Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The scholarly self: character, habit, and virtue in the humanities, 1860-1930

Why did 'character', 'habit', and 'virtue' serve as key terms in late 19th and early 20th-century scholarly correspondences, biographies, and obituaries? Why did scholars around 1900 display so much interest in the working habits and character traits of what they called the 'scholarly self'?

2013  -   2018
Herman Paul
Robert Fruin, first Professor of Fatherlands History in Leiden from 1860 to 1894.

Why did scientists around 1900 like to talk about the ‘character’ and the ‘personality’ of famous professors? This project will investigate what these scientists meant by ‘scientific personality’, what scientific ethics  formed the underlying basis for this idea and how such ethics contributed to the formation of scientific disciplines.

Focusing on the humanities around 1900, this project examines the hypothesis that many of those who laid the foundations of modern disciplinary infrastructures saw 'discipline formation' as a project that not only required professorial chairs and scientific periodicals, but also, and especially, a disciplining of the scholar's body, heart, and mind. Their emphasis on the exercise of scholarly habits (e.g., disciplined time management) and character virtues (e.g., impartiality) is therefore best understood as an attempt to provide emerging humanities disciplines with an appropriate research ethic.

If this hypothesis is correct, it will alter our understanding of scholarly discipline formation. It will correct one-sided accounts of discipline formation in institutional and/or methodological terms by drawing attention to a personal dimension, consisting of a disciplining of the scholar's 'self'.

Four subprojects examine:

  1. how 'scholarly selfhood' was envisioned by late 19th and early 20th-century humanities scholars
  2. how these scholars implemented their ideals of scholarly selfhood,
  3. how they monitored the observance of these ideals in day-to-day research
  4. what kind of contexts and conditions enabled these ideals to flourish around 1900.

Each of the subprojects focuses on one or more humanities disciplines, in one or more European countries. Their main sources include scholarly letters, (auto)biographies, obituaries, lecture notes, and methodology manuals.

Although the project focuses on the humanities, it includes a conference aimed at comparing scholarly selfhood in the humanities with its role in medicine, law, chemistry, and physics, thereby placing its results in a wider framework and paving the way for follow-up research.


  • Herman Paul, “The Virtues and Vices of Albert Naudé: Toward a History of Scholarly Personae,” History of Humanities 1 (2016), 327-338.
  • Léjon Saarloos, “Virtue and Vice in Academic Memory: Lord Acton and Charles Oman,” History of Humanities 1 (2016), 339-354.
  • Katharina Manteufel, “A Three-Story Building: Adolf von Harnack and Practices of Academic Mentoring around 1900,” History of Humanities 1 (2016), 355-370.
  • Christiaan Engberts, “Gossiping about the Buddha of Göttingen: Heinrich Ewald as an Unscholarly Persona,” History of Humanities 1 (2016), 371-385.
  • Herman Paul, “Introduction: Scholarly Personae: Repertoires and Performances of Academic Identity,” Low Countries Historical Review 131 no. 4 (2016), 3-7.
  • Christiaan Engberts, “The Scholar as Judge: A Contested Persona in Nineteenth-Century Orientalism,” Low Countries Historical Review 131 no. 4 (2016), 93-111.
  • Herman Paul, “Sources of the Self: Scholarly Personae as Repertoires of Scholarly Selfhood,” Low Countries Historical Review 131 no. 4 (2016), 135-154.
  • Camille Creyghton, Pieter Huistra, Sarah Keymeulen, and Herman Paul, “Virtue Language in Historical Scholarship: The Cases of Georg Waitz, Gabriel Monod and Henri Pirenne,” History of European Ideas 42 (2016), 924-936.
  • Herman Paul, “Historicismo fraco: sobre hierarquias de virtudes e de metas intelectuais,” História da Historiografia 21 (2016), 25-42.


  • Herman Paul, “Habits of Thought and Judgement: E. A. Freeman on Historical Methods,” in Making History: Edward Augustus Freeman and Victorian Cultural Politics, ed. G.A. Bremner and Jonathan Conlin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 273-289.


  • Herman Paul, “What Is a Scholarly Persona? Ten Theses on Virtues, Skills, and Desires,” History and Theory 53 (2014), 348-371.
  • Herman Paul, “Manuals on Historical Method: A Genre of Polemical Reflection on the Aims of Science,” in The Making of the Humanities, vol. 3, ed. Rens Bot, Jaap Maat and Thijs Weststeijn (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014), 171-182.
  • Herman Paul, “Waarheidszin en waarheidsliefde: een vrijzinnige synthese van geloof en wetenschap,” in Theologie, waarheidsliefde en religiekritiek: over geloof en wetenschap aan de Nederlandse universiteiten sedert 1815, ed. L.J. Dorsman and P.J. Knegtmans (Hilversum: Verloren, 2014), 25-43.


  • Pieter Huistra, Herman Paul, and Jo Tollebeek, “Historians in the Archive: An Introduction,” History of the Human Sciences 26, no. 4 (2013), 3-7.
  • Herman Paul, “The Heroic Study of Records: The Contested Persona of the Archival Historian,” History of the Human Sciences 26, no. 4 (2013), 67-83.
  • Herman Paul, “’Werken zoo lang het dag is’: sjablonen van een negentiende-eeuws geleerdenleven,” in De menselijke maat in de wetenschap: de geleerden(auto)biografie als bron voor de wetenschaps- en universiteitsgeschiedenis, ed. L.J. Dorsman en P.J. Knegtmans (Hilversum: Verloren, 2013), 53-73.

Emotion Management and Scholarly Selfhood

On September 29-30 2014, Herman Paul attended a workshop on "Emotion and Subjectivity, 1300-1900" at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (Wassenaar) and deliver a paper on "Emotion Management and Scholarly Selfhood in the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Robert Fruin."

The Dialogical Self

On August 22, 2014, Herman Paul delivered a lecture entitled 'A Dialogue With the Past: What Historians Can Do With Dialogical Self Theory' at the Eighth International Conference on the Dialogical Self.

Passion, Love, and Desire

On April 23, 2014, Herman Paul presented a paper entitled “Why Epistemic Virtues Require Passion, Love, and Desire: A Nineteenth-Century View” at the European Social Science History Conference in Vienna.

The Young Academy
The Young Academy has developed a theater and debate program on scientific integrity called “Gewetenschap.” Herman Paul was one of its initiators and organizers. More information (including performance dates and locations): website de Jonge Akademie

Academic Ethics Then and Now
On www.beroepseer.nl: a video with Herman Paul commenting on academic ethics then (around 1900) and now. See video

Are You an Academic Animal?
An online test developed by the Rathenau Institute and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies in cooperation with Herman Paul (on behalf of The Young Academy): Go to the test

What Can We Learn from Nineteenth-Century Academic Ethics?
A radio & television interview with Herman Paul: website HUMAN (sound only) and website de Jonge Akademie

How to Recognize a Responsible Scholar?
Herman Paul is interviewed about the the nineteenth-century “scholarly self” and its 21st-century equivalents: website Hoe?Zo! Radio

Does the Scholarly Self Still Matter?
Herman Paul explains why the “scholarly self” is especially relevant in an age of “science 3.0”: website Academische Boekengids

Connection with other research

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