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The Middle Ages of the Social Sciences

Le Moyen Âge des sciences sociales

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Published on Monday, November 30, 2020 by Céline Guilleux

Summary

The present issue of the Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines intends to gather inquiries into specific uses of the Middle Ages in twentieth century social sciences. The reference to the Middle Ages may result from a scholarly acquaintance with the medieval world, as well as from tools forged by medieval studies. Alternatively, it may be correlated with intricate cultural mediations, for example through religion or literature. We would like to invite the practitioners of the various disciplines of the SSH (psychoanalysis, sociology, historical anthropology, history, the history of science and knowledge, art history, and philosophy, among others) to contribute to this issue either with a case study, or with a broader methodological or epistemological reflection on their scientific and knowledge practices envisioned from an historical point of view.

Announcement

Coordination

Coordination of the thematic issue: Étienne Anheim et Catherine König-Pralong

Argument

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Middle Ages, both as a concept and as a period, became a point of reference for the historical sciences. The process of periodization through which European societies conceived themselves as “modern” produced an historical representation of alterity: the “middle” age that Renaissance thinkers conceived as the millennium separating them from Antiquity. In a temporal framework that was oriented towards the Revolution and industrialization, the Middles Ages were conceived of negatively. However, Romanticism and the Anti-Enlightenment singled them out as an emblem of a lost paradise, that is, a united, Christian society. These imagined Middles Ages, fleshed out by arts and literature, played a significant role in the reorganization of the sciences that took place over the nineteenth century, giving rise to the modern system of disciplines.

In history, literary studies, linguistics and philosophy, medieval studies were deeply renewed. Scientific endeavors in medieval studies gave rise to the gradual integration of medieval disciplines into the university, the creation of journals and the establishment of societies dedicated to the study of the Middle Ages, as well as the organization of international congresses. These undertakings played out on two fronts. First, the Catholic Church promoted the Middle Ages both as a moral and a scientific age. On August 4, 1879, in the encyclical Aeterni patris, Leo XIII defended the value of “Christian philosophy” for modern societies. He thereby expressed a broad intellectual and social trend towards the rehabilitation of medieval thought. In his lessons at the University of Vienna, which were attended by Edmund Husserl and Sigmund Freud, the Catholic philosopher Franz Brentano mobilized Thomas Aquinas’ realism in order to renew German philosophy, which he considered corrupted by modern spiritualism.

On a second front, the medieval studies that had been institutionalized in the nineteenth century were challenged by the growing interest in the Middle Ages showed by practitioners of new university disciplines, notably sociology, historical anthropology and political science—intellectual endeavors that were not deprived of conservative agendas. To the eyes of Marcel Mauss, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Georg Simmel, the Middle Ages, seen as the flipside of modernity, provided a field for experimentation.[1] The interest in religion defined as an interpretation system and a “total social fact”, on the one hand, and, on the other, the foundational distinction between modern society (Gesellschaft) and primitive or medieval community (Gemeinschaft) made the Middle Ages, seen as religious, communitarian and corporatist, a core issue in anthropology and sociology.

The Middle Ages have nourished the social sciences and humanities (SSH), from history to psychoanalysis, both directly and through the modern sciences that resulted from their study. Indeed, from the end of the nineteenth century onwards, writings, topics, sociopolitical agendas, and methodological endeavors from medieval studies circulated outside the field. Conversely, the social sciences, especially anthropology, in the twentieth century renewed these studies. The constellation of medievalists that formed around the Annales and the ‘histoire des mentalités’ provides a paradigmatic example of this phenomenon.

The present issue of the Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines intends to gather inquiries into specific uses of the Middle Ages in twentieth century social sciences. The reference to the Middle Ages may result from a scholarly acquaintance with the medieval world, as well as from tools forged by medieval studies in order to address the materiality of manuscripts, oral history, writing before printing, or circulation of knowledge. Alternatively, it may be correlated with intricate cultural mediations, for example through religion or literature. These uses can be studied in individual socio-intellectual trajectories or collective undertakings, via institutions in a broad sense, comprising schools, ‘schools of thought’, journals, as well as other editorial and knowledge dissemination strategies. The issue’s scope includes media theory, psychoanalysis, sociology, anthropology, science studies, art history, and philosophy.

Let us consider a few examples. In Panofsky’s, Ruskin’s and Warburg’s oeuvres, the Middle Ages became an emblematic terrain of art history. In 1923, sixteen years before his writings on Galileo’s physics, Alexandre Koyré published a study on Saint Anselm.[2] Some years later, he challenged Pierre Duhem’s interpretation according to which modern science was born in the Middle Ages; that criticism played a significant role in Koyré’s own epistemology.[3] Before becoming a specialist in historiographical discourse and narrativity, the American historian Hayden White was a classical medievalist. In the Vatican Archives, he worked on his PhD thesis dealing with the great papal schism of 1130. Between 1950 and 1960, he published studies on Bernard of Clairvaux, Pontius of Cluny and the Papal Curia.[4] Even in disciplines with canons oriented towards antiquity and modernity, like German university philosophy, the Middle Ages could be a topic for obtaining degrees in the twentieth century. For his habilitation thesis, Martin Heidegger chose neither an ancient text nor a modern author, but a treatise On the ways of signifying that he falsely attributed to the Franciscan John Duns Scotus (around 1300).[5]

