Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Professorial Families in German-speaking Europe, 1860-1930

How was the Scholarly Self cultivated in professorial families of the humanities, in German-speaking Europe between 1860 and 1930?

2013 - 2017

In the developing humanities disciplines of the late nineteenth century, scholarly ideals were often discussed in terms of personal character and qualities. Among German academics, for instance, to be regarded as a wissenschaftliche Persönlichkeit was the highest of praise. But what did it actually take to acquire a "scholarly self"? In the shadow of highly idealizing public debates, university professors provided a tangible role model for their students on a day-to-day basis. Their example, demands, and practices shaped their pupils' perception of what a future life as a scholar may actually entail; of the promises it held and the commitments it required. Of course, socialization was never a question of teachers simply implementing their own ideals, or pupils conforming to a given model. Eventually, even the best of intentions either way produced contingent results. Nonetheless, distinctive "family dynamics" can be observed, by tracing teacher-pupil relationships through time, and far beyond the formal university setting.

Teacher-pupil relationships provide a promising field of research into the construction of professional identities. From this perspective, my project makes a contribution to the project of The Scholarly Self: Character, Habit and Virtue in the Humanities 1860-1930. As a whole, the project examines discipline formation in terms of scholars' (self-) disciplined adherence to a professional ethos. If it is not to remain limited to normative discourses, it is essential to make the socialization into "good scholarship" a central focus of investigation. The process of (self-) disciplining needs questioning and explaining: what did it mean to be a good scholar, and what did it take to become one? From a conceptual framework of professorial families, as sites of socialization into tacit knowledge, my approach calls attention to dialogue, negotiation and appropriation.

My research explores:

  1. which scientific ethos a teacher wished to convey,
  2. which practices he deployed to stimulate or sanction (perceived) character traits and virtues in his pupils, throughout their professional training and career
  3. how pupils responded and developed initiative
  4. how teachers reacted to their pupils' agency in turn.

My investigation comprises an in-depth analysis of a sample of case studies from different disciplines and academic centers. I concentrate on figures who exerted a major influence on the development of their respective disciplines in their capacity as teachers, by supervising a large number of students and engaging actively and successfully with the further career of their academic progeny.

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