Francqui Inaugural Lecture Rens Bod

Quo Vaditis Humanities?

The idea that the humanities and the sciences are, and have always been, separate is as much alive as ever. It structures the entrenched organization of the university; it is taken for granted in academics' everyday thinking. And yet it is wrong. It fails to fit the practice and the organization of scholarship prior to 1900, when Dilthey, Windelband and other German thinkers began to call the sciences ‘law-establishing’ (‘nomothetic’) as opposed to the allegedly ‘idiographic’ humanities. It fails likewise to fit what happened in their own time, and what has happened ever since. 

In my inaugural lecture I will discuss shared methods, practices and virtues in the humanities and the sciences and I will show how they have migrated across disciplines. Thus linguists developed grammar formalisms that were used in designing the first programming languages, geneticists developed tools that were (also) applied to philological text reconstruction, and historians developed source-critical methods that are used in forensic science and other fields. These and other interactions suggest that virtues like formalization and precision transcend disciplinary boundaries. I will put these interactions in the wider frame of past and current thinking about the relationship between the humanities and the sciences, and argue that we need to rethink afresh the idea of the unity of disciplines and the future of the humanities.