanities took place in the fully packed Sweelinck room of Utrecht University. For this extended colloquium the university invited Prof. dr. Rens Bod and Prof. dr. James Turner, two authors of seminal publications on the history of the humanities. Rens Bod is a professor of Digital Humanities and co-director of the Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Amsterdam and author of A New History of the Humanities, published in Dutch in 2010. James Turner is the Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities at the University of Notre Dame and author of Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, which appeared in 2014. The afternoon at Utrecht University was the first time the two scholars met for a lively debate on the subject of the history of the humanities."
The Dutch 'Historisch Nieuwsblad' has organized an election for the best history book ever. You could for example vote for De Vergeten Wetenschappen which is the original Dutch version of A New History of the Humanities. Enjoy!
The History of Humanities in Amsterdam will be institutionalized by the new Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences.
The Vossius Center will be officially opened on Monday 27 June, 15.00h-18.00h, at the place where Gerardus Vossius held his inaugural lecture in 1632. Speakers include Dymph van den Boom, Frank van Vree, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Haun Saussy, Joep Leerssen, Julia Kursell, Jeroen van Dongen and Rens Bod. The afternoon will be concluded with the presentation of the new journal "History of Humanities".
All those interested in attending the opening of the Vossius Center are welcome. The full program will follow soon. Since places are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis, please register as early as possible (no later than 15 May) at http://vossius.uva.nl/
On Vossius: In 1632, the polymath Gerardus Vossius became the first professor at the newly founded Athenaeum Illustre, the precursor of the current University of Amsterdam. Besides being a historian, he was a literary scholar, grammarian, rhetorician and theologian. In his work on chronology he combined astronomical with historical evidence. He also wrote the first overview of the history and theory of classical literature. Four of his children became established scholars as well, but only Isaac survived his father to become one of the most famous intellectuals of Europe. A Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Vossius was prolific as a philologist, geographer but also published on tidal motions, on optics, on painting, on China and on the age of the world. He argued that the earth had to be much older than could be derived from the Bible. The internationally well connected father and son Vossius crossed disciplines, mixed methods and engaged with the past to make sense of the present. Their multi-talented Amsterdam-based family reflects the Center’s central theme to arrive at a global, post-disciplinary history of knowledge.
"These are exciting times for the humanities. The impressive corpus of knowledge that the humanities have discovered, created, and cultivated over many centuries is available for the benefit of more people than ever and evolving rapidly. Fresh perspectives open up as digital tools enable researchers to explore questions that not long ago were beyond their reach and even their imagination. Novel fields of research deal with phenomena emerging in a globalizing culture, enabling us to make sense of the way in which new media affect our lives. Cross-fertilization between disciplines leads to newly developed methods and results, such as the complex chemical analysis of the materials of ancient artworks, yielding data that were unavailable to both artists and their publics at the time of production, or neuroscientific experiments shedding new light on our capacity for producing and appreciating music."
I am very happy to announce that A New History of the Humanities will also be translated into Italian and Korean. The contracts with the publishers have been signed and the translations are expected to appear in 2017. So far, the originally Dutch book "De Vergeten Wetenschappen" has been or is being translated into English, Chinese, Polish, Armenian, Ukrainian, Korean and Italian.
Our project "The Flow of Cognitive Goods: Towards a Post-Disciplinary History of Knowledge" has two fully funded PhD positions on the following topic:
"Historiography of both the humanities and the sciences is almost invariably carried out within the confines of modern disciplinary categories. This produces a serious problem: crucial processes of knowledge transfer receive insufficient attention or are not studied at all, even though great innovations are often produced when disciplinary boundaries are crossed. Disciplinary historiography tends to obscure that academic disciplines are not static but dynamic and implicitly keeps the idea intact that the sciences and the humanities are distinct endeavours. To solve these problems we propose to move beyond the disciplinary approach and to write a, what we will call, ‘post-disciplinary’ history of knowledge. Our project will focus on the period from 1800 to 2000, because in this period the process of formation and institutionalization of modern disciplinary categories has taken place. We intend to leave disciplinary biases behind yet at the same time wish to provide the means to come to a better understanding of the construction of disciplinary categories. To this end, we will focus on what we call ‘cognitive goods’: the epistemic notions and objects (i.e. ‘goods’) that are transferred when knowledge is increased by crossing or transcending disciplinary boundaries. Examples of ‘cognitive goods’ are research methods, formalisms, virtues, theoretical concepts, metaphors, and argumentative and demonstrative techniques."