The way Marshall McLuhan and his circle elaborated media and communication theory illustrates the various modes according to which medieval studies have shaped the SSH, as well as the kind of papers we are calling for. McLuhan dedicated most of his PhD thesis, which he defended in 1943, to the tradition of medieval grammar.[6] In his socio-intellectual constellation, for instance in his most famous disciple, the Jesuit Walter J. Ong, the medieval manuscript embodies the passage from a sensory world to another, from orality and audition to vision. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan considers medieval scholasticism as the beginning of a process that culminates in the modern empire of writing. As for the contemporary global village, a world of electronic media that is again multisensorial, it is defined by the means of a sentence taken from a twelfth century Latin work (the Book of the Twenty-Four Philosophers): a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.[7] Yet, McLuhan converted to Catholicism in 1937 and was an admirer of Étienne Gilson, who had contributed to promoting the publishing house J. Vrin, in Paris, as a hub for medieval studies. Furthermore, in 1929 Gilson founded the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies (PIMS) in Toronto. From 1950 to 1973, he was a professor at PIMS. That institute, its journal (Medieval Studies, launched in 1939), Gilson’s courses, McLuhan’s teaching in literature studies, his exchanges with Carpenter, Innis and Havelock, as well as the Centre for Culture and Technology created for him in 1963 at the University of Toronto, were the places through which medieval studies met and nourished a new discipline, Media Theory.

We would like to invite the practitioners of the various disciplines of the SSH (psychoanalysis, sociology, historical anthropology, history, the history of science and knowledge, art history, and philosophy, among others) to contribute to this issue of the RHSH either with a case study, or with a broader methodological or epistemological reflection on their scientific and knowledge practices envisioned from an historical point of view. We would like to favor multifaceted approaches that situate material or intellectual objects in the history of institutions, ideas and scholarly practices. Nevertheless, as method is itself the product of specific disciplinary practices, we will not restrict submissions in this way. This journal issue also aims at embracing a range of different approaches. It intends to highlight how the SSH have challenged modernity, and how this challenge is very different from that raised by the critics of the Enlightenment. From Horkheimer and Adorno onwards, the criticism of the legacy of the Enlightenment often took the form of a frontal assault, since it assumed continuity from the Enlightened Society to the twentieth century. In contrast, the Middle Ages, a vitrified object under the gaze of its specialists, did not have to be rejected or defended. However, the invention of the Middle Ages by a modernity that had distinguished itself from them involved a dialectical process in which the Middle Ages played a paradoxical role: in the twentieth century, the Middle Ages were used to challenge modernity through the the very sciences that embodied modern reflexivity, that is, the SSH.

Instructions for authors

Article proposals (3000 characters maximum), in English or French, should be sent

by February 1st, 2021

to the following addresses: etienne.anheim@ehess.fr, catherine.koenig-pralong@ehess.fr

The papers should be sent to the same addresses, by January 1st, 2022.

The journal accepts articles in English and French, from 40,000 to 60,000 characters (spaces included).

Instructions for authors can be found here: https://journals.openedition.org/rhsh/1273.

Notes

[1] Otto Gerhard Oexle, “Les groupes sociaux du Moyen Âge et les débuts de la sociologie contemporaine”, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 47, 1992, pp. 751-765.

[2] Alexandre Koyré, L’idée de Dieu dans la philosophie de saint Anselme, Paris, Ernest Leroux, 1923.

[3] Maurice Clavelin, “Le débat Koyré‐Duhem, hier et aujourd’hui”, History and Technology, 4, 1987, pp. 13-35.

[4] Herman Paul, “A Weberian medievalist: Hayden White in the 1950s”, Rethinking History, 12, 2008, pp. 75-102.

[5] Martin Heidegger, Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus, in Frühe Schriften, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1972, pp. 133-352.

[6] Marshall McLuhan, The Classical Trivium. The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time, Corte Madera, Gingko Press, 2006 [1943]. On the feedback effect of media theory on Canadian medieval studies: Patrick Moran, “Marshall McLuhan : un spectre hante-t-il les études médiévales canadiennes ?”, Perspectives médiévales, 37, 2016; DOI: 10.4000/peme.9930.

[7] Emma Findley-White and Robert K. Logan, “Acoustic Space, Marshall McLuhan and Links to Medieval Philosophers and Beyond: Center Everywhere and Margin Nowhere”, Philosophies, 1, 2016, pp. 162-169.

Date(s)

  • Monday, February 01, 2021

Keywords

  • sciences sociales, Moyen Âge, médiévistique, sociologie, histoire des sciences, psychanalyse, sciences politiques, épistémologie, philosophie, histoire de l’art

Contact(s)

  • Étienne Anheim
    courriel : etienne [dot] anheim [at] ehess [dot] fr
  • Catherine König-Pralong
    courriel : catherine [dot] koenig-pralong [at] ehess [dot] fr

Information source

  • Céline Barthonnat
    courriel : celine [dot] barthonnat [at] cnrs [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Middle Ages of the Social Sciences », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, November 30, 2020, https://calenda.org/818891

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