A New History of the Humanities: The Search for Principles and Patterns from Antiquity to the Present

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A New History of the Humanities: The Search for Principles and Patterns from Antiquity to the Present. Rens Bod. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.


A New History of the Humanities traces the origins and evolution of the disciplines of linguistics, historiography, philology, music, art theory, logic, rhetoric, and poetics from antiquity to today. The common thread among these disciplines and through each historical period is the identification of patterns in texts, art, music, language, and literature: the rules that constitute validity, beauty, and order in these fields. Bod ultimately argues that the opposition between the sciences and humanities is a false one, with both branches of knowledge engaged in identifying patterns in their respective fields. By reconceiving the humanities as pattern-seeking inquires of knowledge, A New History of the Humanities may have discovered a way for these disciplines to become relevant again to students, the academy, and the public. Whether one agrees with Bod’s account of the humanities, it is a bold and refreshing take on the humanities today.

The book consists of six chapters: an introduction, a conclusion, and four chapters for each time periods: antiquity, the Middle Ages, the early modern era, and the modern period. In each period, the humanities are organized by the disciplines of linguistics, historiography, philology, musicology, art theory, logic, rhetoric, and poetics. The book approaches the humanities from a comparative perspective by looking at European, Chinese, Indian, and Islamic civilizations. While acknowledging certain obstacles in this study–the distinctions among the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences are difficult to make; the problems in comparing different civilizations; the selection of source material, and the bias of presentism – the A New History of the Humanities nevertheless makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the humanities and the role it plays in our lives.


The first attempt to systemically describe language as a whole was made in India by Panini (c. sixth to fifth-centuries BC) in classical Sanskrit. He developed a procedural system of rules (grammar) that was complex, precise, and resembled a scientific study of language. Founded on formal and complete rules, Panin’s procedural grammar was not designed to teach someone to learn Sanskirt as a foreign language. By contrast, the Greeks and Romans created grammar textbooks to teach Greek or Latin for normative instruction: Dionysius Thrax (170-90 BC), Varro (116-27 BC), Apollonius Dyscolu (second century AD), Donatus (fourth century AD), and Priscia (c. 500 AD). In the Islamic world, the Persian linguist Sibawayh’s (c. 760-93) Kitab employed an example-based description of language to enable non-Arab Muslims to understand the Koran. By using this method of example, Sibawayh introduced the concepts of analogical substitution (the substitution of words in similar, analogical contexts) and lexical dependence (the form of a word depends on the form of another word).

In medieval Europe, the recovery of Aristotle led linguistics like Roger Bacon (1214-92), Boetius of Dacia (c. thirteenth century), and Thomas of Erfurt (c. fourteenth century) to study language as a theoretical rather than a practical branch of knowledge, with the goal to discover the universal aspects of language and its relationship to reality. This speculative grammar movement employed grammatical categories (modi) that were ones of being (modi essendi), understanding (modi intelligendi), and signifying (modi significandi). Grammar consequently was understood to be universal and language was to be parsed (i.e., sentences broken down into parts). Although “Modism” was later eclipsed by the debate between nominalists (who rejected universalism) and realists (who defended universal concepts), its influence continued to be felt in the contemporary works of Noam Chomsky and David Wilkins. By the end of the Middle Ages, grammar was a combination of example-based and rule-based descriptions, with a tradition of the Modism seeking a universal grammar.

The advent of humanism in Europe led scholars to embrace philology and historiography and abandon Modist linguistics (and scholastic logic). The studies of vernacular language were to show how their grammar corresponded with Latin instead of advancing the theoretical insights of the medieval era (e.g., Thomas Linacre [1460-1520], Joseph Justus Scaliger [1540-1609], Leon Battista Alberti [1404-72]). In spite of this period of stagnation, Franciscus Sanctius’s (1523-1600) Minerva presented a new syntactic theory on the basis of four operators–substitution, deletion, addition, and permutation–that spread throughout Europe and particularly influenced the Port Royal linguistic school with its belief that both word and sentence construction could be covered by a system of rules. Other contributions during this period included Johannes de Laet (1581-1649) who showed that language can be compared on the basis of a quantitative and qualitative principles and that all languages were not derived from Hebrew; and Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who proposed a construction of a completely new language for the whole civilized world.

