How to Write the History of the Humanities

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.”

Click here to read the full paper.

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.

“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.

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.

Grant for the Joint History of the 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’)