Many today do not recognize the word, but "philology" was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. How did it become little more than an archaic word? In Philology, the first history of Western humanistic learning as a connected whole ever published in English, James Turner tells the fascinating, forgotten story of how the study of languages and texts led to the modern humanities and the modern university.
This compelling narrative traces the development of humanistic learning from its beginning among ancient Greek scholars and rhetoricians, through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, to the English-speaking world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Turner shows how evolving researches into the texts, languages, and physical artifacts of the past led, over many centuries, to sophisticated comparative methods and a deep historical awareness of the uniqueness of earlier ages. But around 1800, he explains, these interlinked philological and antiquarian studies began to fragment into distinct academic fields. These fissures resulted, within a century or so, in the new, independent "disciplines" that we now call the humanities. Yet the separation of these disciplines only obscured, rather than erased, their common features.
The humanities today face a crisis of relevance, if not of meaning and purpose. Understanding their common origins--and what they still share--has never been more urgent.
James Turner is the Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches in the History Department and the doctoral program in history and philosophy of science. He is the author of The Liberal Education of Charles Eliot Norton and Religion Enters the Academy, and the coauthor of The Sacred and the Secular University (Princeton).
"[Turner] traces philology's origins and history, from Greek rhetoric to the Renaissance, on through the dawn of the modern humanities in the 19th-century and finally into its 20th-century decline. The story he tells is of a wide-ranging, all-encompassing field of learning that was forced to grow, evolve, and eventually spawn its successors over the centuries. . . . Thorough, occasionally wry, passionate . . . the sort of work that may be heralded as a masterpiece in the field."--Publishers Weekly
"Finally, we have a careful study of the historical foundations in philology of most of the modern humanistic disciplines. Turner shows in detail how these disciplines--including art history, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, classics, and literary scholarship--developed out of philology in a dynamic similar to that by which the physical sciences emerged out of natural philosophy and the social sciences out of moral philosophy."--David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley
"This very important and necessary book displays the qualities that have long marked James Turner's scholarship--deftness, wit, and clarity. This is a work whose humanity matches that of its subject."--Michael O'Brien, University of Cambridge
"This fascinating book makes a powerful argument: that the modern humanities derived in large part from the broad tradition of philology. This genealogy, Turner shows, clarifies the origins of both the modern research university and its disciplines, and explains similarities between such apparently diverse fields as history and comparative religion. He offers a compelling account of the role that biblical studies played in the intellectual history of modern Britain and America, and he makes sense of the development of modern literary studies in a way that no historian has managed to before. This is a gripping intellectual detective story."--Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by James Turner: