woensdag 27 april 2016

Opening Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences


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.

vrijdag 25 maart 2016

Inaugural Issue of the new journal "History of Humanities" has been published!

"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."

Click here for the full issue.

donderdag 17 maart 2016

"A New History of the Humanities" will be translated into Italian and Korean

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.

woensdag 2 maart 2016

Positions in the History of Humanities

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."

Click here for more information.

Criticism as Science?

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)."

Click here for the full article.

woensdag 24 februari 2016

A New History of the Humanities reviewed in Isis

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."

Click here for the full review.

dinsdag 2 februari 2016

A New Translation of A New History of the Humanities

I am very pleased and impressed by this Ukrainian translation (it's the fifth one, after the English, Polish, Armenian and Chinese translations of my book):

For more info, click here.

zaterdag 30 januari 2016

Project on the Integrated History of Humanities and Science

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')

vrijdag 4 december 2015

First Issue of "History of Humanities" is in Production

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

            A 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
John Guillory

Calling Time -- A Reply to John Guillory
John E. Joseph

Response to John Guillory
Geoffrey Galt Harpham

 “On the Narration of the Past in China” -- Headnote
Haun Saussy

On the Narration of the Past in China (An Outline)
Liu Dong

Gods, Heroes and Mythologists -- Romantic Scholars and the Pagan Roots of Europe’s
Joep Leerssen

Ferdinand Gregorovius versus Theodor Mommsen on the City of Rome and its Legends
Maya Maskarinec

Two Million Filing Cards -- The Empirical-Biographical Method of Semen Vengerov
Mark Gamsa

Culture and Nature in the Prism of Knowledge
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger

News of the Profession
                Call for Papers: “The Making of the Humanities V”

Book Reviews
Alain Schnapp, with Lothar von Falkenhausen, Peter N. Miller, and Tim Murray (eds.), World Antiquarianism: Comparative Perspectives. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute, 2013.
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 Rotger

Wenchao Li (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

Diana Reynolds Cordileone, Alois Riegl in Vienna 1875-1905. An Institutional Biography. (Studies in Art Historiography.) Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2014.
Review by: Arnold Witte

Thomas Schneider & Peter Raulwing (eds.). Egyptology from the First World War to the Third Reich. Ideology, Scholarship, and Individual Biographies. Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2013.
Review 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.
Review by: Marieke van den Doel

Notes on Contributors

zondag 1 november 2015

Call for Papers "The Making of the Humanities" conference 2016


The next Making of the Humanities conference will take place at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, US), from 5-7 October 2016.

The Call for Papers and Panels is open and can be found at the new Society webpage.

Looking forward to seeing you in Baltimore!

dinsdag 6 oktober 2015

Armenian Association of World History translates “A New History of the Humanities"


The Armenian Association of World History is initiating the translation of A New History of the Humanities. This will the fifth translation of my originally Dutch book, after its Polish, English, Russian and Chinese translations.

I am really looking forward to this translation in a for me unexpected part of the world!

Click here for more information.

maandag 5 oktober 2015

Yet another review in Modern Intellectual History

Modern Intellectual History

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."

Click here for the full review.

donderdag 1 oktober 2015

Renaissance Quarterly reviews "A New History of the Humanities"

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."

Click here for the full review.

Humanities is not only interpretation

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. [...]"

zondag 20 september 2015

The Refugee Crisis: Perspectives from the Humanities (14 September)

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.

See here for a description of the symposium.

donderdag 20 augustus 2015

Hot off the Press: New Editions of "A New History of the Humanities" with New Prefaces!

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 theHumanities, 2013) the academic landscape has thoroughly changed.

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 en verschijnselen.’

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: devergetenwetenschappen.blogspot.com.

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).

woensdag 5 augustus 2015

The Danish Weekendavisen reviews "A New History of the Humanities"

Frederik Stjernfelt has reviewed my book A New History of the Humanities in the Danish highbrow newspaper Weekendadvisen. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"… 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.")

Click here for the full review (behind a paywall).

zondag 28 juni 2015

"A New History of the Humanities" reviewed in Italian Newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore

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."

