Conference Report “Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philological Encounters”



by Hannah Klaubert (Zukunftsphilologie/Freie Universität Berlin)

German Abstract: Die Konferenz  „Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philological Encounters” des Forschungsprogramms Zukunftsphilologie fand von 4. bis 5. Juni 2014 in Leiden, Niederlande, statt. Gegenstand der Konferenz waren sowohl die politischen und sozio-historischen Hintergründe philologischer Praxis als auch die Wissensproduktion und ihre Verflechtung mit staatlichen, persönlichen und institutionellen Interessen der beteiligten Akteure im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert.

Die globale Perspektive der internationalen und interdisziplinären Konferenz und der fruchtbare Dialog zwischen den Teilnehmenden ermöglichten eine vielschichtige historische Kritik der Philologie als Disziplin.

The research program Zukunftsphilologie, now in its fourth year, aims to recuperate the discipline of philology through re-examining philological traditions and their underlying power structures. The program argues that a critical analysis of knowledge production can challenge an exclusivist notion of the self and the canon while taking marginalized textual practice and literary cultures into account. Central to this critical philology is the study not only of disciplinary academic knowledge but also the contexts (institutions and societies) of this knowledge as well as the personal entanglements of the scholars in relation to the object of their study.


Photo: Zukunftsphilologie


The international conference “Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philological Encounters”, organized by Zukunftsphilologie in cooperation with LUCIS (Leiden University Center for the Study of Islam and Society), Leiden University, Freie Universität Berlin, CNRS Berlin, Utrecht University and Forum Transregionale Studien, was dedicated to the study of the tensions, antagonisms and polemics as well as fascination, cooperation and friendships that accompanied the globalization of knowledge in the 19th and 20th centuries and its influence on scholarly practice. Scholars from different disciplines and academic institutions were invited to Leiden from 4th to 5th June 2014 to present papers dealing with real-life encounters between scholars, the institutional framing of these meetings and the traces of the encounters that can be found in the scholars’ works and correspondence. The period chosen for the conference is especially interesting as a foundational moment of modern humanities. Moreover, the 19th and 20th century witnessed an accelerated rate of individual interactions across the globe, including scholarly encounters, largely due to colonial expansion and technological progress. As a consequence, philology experienced a wave of professionalization as well as institutional and financial growth. This process was deeply pervaded by political as well as personal interests of numerous agents.

One recurring topic of the conference were the political entanglements of nineteenth- and twentieth-century western Orientalism. Umar Ryad (Utrecht University) underlined the religious polemics, internal political controversies and western diplomatic and colonial interests that influenced the nominations of western Orientalists for the Royal Academy of Cairo. Elisabetta Benigni (University of Turin) examined a whole generation of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian Orientalists and their connection to Cairo University, emphasising the unique positions that these Orientalists had in contrast to their Northern European colleagues. The roots of American Orientalism in European philosophical and philological traditions were analyzed by Mishka Sinha (Zukunftsphilologie/Cambridge University). Göran Larsson (University of Gothenburg) explored Swedish Orientalist Henrik Nyberg’s scientific journey to Cairo and the reception of his work and thought in Sweden, coloured by contemporary Christian religious debates in his home country. Dyala Hamzah (University of Montreal) focused on the work of the pioneering Arab historian Darwish al-Miqdadi (1897-1961) as he articulated in school textbooks the transition from local patriotism to nationalism, and from Islamic historiography to the modern discipline of history, while Ammeke Kateman (University of Amsterdam) described a real life encounter: the meeting between Islamic reformer Muhammad ‘Abduh, the British scholar Herbert Spencer and his colleague Wilfrid Blunt in Brighton. She examined the narrative of this literal encounter in the context of a merging global sphere of academic exchange, dealing with concepts such as ‘religion’.

Another important factor in the production of knowledge in nineteenth-century scholarship was the help of ‘native’ informants who worked for the colonial powers and western scholars after the breakdown of their own educational institutions. which is elaborated by Sonam Kachru’s (Zukunftsphilologie) paper on the collaboration of Kashmir pandits and the British scholar George Abraham Grierson in the writing of a commonly used dictionary. Kachru also underlined the deep friendship and mutual admiration that connected the scholars during their cooperation.


Photo: Zukunftsphilologie


Collectors of manuscripts and texts played an important role in the formation of today’s philological canon: Thibaut d’Hubert (Zukunftsphilologie/University of Chicago) examined the collection and career of Scottish colonial officer John Murray MacGregor in Bengal. Murray’s collaborations with Muslim secretaries and their connections with Hindu pandits and Buddhist monks make his archives an interesting multilayered subject of study. Another culture of collecting was examined by Tal Hever-Chybowski (HU Berlin) who presented an initiative of Yiddish cultural institutions which appointed non- or semi-professional “Zamlers” to collect Yiddish cultural artefacts such as sayings, stories and songs in the early 20th century; this philological, ethnographical and historical project can be read as a diasporic model of philological research in contrast to centralized nation-state philological institutions of that time.

The question of professional training and education systems leads to another important factor of knowledge production, which was discussed during the conference: the question of legitimation. Andrés Jiménez-Ángel (Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) explored how the phenomenon of ‘cultural pilgrimage’, i.e. voyages to certain cities and places in Europe, and correspondence with European scholars were a fundamental component in scientific legitimation of early Colombian scholarly practice. Herman Paul (Leiden University) presented an example of a heated debate in the 19th century on ‘scholarly virtues’ necessary for ‘objective’ scholarship. Pablo Martínez (University of Buenos Aires) explored how the biography of Argentinian philologist Ricardo Rojas, founder of the first institute of Argentine Literature in 1922, was largely governed by his interactions with European scholars and institutions. Rojas is one symbolic figure in the establishment of Argentinian philological institutions whose foundational phase was shaped by the interaction with European, particularly Spanish language academies. The connection between nation-building, colonial power structures, political interests and philological practice was also underlined by Michael Facius (Freie Universität Berlin), who described the fundamental changes in the study of Chinese language in Japan during the Meiji-period (1868-1912); Japan’s integration into the emerging global order and the contacts with western academic and disciplinary systems dramatically changed the notion of Chinese language and its study.

The interdisciplinary conference with its global perspective cast light on the central role of the “Philological Encounter” within the development of concepts of legitimate philological practice, methodology and institutions. The study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship, its contexts and influences, will be continued in future meetings in order to critically reassess the study of texts with regard to their political and social dimensions. The personal encounter between scholars interested in a fruitful historical critique of philology in Leiden is already one step in this direction. The papers of the conference will be published in a special issue of the forthcoming new journal of Zukunftsphilologie entitled “Philological Encounters”.


Citation: Hannah Klaubert, Conference Report »Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philological Encounters«, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 29.07.2014

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Editorial Board (2014, 29. Juli). Conference Report “Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philological Encounters”. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 20. Mai 2024, von

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