The Scholarly Self

Character, Habit, and Virtue in the Humanities, 1860-1930


Why did 'character', 'habit', and 'virtue' serve as key terms in late 19th and early 20th-century scholarly correspondences, biographies, and obituaries? Why did scholars around 1900 display so much interest in the working habits and character traits of what they called the 'scholarly self'?
Focusing on the humanities around 1900, this project examines the hypothesis that many of those who laid the foundations of modern disciplinary infrastructures saw 'discipline formation' as a project that not only required professorial chairs and scientific periodicals, but also, and especially, a disciplining of the scholar's body, heart, and mind. Their emphasis on the exercise of scholarly habits (e.g., disciplined time management) and character virtues (e.g., impartiality) is therefore best understood as an attempt to provide emerging humanities disciplines with an appropriate research ethic.
If this hypothesis is correct, it will alter our understanding of scholarly discipline formation. It will correct one-sided accounts of discipline formation in institutional and/or methodological terms by drawing attention to a personal dimension, consisting of a disciplining of the scholar's 'self'.
Four subprojects examine (1) how 'scholarly selfhood' was envisioned by late 19th and early 20th-century humanities scholars, (2) how these scholars implemented their ideals of scholarly selfhood, (3) how they monitored the observance of these ideals in day-to-day research, and (4) what kind of contexts and conditions enabled these ideals to flourish around 1900. Each of the subprojects focuses on one or more humanities disciplines, in one or more European countries. Their main sources include scholarly letters, (auto)biographies, obituaries, lecture notes, and methodology manuals.
Although the project focuses on the humanities, it includes a conference aimed at comparing scholarly selfhood in the humanities with its role in medicine, law, chemistry, and physics, thereby placing its results in a wider framework and paving the way for follow-up research.

Project website

More information on this research project can be found on the project website.


Project leader

Dr. H.J. Paul

PhD students

C.A. Engberts MA

K. Manteufel MA

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J.J.L. Saarloos MA

Last Modified: 09-12-2015