Click here for the full review by Andrea Bonaccorsi.

Het ware wonder van de humaniora

Sommige begrippen lijken in deze tijd totaal achterhaald. De notie van "wonder" is een goede kandidaat om te worden geelimineerd uit ons filosofische begrippenapparaat. En toch: de afgelopen weken kwam ik het begrip vele malen tegen in de media. En nu ben ik er zelfs van overtuigd geraakt dat de notie van "wonder" essentieel is voor een goed begrip van de geesteswetenschappen, vooral als we het definieren als "een gebeurtenis waarvoor noodzakelijkerwijs geen oorzaken aanwijsbaar zijn".

Kunnen we historische gebeurtenissen uitputtend verklaren uit eerdere gebeurtenissen? In principe zou het moeten kunnen, maar waarom is daar nog niemand in geslaagd? Ik was daarom aangenaam verrast dat er eindelijk een filosofische werkje verscheen over wonderdenken: Hent de Vries' "Kleine Filosofie van het Wonder". Maar gerecenseerd werd het werk nauwelijks. Hierbij mijn recensie in NRC van afgelopen vrijdag. Het is mijn eerste excursie in die ongrijpbare maar zo fascinerende continentale filolosofie. Mijn conclusie: "Wat echter nog wordt gemist is een wereldwijde filosofie van het wonderdenken. Er ligt een immens archief op ons te wachten dat vrijwel onaangeroerd is – en dat is pas het ware wonder van de humaniora!"

dinsdag 23 juni 2015

The Humanities and the Sciences: Separate or United?

In the June issue of Isisthe premier journal on the history of science, Julia Kursell and I have edited a Focus section (open access) on the relation between humanities and science. Other contributing authors are Jeroen Bouterse, Lorraine Daston, Bart Karstens and Glenn Most.

Abstract: "The humanities and the sciences have a strongly connected history, yet their histories continue to be written separately. Although the scope of the history of science has undergone a tremendous broadening during the past few decades, scholars of the history of the humanities and the history of science still seem to belong to two separate cultures that have endured through the past century. This Focus section explores what common ground would enable a study of the histories of the humanities and the sciences to investigate their shared epistemic objects, virtues, values, methods, and practices."

Click here for the full Focus section (open access!)

dinsdag 19 mei 2015

Scientific American discusses my book "A New History of the Humanities"

Scientific American writes that, after having seen my book A New History of the Humanities, "the humanities and science share the virtues of empiricism and skepticism". This is a major step for a science journal -- thanks to Michael Shermer. 

“'Thus, abstract reasoning, rationality, empiricism and skepticism are not just virtues of science. They had all been invented by the humanities.' 'Too often humanities scholars believe that they are moving toward science when they use empirical methods,' Bod reflected. 'They are wrong: humanities scholars using empirical methods are returning to their own historical roots in the studia humanitatis of the 15th century, when the empirical approach was first invented.' 

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." 

zaterdag 16 mei 2015

"History of Humanities" journal has now its own homepage at Chicago

Our recently founded journal History of Humanities has now its own homepage at the University of Chicago Press.

"History of Humanities, along with the newly formed Society for the History of the Humanities, takes as its subject the evolution of a wide variety of disciplines including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, musicology, philology, and media studies, tracing these fields from their earliest developments, through their formalization into university disciplines, and to the modern day.

By exploring these subjects across time and civilizations and along with their socio-political and epistemic implications, the journal takes a critical look at the concept of humanities itself."

Click here to submit your paper to History of Humanities.

zaterdag 11 april 2015

"A New History of the Humanities" in American Historical Review

Here's a feature review by Ann Blair of my book A New History of the Humanities in American Historical Review of April 2015:

"Bod’s book is designed as an opening salvo in a grand project to develop the history of the humanities as a subfield on par with (and potentially in close alliance with) the history of science, with a view to building a history of knowledge-making more generally.

Bod is clearly committed to a pluralist interpretation of the humanities, though his own interests tend toward the pattern-seeking and the computational. In his wide embrace, the history of the humanities can certainly serve as a welcome venue to motivate new research projects and encourage collaborations. Bod’s energetic initiatives are a fine example of the shifting categories of research"

Click here for the full review.

