The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities
Princeton University Press 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network August 10, 2015 Lilian Calles Barger
James Turner is Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, at Notre Dame University. His book Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton University Press, 2014) recovers the significance of philology, the study of language, that for centuries was synonymous with humanistic intellectual life. Turner provides a detailed and fascinating study that traces philology’s beginning in Greek and Roman speculation about language and follows it to the early twentieth century. At the library in Alexandria, Greeks speculated about language, invented rhetoric, analyzed texts and created grammar. Roman diffusion and Christian adaptation spread the influence of philology. The medieval scholars kept it alive until the Renaissance when humanist gave it new life only to escape the most toxic aspects of the Reformation. By the nineteenth century, philology covered three distinct modes of inquiry: textual philology included the study of ancient and biblical literature, language theories of origin, and comparative historical studies of structure and language systems. All philologists held to the belief that history was key to understanding the diversity and change in language. Comparative methods and genealogical understanding accompanied historical analysis. These methods applied not only to texts but also to material objects, structures, art, people groups, and eventually became the foundation for the modern disciplines of anthropology, history, art history, linguistics, literary and religious studies we know today. Turner points to the need to reintegrate scholarly erudition away from insular disciplines and recover the expansive and humanistic reach of philology.