July 23 - August 5, 2018 | Freie Universitaet Berlin, Seminarzentrum, Room L115, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin
It is a frequently forgotten fact, but a fact indeed, that the humanities emerged as disciplines taught at universities only at the beginning of the nineteenth century. That is, a period in which the natural sciences had already attained a high level of methodological reflection. Hence, it is ultimately not astonishing that these “new” disciplines adopted their methodological frames from the sciences. Humanities research believed and still seems to believe that its dignity as discipline is at least in some way contingent on whether or not it is able to present convincing causal explanations for the events and phenomena of the cultural world.
It is well known, though, that there is one major obstacle involved when one tries to implement the category of cause and effect into a description of cultural phenomena and events: humanities research does not have the fundamental methodological device at its disposal, developed by the natural sciences as early as in the seventeenth century, to prove the veracity of its causal hypotheses, that is, the instrument of the test.
A scientific test is based on submitting one singular item from within a complex configuration to varying “external” impulses while keeping the rest of the entire configuration unchanged. Only in case this latter qualification can be met is it possible to reasonably hold that the various “reactions” of the one singular item in question to the various external impulses are “caused” by these external impulses. Within humanities research, the imperative of an identical context being submitted to changing external impulses cannot be fulfilled in any case. If a humanist claims this or that “reason” caused the outbreak of this or that war, he or she will never be able to scientifically prove the claim, since he or she will be incapable of “re-creating” the historical constellation before the war in question, in order to then submit this scenario to external impulses differing from those one may observe in historical reality.
At first sight, this observation may lead to the conclusion that the humanities disciplines are restricted to produce panoramas of things past that obey to nothing else than to the logic of the “interesting” and the “fascinating”. But one may call into question whether such endeavors should not better be committed to journalists working within the “culture” section of quality papers.
A second alternative would be to reduce, as it were, the claim to quasi-“scientific” objectivity and to no longer have recourse to the category of causality, but, rather, to foreground the category of probability or - to “lower” the claim implied once again - of acceptability.
Finally, one might discuss the question of whether or not humanities research can regain a certain amount of respectability by making explicit the assumptions about the “world” and its course implied in any attempt of presenting things past as due to “probable” developments. Such an explicit reflection on the, in most cases, non-conscious implications of one’s own narratives concerning cultural history may even become a necessity in an age that sees the emergence of “global” humanities, that is, of the systematic exploration of our species’ cultural past which is conducted from the perspective of very diverse cultural traditions.
The topic of the summer school of 2018 concerns the humanities in their entire disciplinary width. It therefore allows to also address more specific questions, as, e.g., the one whether or not there are humanities disciplines “closer” to the natural sciences than other ones; one might think of archeology, or of codicology, or of linguistics, finally of all disciplines dedicated mainly to “reconstructing” the past rather than conferring “sense” upon it by way of “interpreting” it.