Click here for all reviews.

dinsdag 31 maart 2015

Both humanities and science strive for truth -- a reply to Michael Shermer

A couple of weeks ago I had a most enjoyable conversation at Spui25 with Michael Shermer on his new book "The Moral Arc". According to Michael, science increased our moral sensibility. He argued that experimental methods and analytical reasoning of science created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights, civil liberties, equal justice and prosperity. In my reply I argued that he had forgotten the immense influence of the humanities in explaining the increase of moral justice -- in particular the insights from sceptical philologists like Lorenzo Valla, Desiderius Erasmus and Joseph Scaliger whom I had discussed in depth in my own book on the world-wide impact of the humanities. Somewhat to my surprise, Michael admitted that he had indeed overlooked people like Valla and others, and he agreed with my argument that both humanities and science increased moral justice. I was impressed and delighted with Michael's reaction, so here's the full text of my reply to his book:

"Thanks for this mind-provoking book. I agree with Michael that on the long run the arc of the moral sphere bends towards justice. It’s a robust, empirical tendency, impossible to deny.

But my view departs from Michael’s when it comes to an explanation for this long-term moral progress.  Michael  attributes it to science, whereas I would attribute it to the humanities, and science, but at least to both of them.

What does Michael mean by science? It’s great that we don’t have to infer Michael’s notion of science from  his book – instead he gives an explicit definition himself. According to Michael, and I quote from p.15,  “Science is a set of methods that describes and interprets observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and is aimed at testing  hypotheses and building theories”.

Now, since this definition doesn’t explicitly state that the phenomena are natural phenomena, they can also be cultural phenomena like art, literature, music, languages, texts etc. So the definition also includes the humanities! And humanities disciplines like linguistics, philology, art history, musicology, history etc, indeed follow Michael’s definition: “they use a set of methods that describes and interprets observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and is aimed at testing  hypotheses and building theories”. Or don't they? 

In any case I'd like to ask Michael why he doesn’t discuss the impact of the humanities on justice. The word ‘humanities’ is not even mentioned in his book. Maybe he believes these disciplines did not contribute to explaining the moral arc. Well let me give some evidence to the contrary.

Let me do so by very briefly sketching the history of secularization. Contrary to common wisdom, secularization is not an outcome of the natural sciences, but of the critical, empirical study of texts – a field called philology – and also the study of languages , the study of art – in other words, the humanities

It probably started with the Italian philologist Lorenzo Valla who demonstrated in  1440 that a famous Latin document called the Donatio Constantini – the Donation of Constantine -- was a forgery. According to that document the Roman emperor Constantine had donated the Western Roman Empire to the Pope. The Latin document was used for many centuries as a legitimization for the church's worldly power. Valla was one of the most skeptical humanists around, and he claimed that the document was fake. But how could he prove this? Valla used historical, linguistic and philological evidence including counterfactual reasoning for his rebuttal. One of the strongest pieces of evidence he came up with was of lexical and grammatical nature: Valla found words and constructions in the document that could not possibly have been used by anyone from the time of the emperor Constantine, at the beginning of the 4th century AD. The late-Latin word feudum, for example, referred to the Feudal  system. But this system was a medieval invention, which did not exist before the 7th century AD.

If we look at the structure of Valla’s famous rebuttal, we notice a number of methods that would nowadays be attributed to science: he was skeptical,  he was empirical, he drew an hypothesis, he was rational, he used abstract reasoning (even counterfactual reasoning), he used textual phenomena as evidence, and he laid the foundations for one of the most successful theories: stemmatic philology that aims to derive the original text from extant copies (in fact, the much later technique  of DNA analysis was based on methods from stemmatic philology). Yet, there is no mention of Valla in Michael’s book.

What happened after Valla’s rebuttal? Well, Valla applied the same methods and hypotheses to the Bible. Rather dangerous at the time. Nevertheless, scholars directly after him, in particular the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, showed that some parts of the Bible were sneaked in by later copyists, such as a reference to the Trinity. Clearly some copyists wanted to have a proof for the Trinity in the Bible, but Erasmus showed that older versions of the Bible did not mention the Trinity.