Here is a column by Alessandro Pagnini on Criticism as Science which discusses my book. It's in Italian, published in Il Sole 24 Ore:
"Recentemente un linguista olandese, Rens Bod (A New History of the Humanities, Oxford) ha insinuato che è proprio da quella differenza, poi istituzionalizzata, che nasce un chiaro complesso di inferiorità delle humanities: siccome è la scienza che, dopo Galileo e Cartesio e a dispetto di Vico, è progredita e si è dimostrata “vera” conoscenza a servizio dell’uomo, della società, dell’economia, il resto della cultura, confinato alla contingenza e, per il suo valore di verità, tutt’al più al consenso delle genti, ha voluto dimostrare almeno una sua importanza indiretta, o per l’educazione, o per la coscienza e la responsabilità civile di una cittadinanza democratica (come intende, per esempio, Martha Nussbaum)."
My book A New History of the Humanities was reviewed in Isis, the premier journal devoted to the history of science. The review turns out to be a typical history-of-science-review: it is very positive about the content of my book but the reviewer doesn't see why we need a history of the humanities after all. Clearly there is still some mission work to do. The history of the humanities is the missing link in the history of knowledge!
"In many respects this book is a remarkable achievement, and it is hard to imagine a reader who will not learn from it—such is the book’s coverage that very few will know as much as the unimaginably erudite author. Via four long chapters covering antiquity, the Middle Ages, the early modern era, and the modern period, Rens Bod provides a history of the respective developments in linguistics, historiography, philology, musicology, art theory, logic, rhetoric, and poetics. For good measure, the final chapter also includes sections on archaeology, literary and theater studies, and “All Media and Culture: From Film Studies to New Media” (p. 339). In case anyone reading this review is not yet impressed, the author takes care, under each heading, to discuss developments not just in Europe but also (when appropriate) in India, China, and the civilization of Islam. The result is undeniably impressive—and hugely informative."
While the history of the humanities can be studied as a field on its own, it is not isolated from the history of science. There have been interactions between the humanities and the sciences at any time and place, even after the infamous divide between the two areas in the early 20th century. We have just received a generous NWO grant to investigate the long-term history of the humanities and sciences, which will contain several research positions. You will hear more about it soon.
Here is a short abstract of the project:
"Academic disciplines are often seen in isolation from each other, a perception that is historically unjust: cross-pollination of ideas takes place constantly. In fact, more often than not, this is what leads to breakthroughs. In order to break down stereotypical distinctions between disciplines, historians should formulate an all-encompassing, post-disciplinary history of knowledge."
For more info, click here. (Note that the Dutch often mistranslate 'wetenschap' into 'science', which has also happened in the linked article. 'Wetenschap' should actually be translated into the compound 'humanities and science')
This is an exciting moment: the inaugural issue of History of Humanities is now in production. It will appear in March 2016, but below is already a Table of Contents. Can't wait to see this coming out!
Table of Contents History
of Humanities Vol.1 Nr.1
New Field -- Introduction to the Inaugural Issue of History of Humanities
Rens Bod, Julia Kursell, Jaap
Maat and Thijs Weststeijn
Monuments and Documents --
Panofsky on the Object of Study in the Humanities
Calling Time -- A Reply to John
John E. Joseph
Response to John Guillory
Geoffrey Galt Harpham
“On the Narration of the Past in China” --
On the Narration of the Past in
China (An Outline)
Gods, Heroes and Mythologists --
Romantic Scholars and the Pagan Roots of Europe’s
Ferdinand Gregorovius versus
Theodor Mommsen on the City of Rome and its Legends
Two Million Filing Cards -- The
Empirical-Biographical Method of Semen Vengerov
Culture and Nature in the Prism
News of the Profession
for Papers: “The Making of the Humanities V”
Alain Schnapp, with Lothar von
Falkenhausen, Peter N. Miller, and Tim Murray (eds.), World Antiquarianism: Comparative Perspectives. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute,
Review by: Thijs Weststeijn
James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2014.
Review by: Floris Solleveld
Khaled El-Rouayheb, Islamic Intellectual History in the
Seventeenth Century: Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Review by: Michiel Leezenberg
Thijs Weststeijn, Art and Antiquity in the Netherlands and
Britain: The Vernacular Arcadia of Franciscus Junius (1591–1677). (Studies
in Netherlandish Art and Cultural History, 12.) Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015.
Review by: Sophie van Romburgh
Michael Gavin, The Invention of English Criticism: 1650-1760, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2015.
Review by: Neus
(Hg.), Einheit der Vernunft und Vielfalt
der Sprachen. Beiträge zu Leibniz’ Sprachforschung und Zeichentheorie.(Studia Leibnitiana, Supplementa 38). Stuttgart: Franz
Steiner Verlag, 2014.
Review by: Donald Rutherford
Reynolds Cordileone, Alois Riegl in
Vienna 1875-1905. An Institutional Biography.(Studies in Art Historiography.) Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2014.
by: Arnold Witte
Schneider & Peter Raulwing (eds.). Egyptology
from the First World War to the Third Reich. Ideology, Scholarship, and
Individual Biographies. Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2013.
by: Miguel John Versluys
Paul Taylor (ed.), Meditations on a Heritage. Papers on the
Work and Legacy of Sir Ernst Gombrich. London: Paul Holberton publishing in
association with the Warburg Institute, 2014.
