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Johan Wertheim werkt aan het borstbeeld van P.J. Blok

Call for papers for conference 'The Persona of the Historian: Repertoires and Performances, 1800-2000'

What does it take to be a good historian? What are the capacities or dispositions needed to thrive as an historian? Put differently, what are the talents, skills, and virtues that historians qua historians have to cultivate? What are the “passions” or the “vices” they are expected to resist? And how do such ideas about “the scholarly self” change over time? These questions will be discussed at the conference 'The Persona of the Historian' at the Leiden University Institute for History, 26-27 January 2017.

In recent years, historians working on issues of scholarly selfhood have introduced the term “scholarly personae” (or scientific personae) to draw attention to models or templates of scholarly selfhood, and to creative, idiosyncratic appropriations or performances of such repertoires by individual scholars.

Although authors such as Lorraine Daston, H. Otto Sibum, Conal Condren, Stephen Gaukroger, and Ian Hunter disagree on the exact nature of scholarly personae, they all address scholarly selfhood in terms of repertoires that never entirely disappear, but remain available, dominantly or marginally, manifestly or latently, with the possibility of being re-appropriated, in different forms, if circumstances so require.

Conference aims

This conference reexamines the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical scholarship through the prism of scholarly personae. It seeks to enrich existing literature by exploring the “psychagogical” dimensions of historical studies – how did historians mold their scholarly selves? –  as well as to challenge the conventional view that such approaches succeed each other like generations. Specifically, the conference addresses three questions:

  1. What were the most important, the most neglected, and the most contested scholarly personae in nineteenth- and twentieth-century historiography?
  2. How did such personae function (as models to be imitated, as embodiments of virtues, as educational templates, as stereotypical objectified images, as shorthand for historiographical schools or traditions)?
  3. If personae are like repertoires, to what extent then do they allow for a rewriting of the history of historiography, not in terms of “succession,” but in terms of “sedimentation” (a gradual enrichment of available repertoires, with layers of possibilities that grow over time)?

The working definition assumed in these questions is that scholarly personae are models of what it takes, in terms of capacities and dispositions, to be a good historian. Although personae are often named after individual scholars, they tend towards the ideal-typical by embodying abstract priorities (e.g., accuracy over scope, independent judgment over reverence for the nation state). Characteristic of those priorities, finally, is that they make demands on the historian’s self – on skills, talents, virtues, and character traits – which helps explain why personae were, and are, especially relevant in educational contexts (what are the traits that students have to develop in order to become good historians?).


The conference will feature Ian Hunter (Queensland) as a keynote speaker. Other confirmed speakers include Monika Baár (Leiden), Michael Bentley (St Andrews), Elise Garritzen (Helsinki), David N. Myers (UCLA), and Edward Q. Wang (Rowan).

There is space for a maximum of ten additional papers that address any of the three questions listed above. While the conference focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there are no geographical limitations – papers dealing with non-European historiography are especially welcome. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The Historian as Nation Builder: Transatlantic Transfers of an Contested Persona
  • Reviving the Maurist Tradition: Catholic Historians between Dogma and Source Criticism
  • Jørgen Tesman: Literary Representations of the Dry-as-Dust Historian
  • Against Patriarchy: How Did the Persona of the Feminist Historian Evolve over Time?
  • The Post-Colonial Challenge: Reinventing the Scholarly Self in India
  • The Historian as Entrepreneur: Standards of Excellence in Grant Competitions


  • Conal Condren, Stephen Gaukroger, and Ian Hunter, “Introduction,” in The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe: The Nature of a Contested Identity, ed. Conal Condren, Stephen Gaukroger, and Ian Hunter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 1-16.
  • Lorraine Daston and H. Otto Sibum, “Introduction: Scientific Personae and Their Histories,” Science in Context 16 (2003), 1-8.
  • Ian Hunter, “The History of Philosophy and the Persona of the Philosopher,” Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007), 571-600.
  • Herman Paul, “What Is a Scholarly Persona? Ten Theses on Virtues, Skills, and Desires,” History and Theory 53 (2014), 348-371.


Please submit 300-word abstracts with relevant contact details by June 15, 2016 to Herman Paul at h.j.paul@hum.leidenuniv.nl. Notification of acceptance will be given by July 1, 2016.

Other practicalities

  • The conference language will be English
  • The conference venue will be Leiden University (not far from Schiphol Airport)
  • Speakers will be exempted from the conference fee
  • Lunches and a conference dinner will be offered to all speakers at no cost
  • Costs for travel and lodging will NOT be reimbursed
  • Publication of a selection of the papers is envisioned


This conference is organized by Herman Paul in the context of his NWO-funded research project, “The Scholarly Self: Character, Habit, and Virtue in the Humanities, 1860-1930.” For more information, please contact Herman Paul.

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