By the modern period, the study of language had become historical with scholars searching for diachronic patterns in sound changes between languages that could contribute to finding the Indo-European “protolanguage.” The search involved numerous thinkers like Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785-1863 and 1786-1859 respectively) who developed the hypothesis that languages underwent sound changes in a historically regular way. Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) examined the relationship between sound and grammar, while August Schleicher (1821-68) believed that language could be depicted in a genealogical family tree. The next generation of linguistics, the Neogrammarians, rejected their predecessor’s historical-comparative approach and sought rules that made no exceptions to sound changes.

Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857-1913) structuralism rejected the Neogrammarians’ notions of absolute laws in language and instead focused on its intrinsic structure: the relations of differences between linguistic signs of a specific language. Language was to be studied not as a historical object but as an autonomous system. Although this approach was successful with regards to phonology and morphology, structuralism proved to be inadequate to account for syntax, in which the number of sentences was proved to be unlimited, despite Noam Chomsky’s (born 1928) generative linguistic attempts.

Semantics also emerged as a field of study in linguistics with George Boole (1815-64) and Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) giving account of its principles, such as compositionality where the meaning of a sentence can be derived from its parts and the rules that combine these parts. The integration of generative linguistics and compositional semantics by Richard Montague (1930-71) showed how predicate logic, generative grammar, and lambda calculus can result in a new logical grammar. Yet in spite of this achievement, Montague grammar did not go beyond Panini’s grammar of classical Sanskirt and a number of new problems have emerged that threaten its foundation: grammar is increasingly seen as probabilistic and constructed rather than a set of established relations; the rise of computational grammar and the need for redundancy, which is contrary to generative linguistics’ desires to eliminate it; and the endless variety and sheer number of languages that resist structural-based accounts.


Historiography emerged independently in different places in the world. In Europe Herodotus (c.  484-c. 425 BC) adopted the probable source principle for his history, while Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 BC) used eyewitness accounts. Both saw history as a cyclical pattern of rise, peak, and decline, a pattern that would be later rejected by Polybius (c. 200-c. 118 BC) who argued that Rome was immune to this cycle because of its mixed constitution and therefore was a form of universal history. Roman historians, along with Manetho’s (c. third-century BC) account of Egyptian royal dynasties, employed the principles of chronological organization for history, a reliance upon written sources, and the introduction the biography (e.g., Plutarch’s Parallel Lives).

In China, historical sources were primary written, with even oral sources being transcribed into writing. The first great Chinese historian, Sima Qian (c.145-86 BC), also saw history as cyclical and defined five historical genres, each with its own form and style: 1) annals (imperial biographies); 2) tables (tabular overview of governments with the most important events); 3) treatises (descriptions of different state functions, like rites, music, astronomy); 4) hereditary lineages (descriptions of state and people in chronicle form); and 5) illustrative traditions (biographies of important people). The historians Ban Gu (32-92 AD) and Ban Zhao (45-116), possibly the first female historian, continued the task set out by Qian to record the history of China.

In both civilizations historians employed principle-based methods, whether probable sources, eyewitness accounts, personal experience, written sources, or a combination of written and oral sources. With the advent of Christianity in the West, history was interpreted according to the biblical coherence principle by Augustine (354-430) and others who understood history as starting with Genesis and concluding with Revelations. An example was Bede’s (c. 672/3-735) Liber de temporibus and De temporum ratione which integrated an astronomical understanding of computing within a theological context of history. Bede also introduced new forms of history in the accounts of cities, nations, and the encyclopedic.