My book has just been reviewed in Modern Intellectual History. This time the reviewer doesn't like my search for patterns and principles in the history of the humanities. But he does say:
"And yet this is probably a book worth reading, for there is much interesting material made available by it, often material of which most readers will be ignorant. Bod is doggedly thorough in documenting branches of the humanities less often in intellectual repertoires."
The Renaissance Quarterly has just reviewed my book:
"The current handwringing and doomsaying in academia concerning the study of humanities and its support, especially in the United States, makes Rens Bod’s book not only an interesting read, but also timely and ambitious."
"While Bod’s work shows that the humanities can be viewed scientifically, this comes at the cost of omitting valuable cultural differences and changes. The great silver lining here is that Bod’s work helps to emphasize this very aspect of the humanities by its absence. As a result he leaves the opportunity for other scholars to take up where he leaves off, bridging these gaps to create fuller historical narratives while maintaining an emphasis on the importance of patterns, principles, and comparative humanistic achievement. To this end, Bod’s work is timely, useful, and ambitious, and a new history worth reading."
Here's an article about my talk "Patterns versus Interpretations" which I gave in Copenhagen on 23 September 2015. While the article is in Danish, Google Translate does a reasonable job translating it into English:
"Clearly Bod is a researcher with ambitions. When he discovered in 2008 that no one had yet written a comprehensive book on the humanities history, he decided that he was the man for the job. And although several colleagues and peers advised him not to take on the huge project, he continued undaunted. [...]"
Our last week's symposium on what the (history of the) humanities could contribute to the refugee crisis was fully booked less than 2 hours after the announcement went online. Perspectives from arabists, historians, philosophers were mixed with those from media-studies scholars, ethicists and east-european studies scholars. There is clearly a need for scholarly information about the refugee crisis. We will repeat this approach soon with a second symposium.
To shed light on these changes I wrote fresh Prefaces to the recent fifth edition of the Dutch book and to the new paperback edition of the English book. Here I print them in full:
Bij de vijfde druk
Vijf jaar na het eerste verschijnen van De vergeten wetenschappen is het wetenschappelijke
landschap veranderd. De ‘Geschiedenis van de Geesteswetenschappen’
is van een onbestaand vakgebied uitgegroeid tot een bloeiende discipline
met een eigen tijdschrift (History of Humanities), een jaarlijkse
conferentie (The Making of the Humanities) en een groeiend aantal boekpublicaties.
In Nederland verwijzen zowel NWO als de KNAW naar De vergeten
wetenschappen wanneer zij het belang van kruisbestuivingen tussen wetenschapsgebieden
willen laten zien. Zo valt in de Implementatienota NWO-strategie
2015-2018 (‘Toekomstgerichte geesteswetenschappen’, p. 7) te lezen: ‘En omgekeerd
dragen geesteswetenschappen met hun manier van werken ook bij
aan de ontwikkelingen in die andere wetenschapsgebieden, zoals Rens Bod in
zijn in 2010 verschenen boek De vergeten wetenschappen. Een geschiedenis van de
humaniora overtuigend heeft aangetoond.’ En de KNAW schrijft in haar Contouren
van een Vernieuwings- en Stimuleringsprogramma (2012, pp. 10-11): ‘Dat
het verschil tussen beide wetenschapsgebieden in de praktijk echter minder
principieel is dan vaak wordt gedacht laat Bod zien in zijn boek De vergeten
wetenschappen (2010). Hij geeft aan dat door de eeuwen heen de grens tussen
de wetenschapsgebieden die we momenteel aanduiden met natuur- en geesteswetenschappen
flinterdun was en dat geesteswetenschappelijke onderzoekers
wel degelijk ruim hebben bijgedragen aan het verklaren van fenomenen
Deze quotes laten zien hoe nodig een overzichtsgeschiedenis van de geesteswetenschappen
was en is. De geesteswetenschappen staan nog steeds onder
immense druk en weinigen realiseren zich dat zonder de humaniora het hele
wetenschappelijke bestel ineenstort. Er is ook hoop: zo heeft het idee van de
eenheid van geestes- en natuurwetenschappen onder bèta’s een gevoelige snaar
geraakt. Het Amerikaanse tijdschrift Scientific American wijdt in het juninummer
van 2015 een column aan de Engelse vertaling van mijn boek (A New History
of the Humanities) en concludeert dat ‘Regardless of which university building
scholars inhabit, we are all working toward the same goal of improving
our understanding of the true nature of things, and that is the way of both the
sciences and the humanities, a scientia humanitatis’.