Other scholars, in particular Joseph Scaliger, who was active at the University of Leiden in the 16th century, used Valla’s philological approach to reconstruct the so-called King Lists of ancient Egypt. It turned out – to Scaliger’s own dismay -- that there had been pharaohs living more than a millennium before the Christian creation of the world, which  was commonly accepted to be around 4000 BC. Thus the earth had to be older than what could be derived from the old testament. Within a couple of generations it became accepted among scholars that the Bible could not be used as a historical text. This biblical criticism came to an explosion in the work of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza from whom the later Enlightenment philosophers drew their inspiration.

Thus abstract reasoning, rationality, empiricism, and skepticism are not just virtues of science. They had already been invented by humanities scholars in the 15th and 16th century.

All this is extremely relevant for Michael’s book. For instance, Michael uses the example of burning witches. It was once thought that witches caused crop failures, diseases and other misfortunes. We now know, thanks to our scientific knowledge of agriculture  and medicine -- as Michael correctly notices -- what are the causes of these phenomena. But what Michael neglects to mention, is that women were burnt as witches because they were thought to co-operate with the devil. Well it’s thanks to the aforementioned philologists like Valla and Scaliger that we (or at least most of us) don’t believe any longer in the Bible as an historically reliable text. It can not be proven that people co-operate with the devil. And this insight does not come from natural science, but from philology, history and other fields of the humanities.

My point is not limited to this example of witches, but also counts for (what Michael refers to as) the moral science of slaves, women, and gays. The critical study of texts showed that there was no historical authority justifying slaves or suppressing women and gays. The influence of the humanities has been immense here.

So in sum: I agree with Michael’s observation of the moral arc, but not with his explanation of it, at least not entirely. Both the humanities and the sciences strive for finding the truth!

Thank you."

zaterdag 7 maart 2015

NRC Special on Humanities at Dutch Universities

NRC Handelsblad published a special on the situation of humanities at Dutch Universities. I think it's pretty much indicative for the situation of the humanities in general. Especially the study of languages and language sciences are under threat.

My contribution to the special focuses on the language studies. I argue that it's risky to let the survival of modern languages at universities depend on the capricious choices made by 18-year adolescents. Already at high school, students should be taught that a language study is a scholarly discipline rather than a language course.

Here's a vivid discussion on my contribution (in Dutch, but Google Translate does a fair job translating it in incorrect but comprehensible English).

donderdag 26 februari 2015

In favor of a democratic university and against current budget cuts

During the last couple of weeks, Amsterdam is experiencing lots of student protests in favor of a more democratic university and against the current budget cuts imposed on the humanities. Here are their demands (also in English). I can't agree more!

Contrary to universities abroad, there is no democratic election of university boards in the Netherlands. I believe this is a very risky situation: without being elected by students and staff, the board has no democratic mandate. Clearly Dutch law has to be changed in this regard.

The board of the university of Amsterdam could win the hearts of the students (and vice versa) if they propose to go together to The Hague to protest against current legislation and to discuss with the minister. It seems that students, staff and board want in principle the same, but are talking past each other. Please get together!

As to the budget cuts imposed on the humanities, here is an opinion article from the Volkskrant defending the thesis that a university is morally obliged to also maintain small, unprofitable studies.

zaterdag 31 januari 2015

Finally another article on the power of the humanities

Finally another Dutch opinion article on the power of the humanities -- by Willem B. Drees in NRC of January 30. It's somewhat chaotic, but absolutely relevant (and Google-translate does a great job turning it into English).

"Waarom humanities? Omdat er iets te ontdekken valt, kennis. En omdat het nuttig is, voor mens en maatschappij. Omdat we nieuwsgierig zijn en nadenken over de ander en onszelf. Kennis, nut én de eigen aard van mensen – goede redenen om aandacht en middelen te investeren in de humanities."

I can't agree more!

