University of Amsterdam
In recent historiography an upsurge in interest in the interaction between academic disciplines can be seen. This is in no small part due to the rise of the history of humanities as a specialized field of study. On the one hand, writing a comprehensive history of the humanities is motivated by the idea that in some sense the humanistic disciplines form a whole and without general perspectives we cannot gain a proper understanding of the history of the separate disciplines that together constitute the humanistic spectrum. On the other hand, there is the broader aim to integrate the history of the humanities with mainstream history of science and for this to happen the history of humanities should first become clearly recognizable as a respectable field of study. We are still a long way off from an integrated historiography of all knowledge-making disciplines, as the humanities have been largely neglected in historiography of science, and this attitude is not easy to overcome.
An integrated picture may emerge through an analysis of connections between knowledge-making disciplines that have been established in the past. These connections are ultimately the result of the epistemic transfer of ideas, methods, experimental practices, teaching models, etc. Consider the case of the encounter between Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss in New York in 1941, where both were in exile at the time. As is well known, Lévi-Strauss acquired the structuralist method of analyzing kinship relations through his contact with Jakobson, who had been among the founders of structuralism in linguistics. Consequently, structuralism had an enormous impact on anthropology, and from there also on a host of other disciplines. It is thus impossible to gain a proper understanding of modern anthropology without taking into account the epistemic transfer that took place between linguistics and anthropology in the 1940s.
The history of linguistics may potentially serve as a useful laboratory to study the interaction between disciplines, as the past has shown abundant cross-over between linguistics and a great variety of other fields, including biology, philosophy, computer science and psychology (to name just a few), with linguistics being on both the sending and receiving end of communication. This has of course not gone unnoticed in historiography of the language sciences, but may gain renewed importance when put in broader perspective. The expertise of historians of linguistics can in this way also potentially reach a wider audience. Moreover, our analysis and assessment of the importance of the relation(s) between linguistics and other disciplines may still be incomplete. An example is the birth of historical and comparative linguistics in the 19th century. About this Morpurgo Davies writes: “In Germany, but also elsewhere, organic metaphors are often accompanied by references to the natural sciences and/or to the scientific character of the new linguistics. How important is the connection? How much did Friedrich Schlegel and his followers know about the sciences? How influential were these in the development of the new linguistics? A full enquiry is still a desideratum.” Read more ›