Philology & Disciplinarity

A struggle has long been under way in the American university, sharpening especially in the past two decades, between area-based and discipline-based knowledge. The distinction between the two often maps closely against another, which differentiates humanistic from nonhumanistic knowledge. This is most obviously so in the case of philology, which in American universities has always been organized entirely according to areas and has, accordingly, experienced a crippling disciplinary deficit. And unsurprisingly, it is now under serious threat.

Like the humanities overall, philology has been weakened by fragmentation, with the proliferation over the past century of philology departments—national departments for Europe and, for the rest of the world, where there are no “real” nations, regional ones (English, Italian, German, Greek-and-Latin (“Classics”), Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian, and so on)—and philological subfields such as comparative literature. The net result has been the dispersion of a core knowledge
form across ever smaller and weaker academic units, with all the institutional risks that “small” and “weak” entail.

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