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‘Nationale filologieën’ en het historisch onderzoek naar disciplinevorming in de geesteswetenschappen. Een verkenning


Gert-Jan Johannes

About Gert-Jan

Gert-Jan Johannes, Universiteit Utrecht, Onderzoekinstituut voor Geschiedenis en Cultuur.

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The ‘National Philologies’ and the History of Discipline Formation in the Humanities

The start of discipline formation in the 'national philologies' (such as 'English Language and Literature', 'Germanistik', etc.) is often considered to have taken place around the middle of the nineteenth century. At that time, the German philological school of scholars such as Jacob Grimm gained influence at universities all over Europe. Meticulous analysis of the oldest (medieval) texts, as well as rigorous application of the methods of historical-comparative linguistics in editing these texts, became the norm and the nec plus ultra of philology. Other forms of academic and scholarly attention to national literature – e.g. the study of the history of literature in post-medieval and modern times – were from then on looked down upon as mere hobbies, made obsolete by the 'modern', 'truly scientific' methods of the German school. The case of the 'national philologies' thus seems to corroborate the common idea that discipline formation in science consists mainly of a process of specialization and differentiation. However, an overview of the history of 'Neerlandistiek' (the academic study of Dutch Language and Literature) over the course of the nineteenth century suggests that the success of German School's methods was in fact but a temporary episode. In the history of 'national philologies' such as the 'Neerlandistiek', episodes of specialization seem to alternate with episodes in which the main emphasis is not on special ization but on extension of the scope, on integration of elements from other disciplines, and on reinforcement of the ties with social institutions such as the education system. Interdisciplinarity is not a new phenomenon but can already be found in the days of the discipline's origin in Holland. Back then, the first professors of 'Dutch Rhetorics' around 1800 rapidly expanded their specialist studies into the study of 'Dutch language and literature' in the broadest possible sense. Phenomena such as these seem to apply more generally to the process of discipline formation in the humanities. The fact that disciplines such as the 'national philologies' still exist, suggests that specialization, differentiation and 'boundary wars' are not the only road to scientific legitimacy. Extension of the scope, (re)unification with other disciplines and intense communication with social systems inside and outside university are at least as important. 

How to Cite: Johannes, G.-J., 2011. ‘Nationale filologieën’ en het historisch onderzoek naar disciplinevorming in de geesteswetenschappen. Een verkenning. Studium, 4(1), pp.31–46. DOI:
Published on 08 Mar 2011.
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