Read the full paper here.

donderdag 29 januari 2015

A detailed review of "A New History of the Humanities"

This very detailed review of my book "A New History of the Humanities" by Oliver Glanz just appeared in Seminary Studies 52(2), pp. 334-339:

"Bod’s work did create a big sensation not only in the academic scene but also in the public and major newspapers in the Netherlands, England, and more generally Western Europe. Not only did he accomplish something that has not been done before, namely, a written history of the humanities, but he also takes a perspective to this enterprise that redefines the role of the humanities especially in relation to the natural sciences. His work will prove to be a milestone for the further development of both the sciences and the humanities."

Click here for the full review.

Click here for all reviews.

vrijdag 23 januari 2015

First Fully Open Access Journal on Humanities Launched by Brill

The first fully open access journal on the humanities has been launched by Brill publishers (Editor-in-Chief: Rens Bod). The journal covers all humanities discplines:*

"Brill Open Humanities (BOH) is a principal outlet for scholarly articles in the humanities. BOH is a peer-reviewed full open access journal and provides a unique platform for theoretical debates and critical analysis. BOH offers a meeting space for international scholars across the humanities, including: archaeology, ancient near east, art and architecture, biblical studies, classical studies, gender studies, history, Jewish studies, media and journalism, language and linguistics, literature studies, music, philology, philosophy, religious studies, Slavic studies, and more."

Click here for more info and the call for papers.

* Except for one meta-discipline: the history of the humanities disciplines, which is covered by this journal published by University of Chicago Press.

zaterdag 27 december 2014

Another Review of "A New History of the Humanities"

Here’s another review essay of the English translation of my book by Seth Lerer in Postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies (2014) 5, pp. 502–516:

"Bod’s history of the humanities is thus, in some sense, a history of ‘theory’ in its various forms: that is, a story of how forms of human expression were recognized to be linguistic and how recognitions of patterns, systematizations of structure and arguments for historical progression framed themselves within this broadly linguistic approach. But Bod is no theoretical relativist. The telos of his book is not just to write a story, but to make a case for the humanities as a discipline of progress.”

Click here for the full review.

Click here for list of all reviews.

zaterdag 29 november 2014

Debug the Myth: Humanities Provide Great Return and Stable Careers

Common wisdom has it that a humanities degree leads to no career whatsoever  or even to unemployment. However, a series of recent studies convincingly debug this myth:

Read this Forbes article how humanities provide great return on investment.

"Humanities majors have taken their lumps on many fronts recently. Their defenders often respond with appeals to the ways in which the humanities add to the richness of life in nonmonetary ways. That is certainly true, but the humanities have been selling themselves short. In addition to adding invaluably to our culture, humanities majors are a wise financial investment as well. [...]"

Universities and governments thus have to be extremely cautious when they impose budget cuts on humanities programs, as is currently being proposed at the University of Amsterdam (what a shame!).

donderdag 27 november 2014

Conference Report on the Making of the Humanities IV in Rome

Here's a report on the Making of the Humanities IV conference last month in Rome by one of the participants, Léjon Saarloos (thanks, Léjon!):

"For the visitors to the fourth conference on the making of the humanities, it was not just the Italian sun and the hospitality of the KNIR that offered pleasant moments. With about seventy papers read on the history of the humanities, the Making of the Humanities IV presented a broad and inspiring overview of the field. The three keynote lectures by Helen Small, Fenrong Liu and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger represented various trends within the conference, to which I shall return later.

Apart from the many papers, there was also time for celebration. The organising committee of the conference announced the founding of a society for the history of the humanities and a journal for the history of the humanities, published by Chicago University Press. This new journal finally provides a platform for the already burgeoning community of scholars working on topics in the humanities. I hope the new society and the new journal will succeed in connecting scholars from different disciplines as well as this fourth conference did. [...]"

Click here for the full report.

zaterdag 1 november 2014

The Power of the Humanities

In a recent article in Folia, my colleague Jan Don argues that humanists can promote the humanities much better than they have done so far. The cliché that the humanities don't contribute to economic growth is of the mark. In urbanized environments, like Dutch cities, the economic contribution of humanists is even larger than that of scientists.

Click here for the publication that analyzes the economic contribution of humanists in the Dutch city of Leiden.

