The period of transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages, known as late antiquity, gave rise to some of the elements that have since constituted the identity of the Western self. It also gave rise to new lines of psychological investigation, of which Western psychology is the remote heir. Psychology, however, did not exist in the ancient world as an independent science, nor was a distinction drawn between scientific and moral or religious elements of psychological knowledge. Accordingly, this important source of evidence has been neglected by scholars investigating the history of Western psychology, who have tended to focus on the 19th-century roots of scientific psychology. This post argues for the need to broaden the focus on the history of the discipline of psychology to include the history of psychological knowledge, and demonstrates some of the benefits to be derived from this endeavor.
Can a culture study its own knowledge? Yes, according to sociologist David Bloor. More than that: it is vital that we can look at our own scientific knowledge scientifically. Otherwise, there would be an “irony at the very heart of our culture. […] it would mean that science could not scientifically know itself.” Speaking of irony: 2400 years before Bloor said this in 1976, Socrates supposedly saw himself confronted with a very similar question while talking to a certain Charmides. For reasons wholly different than Bloor’s, Charmides and his caretaker Critias defend the position that science can be applied to itself – that there is a ‘meta-science’ through which we know knowledge.
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.
Johann Christoph Gatterer was a data gatherer. As a professor of history in Göttingen, from 1759 until his death forty years later, he compiled collections of medieval manuscripts, coins, heraldic tables, maps, and even weather reports. He did not only collect them: he also transformed his hoard into manuals for studying heraldry and medieval charters, drew up elaborate multicoloured charts and diagrams, and made highly acclaimed historical maps. He claimed that he arranged his data as strictly as Linnaeus had ordered the world of plants and animals. On top of that, he wrote some seven outlines of Universal History, that is, chronologies from Creation to the present. Although he had a rival in his colleague Schlözer, who collected more politically relevant contemporary data, and although he never wrote a compendium as large as the Benedictine Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique, he was arguably the biggest historical data collector of his time.
Zijn er misschien twee soorten wetenschappen? Bijvoorbeeld: aan de ene kant wetenschappen die gaan over universele wetten, die op een rationele manier zekere en nauwkeurige kennis kunnen krijgen over die wetten, en hun kennis ook nog eens kunnen toepassen op een manier die voor iedereen aantoonbaar nuttig is. Aan de andere kant wetenschappen die eigenlijk meer ‘kunsten’ zijn, wier inzichten heel erg tijds- en plaatsgebonden moeten blijven, en die slechts een moeilijk meetbaar nut hebben waarvan bovendien slechts bepaalde individuen profiteren?
In a recent article in Isis, historian Richard Serjeantson traces Francis Bacon’s coinage and usage of the phrase “interpreting nature”. Bacon, Serjeantson argues, was the first to come up with the notion of an “interpretation of nature”. The author delves into sixteenth century sources to find where the word “interpret” comes from. Apparently not from the world of natural history, philosophy, medicine, magic, or even theology – Serjeantson discovers that the word interpretation comes from the field of Law. When attorneys or lawyers had to defend or accuse a case or person, laws and rules were interpreted to fit certain circumstances. As a lawyer, Bacon was familiar with its practices.
Antoine Court de Gébelin, koninklijk censor en geleerde sensatie van het late Ancien Régime, stierf in verdachte omstandigheden in Parijs op 12 mei 1784. In zijn laatste jaar had hij zich laten behandelen door de Weense wonderdokter Mesmer, en was uiteindelijk zelfs bij hem ingetrokken. Een mesmeristische behandeling houdt in dat het ‘dierlijk magnetisme’ van de patiënt gestimuleerd wordt met magneten en statische elektriciteit, soms in groepsséances rond een ‘mesmeristisch bad’. Op het moment van Gébelins dood stond het mesmerisme al ter discussie. In de voorafgaande maanden had Louis XVI twee commissies van de Académie des Sciences en de medische faculteit aangesteld om het dierlijk magnetisme te onderzoeken: op zichzelf een markant moment in de medische geschiedenis. De dood van zijn belangrijkste pleitbezorger kwam Mesmer dus erg slecht uit. Wat er gebeurd is, blijft onduidelijk.
If you were asked to pinpoint a scientist in a crowd, how would you recognize one? Or if you were asked to identify a scientific publication among other books, how would you be able to do so? And what would you do if you were asked to identify scientists, scientific books and scientific institutions from twelve hundred years ago? As science looked substantially differently in the Early Middle Ages from how it looks now, it is sometimes assumed that little can be said about scientific inquiry in this period. Albeit our knowledge of early medieval intellectual culture is still limited, we are not entirely at a loss concerning how science may have been performed. In this blog post, I will introduce you to a particular element that allows us to establish scientific presence and identify the books that were used for scientific purpose – technical signs.
Historians of scholarship should love hybrid works. By ‘hybrid works’ I mean works that don’t fit neatly into a specific genre or format, but that combine the characteristics of different genres and information from disparate kinds of source material, often even texts from different authors. Historians should love such hybrid works for three reasons. First, each hybrid work is hybrid in its own way. Whereas the great bulk of scholarly production from the past is highly repetitious in treating similar topics in a similar format, hybrid works have a tendency to pop up around anomalies and ruptures. Second, by virtue of integrating different approaches (and text from different authors), they are particularly good indicators of shifts in scholarly method, combining the old and the new and often commenting on the respective virtues and shortcomings of these different approaches. And third, they present lovely intertextual puzzles. This is not just brain candy for the lovers of deconstructed authorship, it also provides further insight into information management and the circulation of knowledge – more so, generally, than the great bulk of works that fall under ‘normal science’.
In the Summer of 1829, Franz Bopp and August Wilhelm von Schlegel quarreled about Sanskrit sound shifts. They quarreled so badly it ended their correspondence, and they never met again.