Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Scholarly Vices: A Longue Durée History

Why do scholars frequently evaluate each other’s work in terms that are centuries old? Although modern science differs considerably from early modern learning, 17th-century terms like “dogmatism,” “prejudice,” and “speculation” are still being used, even if their meanings have changed over time.

2019 - 2024
Herman Paul
NWO Vici NWO Vici

This project tries to explain the persistence of this cultural repertoire by zooming in on (1) interaction between idioms (cultural repertoires) available to scholars at certain points in time, (2) mechanisms that help transmit repertoires across time and place, and (3) rhetorical purposes for which repertoires can be used.

Drawing on a wide array of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century sources from across the academic spectrum, the project tests three hypotheses: (1) early modern language of vice persisted in productive interaction with modern notions of “bias,” “subjectivity,” and “conflicts of interest”; (2) commonplaces, anecdotes, and stereotypes (“dark Middle Ages”) were major mechanisms of transmission; and (3) language of vice was attractive, not despite, but because of its time-honored origins.

By doing so, the project hopes to enrich our understanding of continuity and discontinuity between early modern learning and modern science. It hopes to build bridges between fields (in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences) that are too often studied in isolation from each other. Finally, in the realm of knowledge utilization, it wants to encourage scholars to reflect on contemporary scholarly virtues and vices.

Project leader: Herman Paul
Postdoc: Alexander Stöger
PhD students: Anne Por, Hidde Slotboom, Edurne De Wilde

The project is built around a single question: What explains the persistence of early modern language of vice in modern scholarly discourse? This question can be divided into three sub-questions:

  1. To what extent did early modern language of vice persist in modern scholarly discourse?
  2. How was early modern language of vice transmitted into modern scholarly discourse?
  3. How How What purposes did early modern language of vice serve in modern scholarly discourse?

Question 1, about the persistence of early modern vices, will be addressed in two postdoc projects, both of which are scheduled to start in September 2020: 

  • Pride and Prejudice: Moral Languages in Scholarly Codes of Conduct, 1900-2000
  • Falling Short of Expectations: Evaluative Languages in Scholarly Book Reviews, 1900-2000

Question 2, on mechanisms of transmission, is the subject of two PhD projects:

  • Hodegetics: Language of Vice in Student Advice Literature, 1700-1900
  • The Dark Middle Ages: Language of Vice in Histories of Science, 1700-1900 

Question 3, on modern uses to which early modern vices were put, is addressed in two final projects (a postdoc and a PhD project, respectively):

  • Idols of the Mind: Modern Variations on a Baconian Theme, 1800-2000
  • Scholarly Dogmatism: A Rhetorical History, 1800-2000

In the course of the project, four small (one- or two-day) workshops will be organized at Leiden University. Details will be communicated in due course.


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