Click here for further statistics on the power of the humanities from an international perspective!

woensdag 29 oktober 2014

The History of Digital Humanities

Also the young field of Digital Humanities has a history. I just came across this paper on the history of digital humanities in the Netherlands. Interesting -- although I believe that humanities computing in the Netherlands already starts with the development of the Eindhoven corpus in the 1960s by Uit den Boogaart. The Netherlands was definitely at the forefront with this kind of data collections and their use in the field of 'alpha-informatics', as humanities computing was called in Dutch at the time.

dinsdag 28 oktober 2014

Journal "History of Humanities" has been launched - Submission is open!

We have just launched our new journal on the general history of the humanities, published by University of Chicago Press. Here's a part from the press release:

 "History of Humanities, along with the newly formed Society for the History of the Humanities, takes as its subject the evolution of a wide variety of disciplines including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, musicology, philology, and media studies, tracing these fields from their earliest developments, through their formalization into university disciplines, and to the modern day. By exploring these subjects across time and civilizations and along with their socio-political and epistemic implications, the journal takes a critical look at the concept of humanities itself.

History of Humanities publishes work that transcends the history of specific humanities disciplines by comparing scholarly practices across disciplines, comparing humanistic traditions in different cultures and civilizations, relating the humanities to the natural and social sciences, and studying developments, problems, and transformations within a discipline that have wider significance for the history of knowledge in general."

Click here for the full Call for Submissions
Click here for the brochure of the journal

dinsdag 7 oktober 2014

The third volume on the global history of the humanities is now availabe

The third edited volume "The Making of the Humanities, Volume III" on the global history of the modern humanities (700+ pages) is now freely available and can be downloaded here.

It contains papers from over 40 authors including Lorraine Daston, Floris Cohen, John Pickstone, Glenn Most, Jo Tollebeek, John Joseph and many others!

Book of Abstracts of The Making of the Humanities IV is Available

Yet another review of The Forgotten Sciences from the Nexus Institute

Here's another review of the good old "De Vergeten Wetenschappen" (2010) published by Nexus and written van Janna van Strien. 

maandag 1 september 2014

Interview with Rens Bod on the Humanities in the Digital Age

The most recent issue of InformatieProfessional contains an interview with Rens Bod on the future of the humanities in the digital age (in Dutch):

"Tien, hooguit twintig boeken gebruikt een masterstudent Literatuurwetenschap voor zijn scriptie. Stel nu dat hij een miljoen boeken met elkaar zou willen vergelijken. Hij kan ze onmogelijk allemaal lezen. Aangezien vele uitgaven zijn beschreven en gedigitaliseerd, kan hij er wel algoritmen uit de informatica op loslaten. Hier komt digital humanities om de hoek kijken."

You can read further here.

vrijdag 22 augustus 2014

Conference Program "The Making of the Humanities IV" is online

We've finalized the program of the forthcoming conference "The Making of the Humanities IV" in Rome.

Main conference features: three keynote speakers, 70 papers on the history of the humanities in Europe, Asia and the Americas, several panels and other events.

Special event: Launch of the journal "History of Humanities" by University of Chicago Press

Click here for the program and conference details.

zaterdag 2 augustus 2014

The ‘science-ification’ of arts and humanities research

Sometimes a book gets an unexpected interpretation. This came to my mind when I read that the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has decided to strive towards the ‘science-ification’ of the arts. Surprisingly, my book is taken as an example: "This ‘science-ification’ of arts and humanities research is documented vividly in A New History of the Humanities by Rens Bod". Click here for further reading.

I need to stress that my book doesn't deal with the ‘science-ification’ of the humanities. Instead, I show two rather different but equally surprising things: (1) What we nowadays believe to be 'scientific' (i.e. the empirical search for patterns and laws that can be tested by observation) was already invented by humanists in the 15th century in their empirical investigation of texts, art, music and the past. (2) Nowhere in the history of the humanities do we come across an acute divide between humanities and science: both humanists and scientists search for underlying patterns and interpretations of them.