Hoe intrigerend deze ontwikkelingen ook zijn, mijn grootste bron van inspiratie
blijven de geanimeerde discussies met mijn lezers, vooral met de studenten
die mijn boek als collegestof gebruiken. Het boek en zijn vertalingen
hebben onder meer hun weg gevonden bij de studies Filosofie, Wetenschapsgeschiedenis,
Cultuurgeschiedenis, Mediastudies, Cognitiewetenschappen en
Liberal Arts & Sciences-opleidingen – van Europa en de vs tot China. Ik ben
mijn lezers buitengewoon dankbaar voor alle feedback en kritiek die ik heb
ontvangen. Nieuws en updates over het boek en over de geschiedenis van de
geesteswetenschappen zijn te vinden op het gewoonlijke weblog:
Preface to the Paperback Edition
Five years after the publication of the original Dutch book (De Vergeten Wetenschappen,
2010) and two years after its English translation (A New History of the
Humanities, 2013) the academic landscape has changed. The “History of the
Humanities” has developed from a non-existing field into a flourishing discipline
with its own journal (History of Humanities), an annual conference (The Making of
the Humanities), an academic society (Society for the History of the Humanities) and
several monographs. An increasing number of universities across the globe are
teaching the History of the Humanities on par with the History of Science, and
the premier journal in the History of Science, Isis, has recently devoted a special
Focus section on The History of Humanities and the History of Science (June 2015).
It seems that the humanistic disciplines have been brought back to their rightful
place in the family tree of knowledge.
Nevertheless, in terms of funding and student numbers the humanities continue
to be under immense pressure. Few people realize that without the humanistic
disciplines the entire academic system would collapse. A general history of the
humanities and their relations to the sciences remains thus more urgent than ever. But
there are also signs of hope: the idea of the unicity of humanities and science has
hit a nerve among natural scientists. The June 2015 issue of Scientific American
dedicated a column to A New History of the Humanities concluding that “Regardless
of which university building scholars inhabit, we are all working toward the same
goal of improving our understanding of the true nature of things, and that is the
way of both the sciences and the humanities, a scientia humanitatis.”
However intriguing these developments are, my greatest source of inspiration
remain the animated discussions with my readers, especially with the students who use
my work as a textbook. The book and its translations have found their way in courses
in philosophy, history of science, cultural history, media studies, literary criticism,
and in liberal arts programs. I am most grateful for the feedback and criticism I
received from my readers. News and updates about the book and about the history of
the humanities in general can be found on the weblogs devergetenwetenschappen.
blogspot.com (for all translations) and historyofthehumanities.wordpress.com (for
the English translation).
"… an impressive work giving an overview strongly missed – as well as restoring the humanities to a central and surprising place in the general history of science."
("… et imponerende værk, der både giver et stærkt savnet overblik - og gengiver humaniora en overraskende og central plads i den almindelige videnskabshistorie.")
From the conclusion:
"From a broad picture one can say that Bod takes the humanities back to their rightful place in the family tree of sciences. (…) With Bod's impressive work we can see that relativisms have existed as a sub-current of skeptical "anomalists" ever since the Alexandrian philologists – but also that they have always been defeated by the main tradition of the humanities: to contribute, with pattern seeking on a long series of decisive issues, to the overall development of human knowledge."
("I det store billede kan man sige, at Bod fører humaniora tilbage til dens retmæssige plads i videnskabernes stamtræ. (…) Med Bods imponerende værk kan vi nu se, at sådanne relativismer har existeret som en understrømning af skeptiske "anomalister" lige siden filologerne i Alexandria, - men også, at de altid er blevet overvundet af humanioras hovedtradition: at bidrage, med "mønstersøgning" på en lang række afgørende punkter, til den samlede udvikling af menneskelig viden.")
For my italophone friends, here's a review of "A New History of the Humanities" together with other books on the history of the humanities by Andrea Bonaccorsi in Il Sole 24 Ore:
"Un altro eccitante viaggio intellettuale è offerto dal linguista olandese Rens Bod, con una storia comparata nelle principali aree del mondo (Europa, India, Cina), dall’antichità al XX secolo, in linguistica, storiografia, filologia, musicologia, storia dell’arte, logica, retorica e poetica. Bod mostra in modo convincente che sono esistiti fin dalla antichità filoni di indagine umanistica che hanno perseguito la ricerca di leggi generali che governano il funzionamento del linguaggio, dei testi o della storia, in modo del tutto simile alle scienze naturali. In alcuni casi, come nella grammatica universale e nella logica, con enorme successo, in altri casi, come nelle ricorrenti teorie dell’alternanza dei cicli storici, con risultati superati o discutibili. Ma sempre con guadagni importanti dal punto di vista del metodo e delle acquisizioni storiche. Il libro è un importante contributo alla ridefinizione dei rapporti tra humanities e scienze, che faccia superare il vecchio dibattito sulle due culture."