Ravenna B, Third Floor 01 Nov 2018 Organized Session
Human and Social Sciences 15:00 - 17:00

The modern research university is divided into three distinct branches: the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. This particular constitution is far from evident, as the nature of knowledge and the relations between different realms of knowledge have been regularly redefined throughout history. In this session, we trace the shifting boundaries between the sciences and the humanities in the long nineteenth century.

Historiography on this period is characterized by accounts of specialization and professionalization that, above all else, focus on the development of the sciences or the humanities. This panel aims to place these two distinct historiographical traditions into conversation with one another by presenting four case studies in which the boundaries between “science” and “humanities” were blurred. 

None of our case studies can be placed in either the history of science or the history of humanities exclusively, they bear relevance to both. They question what it means for a certain knowledge practice (or practices) to be ‘scientific’ in different times and different places. Furthermore, they show how the history of science can be enriched by insights from the history of humanities, and vice versa. 

These case studies shed light on overarching questions such as: How has our notion of what belongs to the sciences or the humanities been established? How has this changed throughout the long nineteenth century? How have different groups of scholars carved out new niches between the sciences and the humanities to the example of, or in contradistinction to, other professional groups?

Organized by Kristine Palmieri (University of Chicago)

The Common Origins and Changing Interpretations of the Concept 'Fact' in German Physics and Historiography
15:00 - 15:30

I discuss the emergence and early history of the concept ‘fact’ in German learned culture around 1800, particularly in physics and historiography. I argue that the fact-oriented methods of German physicists and historians were of common historical origin, by showing that the concept ‘fact’ was adopted by historians and physicists more or less simultaneously and for similar reasons. 

  In the late eighteenth century, the concept ‘fact’ developed as part of a ‘historical’ repertoire, which comprised both human and natural fields of empirical study, and which was increasingly sharply contrasted with philosophy and speculative methods. In a context of scientific and political revolutions, facts were generally regarded as eternal knowledge, and put in contradistinction to short-lived theories. I demonstrate how a fact-based epistemology emerged at the University of Göttingen, by focusing on August Schlözer and Georg Lichtenberg. They construed facts as the empirical basis of ‘science’ (Wissenschaft), but not as science itself. From the beginning of the nineteenth century onwards, however, facts increasingly began to be seen as having self-contained value, both in physics and in historiography. While the modern disciplinary system took shape, a new generation of historians and physicists embraced facts, as extracted from either archival or experimental study, as the essence of ‘scientific’ (wissenschaftliches) knowledge. 

  This history of the ‘fact’ exemplifies that, while establishing autonomous academic disciplines, scientists and humanists drew upon similar conceptual repertoires.

Christian Gottlob Heyne, Friedrich August Wolf, and the 'Science' of Philology
15:30 - 16:00

Friedrich August Wolf famously criticized the work of Christian Gottlob Heyne. Many subsequent scholars have accepted Wolf’s criticisms noting, among other things, that Heyne was uninterested in the kinds of rigorous textual criticism that would come to define philology’s nineteenth-century status as ‘queen’ of the sciences. This criticism has effectively removed Heyne from the history of philology, especially when it is conceptualized as a ‘modern’ discipline, though he remains a central figure in the histories of classics and archaeology. 

But Heyne was the philologist of note in Göttingen from his arrival in 1763 until his death in 1812, at which point Wolf’s own professional reputation had already begun to wane. Moreover, Heyne was at the center of an active and vibrant philological milieu, which he actively influenced in his capacity as Ordinary Professor of Poetry and Eloquence, director of the Philology Seminar, and head of the University Library. 

This paper thus argues that it is time for Heyne’s legacy as a philologist to be reassessed. In particular, it challenges conventional accounts of Heyne’s deficiencies as a philologist by way of comparison with Wolf on three points: their ‘vision(s) of philology,’ their ‘philological toolkit(s),’ and their legacies as educators. This comparison demonstrates that accounts of Heyne’s reported antiquarianism have been overstated and argues that Heyne had a much larger role in the development of philology than is often acknowledged. It also questions what it means for philology to be more or less ‘scientific.’

Two Sides of the Same Indian Coin: James Prinsep as Assay Master and Antiquarian in Mid-Nineteenth Century India
16:00 - 16:30

The premature death of James Prinsep (1799-1840) was a massive loss to the British Orientalist community. In his twenty years in India his work was united by a common theme: coins. His role as Assay Master saw him perfect ways of measuring both high temperatures and precise weights, and his Indological hobby saw the translation of the ancient Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts using numismatic inscriptions. Prinsep’s singular career is an extreme example of the Orientalist polymath, with his varied interests enabled by the Indian colonial environment in which, as a result of the lack of pre-existing British knowledge structures, scholars often spread themselves thinly across a wide range of subjects under the umbrella of Orientalism. 

This paper argues that it was Prinsep’s linguistic work, taken up as a side occupation but pursued with the same if not more zeal than his assaying tasks, that began to encourage individuals to define more strongly their field of study and lose in part the polymath image. This is especially evident in the evolution of archaeology into a more defined discipline in the work of Prinsep’s successor, Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893). More broadly, this paper also questions whether Orientalism can be seen itself as a discipline, one which would benefit from complimentary historiographical approaches from both the history of sciences and the history of humanities.

The Linguistic Questionnaire and the Formation of General Linguistics Between the Sciences and the Humanities
16:30 - 17:00

General linguistics is notoriously difficult to position in either the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences departments. This is mirrored in historical debates, which were especially prominent between 1880 and 1930, when linguists were discussing methodological issues in order to define their discipline. The linguists turned to the natural sciences to justify their academic discipline and ties with humanities and social sciences were also present. This paper focuses on a research method through which I aim to show these ties: the linguistic questionnaire.

Using the questionnaire, linguists such as Jules Gilliéron (1854-1926) argued they could do research with scientific, observational rigour; methodical, with comparable results and systematic notation. The results of the linguistic questionnaires were presented as maps, with Gilliéron’s Atlas linguistique de la France (1902-1910) as a famous example. 

While the linguistic questionnaires were primarily aimed at collecting different dialects in a systematic way, the research tool developed into a method to also collect social factors which could have an effect on the subject’s spoken language. This change of focus can be pinpointed as a direct influence on general linguistics from the new discipline of sociology, which the collaboration between linguist Antoine Meillet (1866-1936) and sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) illustrates. Through the case of the linguistic questionnaire, I aim to show how general linguistics evolved as a discipline between the humanities, the natural and the social sciences.


Speakers
University of Amsterdam
University of Chicago
The University of Manchester
University of Amsterdam
Moderators
Harvard University

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