zaterdag 2 augustus 2014

The ‘science-ification’ of arts and humanities research

Sometimes a book gets an unexpected interpretation. This came to my mind when I read that the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has decided to strive towards the ‘science-ification’ of the arts. Surprisingly, my book is taken as an example: "This ‘science-ification’ of arts and humanities research is documented vividly in A New History of the Humanities by Rens Bod". Click here for further reading.

I need to stress that my book doesn't deal with the ‘science-ification’ of the humanities. Instead, I show two rather different but equally surprising things: (1) What we nowadays believe to be 'scientific' (i.e. the empirical search for patterns and laws that can be tested by observation) was already invented by humanists in the 15th century in their empirical investigation of texts, art, music and the past. (2) Nowhere in the history of the humanities do we come across an acute divide between humanities and science: both humanists and scientists search for underlying patterns and interpretations of them.

I'm worried to see my history of the humanities malinterpreted, so I need to get things straight. Sadly modern humanists believe that they are moving towards science when they use an empirical approach. They are mistaken. Scholars using empirical methods are returning to their roots in the 15th-century studia humanitatis when the empirical approach was invented — and not since disappeared.

So my book could be used as evidence that the humanities have always been empirical (indeed, what we nowadays exclusively but incorrectly call 'scientific'). The current image of the humanities as being merely or mostly speculative is just wrong. Interpretations may be speculative, patterns are not, even though we will never be sure whether the patterns found are real or in the mind of the beholder. But this doesn't matter: patterns can be percevied -- and next intepreted -- by the reader, listener, observer. For more about this, see my contribution on OUP Blog.

For more about patterns in today's humanities research, see Bill Benzon's blog.

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