Universal histories also were produced in Islamic civilization but based on the reconstruction of Muhammed’s life. The principles of probable source and eyewitness accounts were used to classify sources as sahih (very reliable), hasan (good but less reliable), da’if (dubious), or mawdu’ (invented). This isnad methodology to record oral accounts was employed by the Islamic historians al-Tabari (838-923), al-Masudi (896-956), and al-Biruni (973-1048). Building off their achievements was Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who introduced a “new science” to historiography: every source had to be critically compared in regards to its social context and the laws that control society (i.e., the sociologically analyzed source principle).

In China Liu Zhiji (661-721) introduced historical criticism, raising questions about the style used, the problems with documentation, and the use of criticism in investigation. Unlike Khaldun, Zhiji believed that historiography should employ as many sources and factors as possible: the all possible source principle. Other Chinese historians adopted the basic virtue principle where the usefulness of history was the moral lessons derived from it.

Regardless of the principle adopted by different civilizations, the pattern of historiography during the medieval period was that the time structure of a civilization’s historiography corresponded with the time structure of its canonical text. Christian and Islamic civilization followed a linear pattern with a unique beginning and ultimate goal as represented in the Bible and Koran respectively, while Chinese historiography was characterized by an absence of a beginning or end in accordance with canonical Confucian and Taoist texts. This pattern was broken by Ibn Khaldun, who saw successive civilizations continue to build upon one another (i.e., a theory of knowledge of accumulation). However, his ideas had little effect on Islamic historiography.

By contrast, Petrarch’s new historical pattern was influential in the West: the medieval period was a time of the “Dark Ages” and thereby salvation history was pushed aside. History was neither linear nor cyclical: the new age was not the start or a beginning but a renewal of an earlier time (i.e., Classical Rome). Bruni (c. 1369-1444), Biondo (1392-1463), and Piccolomini (140-5064) all adopted Petrarch’s historiographical paradigm in their accounts of antiquity. But it was Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Guicciardini (1483-1540) who saw that history could be served as a manual to help political leaders. But whereas Machiavelli was prone to generalizations from historiography (e.g., it is permissible to use all means to survive as a leader whose fate ultimately was determined by necessity and virtue), Guicciardini was more skeptical that historical examples could serve as the basis for general political lessons or historical laws.

Skepticism of a linear history grew in Europe, particularly with the discovery of the Americas, and of the value of historiography itself, with Bodin (1529-96) even questioning the humanist’s claim that a better tomorrow can be created by historiography. Bodin’s incorporation of philological methods in historiography; Scaliger’s principle of favoring the oldest source closet to the event described; and Vico’s (1668-1744) claim that histories of all societies follow the same pattern influenced the Enlightenment thinkers (e.g., Voltaire [1694-1778], Turgot [1727-81], Condorcet [1743-94]) who understood history as a spiral pattern of progress. This new pattern of history by Enlightenment thinkers in turn was criticized by Rousseau (1712-78), Hume (1711-76), Gibbon (1737-94), and Herder (1744-1803), all who rejected that history was progressive.

In non-western civilizations, new approaches also were developed. In China Li Zhi (1527-1602) advocated a form of historical relativism where judgments of the past had to be amended. Zhang (1738-1801) criticized philological and linguistic analyses of historical sources as too static and argued that change was the most important characteristic of history. In Africa, India, and the Ottoman Empire historiography examined variations of the past but with the same methods.

Of all the innovations in historiography in the modern period–Ranke’s (1795-1886) historicism (treating all historical periods of having equal status), Comte’s (1798-1857) historical positivism, Macaulay’s (1876-1962) Whig interpretation of English history–Marx’s (1818-83) positivist salvation history was the most influential. Viewing history as dialectical materialism, Marx’s historiography inspired political revolutions and public intellectuals. Dilthey (1833-1911) and Windelband (1848-1915) rejected positivist historiography: historiography was one of understanding (verstehen) of unique entities (idiographic) rather than explaining (erklären) and discovering general patterns (nomothetic). This divide in historiography between those who sought patterns (e.g., the Annales school) and those who did not (e.g., the Critical School, narratrivism, postmodernism) continued throughout the twentieth century and still remains with us today. In the 1980s a middle path has been sought by cultural historians (e.g., Geertz [1926-2006]) who argued that all fields of human life are expression of culture.

Western interpretations of historiography influenced other civilizations. For example, Marxism was adopted the official history in China and by some historians in India. However, African historiography resisted European influence because African historiography had been largely based on oral transmission and personal experience. But whether Herodotus’ probable source principle, the isnad method, or Marxist dialectical materialism, all historiographical principles are focused on source criticism, the constant factor in both time and place in historiography. As Bod puts it, “Whatever history is, without source criticism there can be no history writing” (271).


Knowledge of grammar, rhetoric, history, and poetics came together in philology (textual criticism) which was established as a discipline around 300 BC when the Library of Alexandria was built. The collection of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts revealed discrepancies among the copies of same text, raising the question how the original source was to be deduced. Zenodotus of Ephesus (c. 333-c.260 BC), who also was the first librarian of the Alexandria Library, tackled this problem by compiling a dictionary of Homeric words to formulate a perfect text from the corrupted manuscripts. His successors, Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BC) and Aristarchus of Samothrace (c. 216-c.144 BC), tried to keep philology as free as possible from subjective elements. They employed the concept of analogy to see if an unknown word was formed and conjugated or declined in the same way as a known word and thereby reconstructed the original form. The word forms had to correspond in regard to gender, case, ending, number of syllables, stress, and complex or simplex when comparing two word forms. This approach differed from Panini’s grammatical system of rules because the Alexandrians had no precise rules for establishing corresponding word forms.

An alternative and competing approach was the Stoic Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC) who searched for exceptions rather than regularities (the anomaly principle). Instead of looking for analogies between word forms, this approach sought differences and exceptions between them. Both methods had strengths and weaknesses. The anomaly approach addressed interpretations and the assumed intentions of the text but ignored the order between words, while the analogy method looked at the regularities between words but underestimated the semantic and pragmatic purport of a text, ignoring the intentions of the author. Both of these approaches were adopted by Roman philologists, particularly by the Roman historians like Varro (116-27 BC) who drove chronological historiography forward with his reconstruction of annals texts. Later Roman philology became encyclopedic and formed the basis of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music) of the artes liberals.

In Christendom there were reconstruction of texts but not based on any demonstrable methodological principles, such as St. Jerome’s (347-420) Vulgate where the Old Testament was based on the original Hebrew text and not just the Greek version, which provoked criticism from Augustine. The success of the Vulgate led to errors creeping into it as it was copied throughout Europe, which prompted Charlemagne (742-814) to reconstruct the original Vulgate text by collecting and comparing manuscripts from all regions. Roger Bacon devised the principle that the old Latin manuscripts of the church fathers were the first authority. If these manuscripts did not correspond with each other, then it was necessary to refer to the original texts.

In the Islamic world, the most important activity was compiling the text of the Koran. The official codification of the collected texts began under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (644-55), on the basis of diacritic and vowel symbols. There was other textual criticism in Islamic civilization but unfortunately their philological methods remain unclear. Likewise, philology flourished in China with Mencius’ (372-289 BC) text reconstruction of Confucius (551-479 BC) and Zeng Gong (1019-83) reconstruction of Strategies of the Warring States, although we do not know on which principles the reconstruction of these texts was based. The problems of textual reconstruction were less in India where the Vedas had been handed down in an oral tradition and thereby limited the problem of inconsistency in text reconstruction.

By the time of the early modern era, philology held a central place in learning. Petrarch (1304-74) was the founder of humanism despite the opaqueness of his philological method. By calling for the reconstruction of literary, artistic, and historiographical classical Rome, Petrarch sought to bring Roman antiquity back to life by reconstructing its texts. Philology was essential to this task and seen as the “queen of all learning.” Lorenzo Valla (1406-57) followed in Petrarch’s footsteps and wrote a handbook of Latin language and grammar as well as showed that the document, Donatio Constantini, was a forgery. He arrived at this conclusion by employing the three “principles of consistency”: chronological, logical, and linguistic. Valla’s refutation was accepted immediately by Pope Pius II (reign 1458-64).

Angelo Poliziano (1454-95) introduced genealogical ranking for sources and the elimination of derived sources. This method spread throughout Europe, influencing the likes of Erasmus (1446-1536) who adopted the original language principle in reconstructing the New Testament from Greek rather than Latin. Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558) and Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) also employed Poliziano’s genealogical principles in the reconstruction of texts as did Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) who exposed the Corpus Hermeticum as a later text (200-300) rather than an earlier one during the time of Moses. The methods developed by these philologists resulted in a new practice that could be used to study all humanities.

In China Chen Di (1541-1617) was the first to demonstrate that Old Chinese had its own phonology with pronunciation rules different from contemporary Chinese. Gu Yanwu (1613-82) used Di’s work as a foundation to study Chinese classics with primary sources valued in this philological, linguistic, and historical enterprise. A philologist should use the inductive method: a judgment should be given based on the highest possible probability of comparing as many sources as could be found. The creation of a philological school in China, the Empirical School of Textual Criticism, was in response to merchants and intellectuals searching for early manuscripts and rare editions for their own collections and the introduction of western scholarship by the arrival of the Jesuits.

In the modern period, philology received the greatest attention in the decoding of hieroglyphs but soon afterwards became absorbed in the disciplines of linguistics and literature. Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), and to a lesser extent, Thomas Young (1773-1829), decoded the Rosetta Stone, allowing many Egyptian inscriptions and papyruses to be read. Likewise, the decoding of Linear B by Michael Ventris (1922-56) and the current attempt at the Maya script also demonstrates philology’s use, with the number of symbols in a script system being a crucial factor. If this number is lower than thirty, the symbols are probably sounds; if the number is over thirty, they are likely syllables; and if they are many thousands, they may be concepts.

Karl Lachmann (1793-1851) contributed to philology by creating stemmatology where a family tree (a stemma) of surviving texts was built that can be used to reconstruct the original text. He divided the method into three separate phases: 1) recensio (collect all versions of text, inventories the differences, and determine the genealogical relationship as a family tree); 2) examinatio (decide whether the stemma was authentic); and 3) emendatio (if it was not authentic, it had to be emended to reconstruct the lost archetype from the oldest surviving accurate version). The underlying principle of this method was if an error was created in a version of a text it was probable that descendants of the text had the same error. The stemma therefore was a historical depiction of the relationship between texts and the reconstruction of texts on the grounds of logical inference based on the differences and agreements in the genealogical relationship.

Lachmann’s philology resulted in the reconstruction of Lucretius and medieval literature like Hildebrandslied and Nibelungenlied. His philology not only became the standard for text reconstruction in Europe but a cornerstone of Rankean history which utilized philological source criticism for objective historiography. In spite of its success, Lachmann’s philology has been criticized for assuming that every version was derived from exactly one direct ancestor and that a copyist only made new mistakes instead of correcting the errors of predecessors. Nevertheless, Lachmann’s philology provided a precise method with which texts from all periods and regions could be reconstructed. As Bod puts it, “Stemmatic philology is to the humanities what classical mechanics is to the sciences” (279). But stemmatic philology is no longer taught to students of linguistics or literature and has been downgraded from its place as the “queen of all learning.”


