By Floris Solleveld
The history of the humanities considered as a whole is still a young discipline. While there are well over a hundred institutes and graduate schools in the history of science, or the history and philosophy of science, for example, there is nothing comparable for the humanities. Equally, there is a very little reference to a “history of the sciences and humanities.” In the case of the humanities, the typical pattern has been for the history of each discipline to be written separately by practitioners in that discipline — e.g., the history of linguistics by linguists, the history of philology by philologists, and the history of historiography by historians. As a consequence, the strong interrelations that have existed historically between different branches of the humanities (and between the humanities and the sciences) have been hidden from view, along with the fact that earlier in history these disciplines did not exist as such.
Recently this situation has begun to change. Partly this is due to the rise of digital humanities scholarship, which operates throughout these different disciplines and is now also being applied to their history; partly it is due to a shift from focusing on the history of disciplines, key figures, and core ideas to focusing instead on scholarly practices, information networks and epistemic virtues. But a key factor is one particular series of international events: the “Making of the Humanities” conferences.
Started in 2008, these biannual conferences have drawn an audience of historians, philologists, philosophers, and other scholars active in the history of the humanities primarily from all over Europe. They have now resulted in an ongoing series of published proceedings covering the history of the humanities from the Renaissance to the present: Volume I (2010) on the early modern humanities; Volume II (2012) on the transition in the humanities from early modern scholarship to modern disciplines around 1800; and Volume III (forthcoming 2015) on the further institutionalization and professionalization of the humanities after 1850.
The “Making of the Humanities” conferences are also the impetus behind the recent monograph Rens Bod, one of the event organizers and a professor of computational and digital humanities at the University of Amsterdam: A New History of the Humanities (English translation 2013, Oxford UP). (Bod was recently the featured participant in a 4Humanities forum on “Global Humanities.”) Though not technically speaking the first history of the human sciences at large — that is George Gusdorf’s today largely unknown 13-volume Les Sciences Humaines et la Pensée Occidentale (1966-88) — Bod’s book is the first to present the history of the humanities in a global perspective. Challenging the traditional self-perception of the humanities as broadly characterized by an “hermeneutic” approach, Bod presents an analysis of the heuristic principles applied, and patterns identified in, the different fields of the humanities throughout their history.
Unlike the previous “Making of the Humanities” conferences, the fourth in the series, “Making of the Humanities IV” (or MotH IV) is not devoted to a specific period. Instead, it will focus on the theme of “Connecting Disciplines” to provide a forum for comparing methods and patterns across disciplines. MotH IV will take place at the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome, 16-18 October 2014; the call for papers (abstracts and panel proposals) expires 1 June.