The Making of the Humanities

MAKHUM IV poster

Within two weeks the fourth conference on the history of the humanities, ‘The Making of the Humanities IV’ will take place at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome. This series of biennially organized conferences brings together scholars and historians interested in the comparative history of the humanities.

For some time histories of single humanities’ disciplines exist, in the case of literary studies one can think for example of Gerald Graffs Professing Literature. An Institutional History (1987) and the Dutch study Het belang van smaak. Twee eeuwen academische literatuurgeschiedschrijving (1997) by Nico Laan. Yet, the history of the humanities as a whole has only very recently been object of study.

While previous editions of ‘The Making of the Humanities’ conference focus on a specific period, this fourth edition welcomes papers on any period, taking as its central theme ‘Connecting Disciplines’ with a special interest in comparing methods and patterns across disciplines. Keynote lectures will be held by Fenrong Liu (Tsinghua University, Department of Philosophy), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) and Helen Small (University of Oxford, Faculty of English).

I am very thrilled to deliver a paper on the first day of the conference on ‘Criticism as a Connecting Principle: ‘Modes of Subjectivity’ in the Humanities’. In the paper, I would like to approach criticism as a scientific ‘mode of subjectivity’. According to Steven Shapin the inquiry of scientific modes of knowledge-making focuses primarily on objectivity (as an ideal). As a result, the investigation of the workings and specific forms of subjectivity in science is often neglected. Yet, when thinking about connecting disciplines in the Humanities the aspect of criticism can offer a fruitful insight in the way the Humanities form a whole. The study of the precise workings and functionalities of this special mode of knowledge-making in the day-to-day work of scholars is much needed: What do we actually mean when we speak – as academics – of criticism? Does the academic idea of criticism differ from the public idea of criticism, and if so, in what respect? How do conceptions of criticism change through time? In my paper I will give a demonstration of current research into the interrelation of scholarship and criticism that is characteristic of the history of the Humanities.

For more information on the conference see the website: 


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