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Philology as Science in 19th-Century Europe

Project description

Understanding how philology worked as a science in 19th century Europe

Philology once reigned as ‘queen of the sciences’. In 19th-century Europe, as the research university was founded and modern disciplines were formed, the study of text and language became the premier model for building knowledge. The EU-funded project PhiSci will explore how philology worked as a system of knowledge-production, one that claimed to be universal in its approach to the great diversity of cultural artifacts and the human past. Through its new account of philology from the late 1700s to early 1900s, the project will trace the transformation of infrastructure, media, collaboration, and techniques into seemingly stable knowledge and knowledge communities. PhiSci therefore aims to show how philology projected both scientific unity and scientific authority.


Philology once defined what it meant to be scientific – and it may yet once again. Increasingly a broad array of scholars using digital methods cite the historical accomplishments of philology as a model for systematic study around unwieldy and heterogenous textual corpuses. Despite this renewed interest, there is still no systemic account for the huge range of activity and aegis, data and networks, that propelled philology to its status as a model or even the 'queen of science' in C19 Europe. In drawing on history of science, media studies, information studies and diverse textual methods, this project offers that holistic account of how and why philology as a 'science in the making' achieved such extraordinary success. It articulates the widely sought yet unachieved bridge that would permit rigorous interdisciplinary exchange between philology – its historical and contemporary iterations – and present-day endeavors in the fields of digital humanities, critical data studies, infrastructure studies and de/post-colonial studies. PhiSci takes philology seriously as a science and gives it the kind of treatment that has dominated history of science for the last generation. Pioneering a novel account of philology from the French Revolution to First World War, it pursues a central question: How did local ensembles of protocols, representation, instrumentation and cooperation consolidate into robust programs for the genesis of stable knowledge and knowledge communities? It gives special attention to heterogeneity and universality in key concepts and practices and to physical aspects like media and infrastructure: elements undervalued or rarely grasped in terms of their epistemic work for producing data, evidence and facts. PhiSci will thus explain how philology operated as a relational system that – in the diversity of its data and perpetual flux in its projects and personnel –projected unity that enabled it to wield a scientific authority greater than the sum of its parts.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 464 300,00
9000 Gent

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Oost-Vlaanderen Arr. Gent
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 464 300,00

Beneficiaries (1)