I'm worried to see my history of the humanities malinterpreted, so I need to get things straight. Sadly modern humanists believe that they are moving towards science when they use an empirical approach. They are mistaken. Scholars using empirical methods are returning to their roots in the 15th-century studia humanitatis when the empirical approach was invented — and not since disappeared.

So my book could be used as evidence that the humanities have always been empirical (indeed, what we nowadays exclusively but incorrectly call 'scientific'). The current image of the humanities as being merely or mostly speculative is just wrong. Interpretations may be speculative, patterns are not, even though we will never be sure whether the patterns found are real or in the mind of the beholder. But this doesn't matter: patterns can be percevied -- and next intepreted -- by the reader, listener, observer. For more about this, see my contribution on OUP Blog.

For more about patterns in today's humanities research, see Bill Benzon's blog.

Review of "A New History of the Humanities" on Clionauta


Con el verano aposentándose, al menos en esta parte del globo, cerramos el blog con una recomendación: un libro de esos que de vez en cuando nos gusta leer, un compendio en el que reconocernos, descubrir conexiones insospechadas o simplemente darnos un ligero barniz cultural. Se trata de A New History of the Humanities. The Search for Principles and Patterns from Antiquity to the Present (OUP), un volumen que merece una lectura sosegada por lo antedicho y por su autor, Rens Bod, poco o nada frecuentado por estos lares.

En realidad, la obra apareció hace ya tres años (De vergeten wetenschappen. Een geschiedenis van de humaniora), en los cuales ha conseguido una amplísima difusión en su mercado linguístico, eco que ahora ampliará a buen seguro con la versión inglesa. [...]

zaterdag 28 juni 2014

Do Not Become a Humanist For No Reason!

Today NRC newspaper published my opinion article on the Dutch state of affairs in the humanities. The paper is behind a pay wall, therefore I paste my original text below. Google Translate actually translates it quite well into English, except for the word 'alfa' which means humanities.

