Universiteit Leiden

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Herman Paul appointed Professor of History of the Humanities

The Executive Board has appointed Herman Paul (Institute for History) as Professor of History of the Humanities. He will take up the role from 1 January 2019.

Herman Paul

Herman Paul has taught historiography and historical theory in Leiden since 2007. A Vidi grant from NWO in 2013 enabled him to expand his field of research to the history of the humanities. ‘Academic virtues and vices are central to this research,’ says Paul. ‘These are qualities that are – or aren’t – fitting for a scholar. Opinions about what these are change over time. And what is interesting is that they are relevant to all disciplines: the question of what makes a good scholar is just as relevant to chemists as it is to art historians. Looking through the lens of virtue and vice makes it possible to compare disciplines.’

The history of the humanities

Paul believes it is high time that history of the humanities as a whole is taught and studied. ‘Until recently Germanists studied the history of German Studies, Arabists the history of Arab Studies and so on. But now we meet up, for instance at the annual History of Humanities conferences, we are discovering how much these disciplinary histories have in common. And also how many interesting differences there are. History of the humanities is the umbrella under which young researchers, in particular, are starting all sorts of comparative projects – also comparisons with disciplines in the natural and social sciences.’

Is it a coincidence that the chair in History of the Humanities has been created at a point in which the humanities are hitting the headlines? Paul: ‘No, it’s no coincidence! Whenever the humanities are under pressure, people start asking philosophical and historical questions about what the humanities actually are, where they come from and what benefit they are to society. That was the case in the 19th century, in the middle of the 20th century and now once again. I hope to be able to add to these debates from the historical perspective.’

The rich tradition of humanities in Leiden

‘And I think it’s wonderful that the chair is in Leiden, where the humanities have such a rich tradition. It also presents plenty of opportunity for teaching. In the University Library, there are fantastic professors’ archives that I like to introduce students to. Two seminars are already planned for the next academic year. I would also really like to be able to teach such classes with colleagues from other parts of the Faculty.’

Alongside his work in Leiden, Paul has held a special chair in secularisation studies at the University of Groningen since 2012. ‘I will have to finish that secularisation project, but I do want to conclude my research on “secularisation of the self” in a proper and fitting way, so I’ll stay in Groningen for a bit longer.’

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