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The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities
James Turner

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Language & Linguistics, Association of American Publishers
One of The Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the year 2014, chosen by Thom Shippey

Paperback | September 2015 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691168586
576 pp. | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691145648
576 pp. | 6 x 9 | SHOPPING CART

eBook | ISBN: 9781400850150 |
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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 Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught 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).


"[M]eticulously researched . . ."--Caroline Moorhead, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] substantial survey of the growth of scholarship. . . . Only a brute would resist his argument, since the volume of evidence he has amassed really does warrant the use of the verb 'amass', and his purpose is manifestly good."--Colin Burrow, London Review of Books

"James Turner's book on 'philology' must be the most wide-ranging work of intellectual history for many years."--Tom Shippey, Wall Street Journal

"[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

"[Turner] undertakes the mother of all thankless tasks: a comprehensive history of 'the queen of the human sciences,' the multiform discipline of philology. It's a stupendous work of scholarship and synergy, and nobody knows better than its author the uphill struggle before it. . . . The end result is the best and liveliest book (indeed, one of the only books of its kind that I know of) about philology ever written."--Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

"A rich intellectual history of what many American scholars would describe as the long lost art and science of philology."--Peter Sacks, Minding the Campus

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      File created: 3/31/2015

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