"Alfastudies zijn populair. Jaarlijks beginnen zesduizend studenten in Nederland aan een studie in kunst, literatuur, taal, muziek en andere producten van de mens, kortom in de alfawetenschappen.  Van de afgestudeerden vindt vrijwel iedereen een baan in de ‘alfasector’, die vaak groter en belangrijker is dan gedacht.
Alfa’s domineren de creatieve industrie. Ze werken in  onderwijs en onderzoek, in  media en politiek, als designer of CEO in het bedrijfsleven en richten communicatie- en internetbedrijven op. In verstedelijkte gebieden blijkt de economische bijdrage van alfa’s groter dan van bèta’s.
Het gaat dus uitstekend met de alfasector.
Daarom komt de recente beoordeling van de Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie (NVAO) over de kwaliteit van de alfastudies zo hard aan. De organisatie bestempelt maar liefst 26 van de 212 alfaopleidingen als ‘onvoldoende’. Slechts 21 opleidingen krijgen het predicaat ‘goed’. Dit terwijl Nederlandse alfawetenschappen op internationale ranglijsten hoger dan ooit scoren. Blijkbaar betekenen goed onderzoek en een florerende alfasector nog geen goed onderwijs.
Wat is hier aan de hand?
Het NVAO-rapport moet wel met een korrel zout worden genomen, want het rapport gaat niet zozeer over de onderwijskwaliteit in het algemeen maar over de kwaliteit van de eindwerken. Deze eindscripties zijn ook nog eens op basis van de nieuwe, strengere NVAO-regels beoordeeld. Uit een steekproef zou zijn gebleken dat een aantal van de eindscripties beneden niveau was - en toch een genadezesje kreeg. Dat is ernstige  kritiek.
De NVAO zelf heeft ook de wind van voren gekregen: de evaluatieprocedure zou te bureaucratisch zijn, de steekproef niet representatief en de eisen te streng, vooral voor bachelor-scripties. Desalniettemin raakt de discussie over de kwaliteit van de eindscripties een gevoelige snaar.
Nederlandse alfafaculteiten worden  jaarlijks overspoeld door studenten voor wie de keuze voor een alfastudie feitelijk een negatieve keuze is: het is voor veel van hen de enige studie die overblijft. Dit  is funest voor de alfawetenschap.
Waarom maken we de alfastudies dan niet zwaarder, zodat alleen goede, gemotiveerde studenten overblijven en benedenmaatse afvallen? Het probleem ligt in het universitaire financieringsstelsel. De universiteiten betrekken hun vaste financiering op basis van het aantal studenten – en vooral het aantal studenten dat afstudeert. In die opzet krijgen sommige scripties een genadezesje, terwijl ze eigenlijk onvoldoende zijn. Onacceptabel, maar het perverse financieringsstelsel werkt deze praktijk in de hand. En ze geldt niet alleen voor de alfawetenschappen.
NVAO-voorzitter Anne Flierman stelt nu dat de toegenomen aandacht voor onderzoek in de alfawetenschappen ten koste zou gaan van het onderwijs. Die stelling is te kort door de bocht. Overal is de aandacht voor onderzoek sterk toegenomen, niet alleen bij de alfa’s. Vergeleken met de andere wetenschappen teren de alfawetenschappen zelfs het minst op onderzoeksgeld. Daarbij wordt hun onderzoek maatschappelijk breed gewaardeerd en gedragen. De vraag is dan ook: hoe maken we het onderwijs beter zonder dat dit ten koste gaat van het onderzoek, en vice versa?
Ten eerste moeten de universiteiten af van het huidige financieringsstelsel. Geef studierichtingen een financiële basis die onafhankelijk is van het aantal eindscripties. Universiteiten moeten juist studenten selecteren, maar kunnen dit alleen als een stabiele financiële basis is gegarandeerd.
De huidige concurrentie heeft geleid tot een proliferatie van nieuwe opleidingen die vaak bestaan uit niet meer dan een combinatie van delen van andere opleidingen. Maar een opleiding is wat anders dan een wetenschappelijke discipline – iets wat ook in het NVAO-rapport wordt gesignaleerd. Sommige nieuwe studies hebben zelfs geen academische voedingsbodem. Het zijn opleidingen zonder wetenschap, lichamen zonder ziel.
Ik pleit voor een hernieuwde eenheid van onderwijs en onderzoek waarbij geen opleiding wordt gecreëerd waarbinnen geen onderzoek wordt gedaan.
Ten tweede trekt de gemiddelde alfastudie niet altijd de beste studenten aan. De kiem van dit probleem ligt al op het vwo; de serieus gemotiveerde alfa wordt daar niet genoeg uitgedaagd. Behandel daarom al op de middelbare school intellectueel uitdagende alfawetenschappelijke theorieën, zoals het generativisme in de taalkunde, de narratologie in de literatuurwetenschap of de iconologie in de (kunst)geschiedenis. Laat zien hoe spannend en complex deze theorieën zijn en hoe de alfawetenschappen verband houden met andere wetenschappen – van natuurkunde en informatica tot de sociale wetenschappen.
Ten derde moeten de alfafaculteiten meer gezamenlijk optrekken. Nu vaart elke universiteit haar eigen koers bij het opheffen van bestaande of het oprichten van nieuwe alfastudies. De alfafaculteiten azen echter op steeds meer studenten – en de kleine opleidingen hebben het nakijken. Dit is opnieuw het gevolg van het bizarre financieringsstelsel.
Nederland is echter groot genoeg om alle alfawetenschappen een plaats te geven en tegelijkertijd klein genoeg om elke gemotiveerde student te laten reizen naar de studie van voorkeur. De huidige situatie, waarbij opleidingen bijna willekeurig uit Nederland verdwijnen of juist worden opgericht, doet verlangen naar een overkoepelende University of the Netherlands, met dertien campussen die eenvoudig worden gedwongen samen te werken.  
Daarom, minister Bussemaker, gooi het perverse universitaire financieringsmodel overboord en geef universitaire opleidingen een vaste financiële basis.
Daarom, universiteiten,  herstel de eenheid tussen onderwijs en onderzoek zodat alle opleidingen van een wetenschappelijke basis worden voorzien.

En daarom, alfafaculteiten, werk samen met de andere (alfa)faculteiten om zowel studies te behouden als op te richten en zorg, samen met het vwo, dat de beste studenten worden aangetrokken."