The oldest science is music with the central question in harmony theory being whether the constant intervals (harmonies where separate notes dissolve in each other) are based on an underlying system. Pythagoras (c.570-495 BC) believed they were and made the consonances coincide with the first four whole numbers (1, 2, 3, 4), the sum of which is equal to ten. The Greeks generalized this view to the world – the harmonia mundi – where it can be described using simple mathematical proportions like music. The Music of the Spheres saw the relative distances between the seven planets correspond to the ratios of the musical intervals: Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Pythagoras added music to astronomy, geometry, arithmetic and later the sophists included it in grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

However, there were problems with the Pythagorean system, such as the third and sixth intervals. The third interval was consonant but in the Pythagorean system they corresponded to a more complex ratio (64/81) than the dissonant second (8/9). The system also did not explain why the simple ratio 8/9 (the second) sounded dissonant while the 3/4 (the fourth) sounded consonant. Aristoxenus (c.375-c.335 BC), the first musicologist of antiquity, contended that it was better to sing and play what sounded good rather than be governed by mathematical proportions: empirical findings were to take precedent over theoretical considerations. He still retained the formal principles to the study of music, unlike his opponents the “harmonists” who did not want to apply any formal principles, but ultimately believed that empiricism had the final word.

Aristoxenus also studied melody and established axioms and theorems to govern it. These twenty-five “natural melodic laws” regulated the Greek musical tradition. Unfortunately, the oldest surviving Greek melodies were composed approximately two hundred years after Aristoxenus. Nevertheless, Martianus Capella’s (c. 410-2) Nupitae Philologiae et Merurii adopted the Aritoxenus’ perspective on harmony and defined early musicological knowledge in medieval Europe, along with Boethius’ (480-524) De institutione musica, which espoused a Pythagorean view.

Unlike the other artes like grammar, logic, and rhetoric, music underwent as a substantial change from Rome to medieval Europe with the emergence of the Gregorian chant. The monk Hucbald (c. 840-930) wrote the first work in European music theory, De harmonica instiutione, where he guided singers through the theory of music on the basis of well-known hymns to make them aware of the distances between different tones and the harmonic way in which the tone system was ordered. He also improved the existing musical notation for Gregorian chants by including indications of the exact pitch. Guido d’Arezzo (991-1033) later established staff notation that replaced neumatic notation, with his Micrologus being the second-most-widely distributed work on music after the writing of Boethius.

Whereas these works were concerned with musical notation of the Gregorian chant, the Musica enchiriadis appeared at the end of the ninth century that tried to establish a system of rules for polyphonic composition. But the rules were so complex that there was a shift from rules to examples in its description and therefore it did not yield a musical theory. The development in notation continued so that when the Ars Nova appeared in 1318 rule-based organum composition had ended. This freer way of composing reflected a growing awareness about the concept of musical style, which Johannes de Muris (1290-1351) endorsed and Jacques de Liège (c. 1260-1330) opposed.

Nicole Oresme (1323-82) discovered the overtone (the sound with a frequency that is higher than that of the fundamental tone as sensed by the ear). Oresme contended that overtones played a major role in the concept of timbre (sound quality). Some overtones were harmonic (e.g., a lute and an organ playing exactly the same note), which meant their frequencies were whole number multiples of the fundamental tone, while others were not. This was the first breakthrough in harmony theory since Pythagoras but this finding was not taken further until the seventeenth century by Marin Mersenne (1588-1648).

Whereas Latin texts defined European musicology, Greek texts shaped the Islamic world. Al-Kindi (c.801-73) was one of the first persons to apply mathematical Greek music theory to the Arabic twenty-four parts tone system. al-Farabi (c.872-c.950) provided a schematic classification of rhythms and melodies, using the example-based description principle in his Kitab al-musiqa al-kabir. al-Isfahani (897-967) gave an overview of Arabic singing and poetry in the eighth and ninth centuries with descriptions of associated rhythmic cycles and melodic modes. Another important musicologist was Safi al-Din (1252-1334) who developed the seventeen-tone scale. However, Arabic musicology was unknown to Europe and vice versa.

Further east in India, Bharata Muni (c. first-century BC) described the underlying system of rules for music where its oldest musical tradition was linked to the ritual memorization of the Vedas. This system specified the principles of scale (shadja), consonance, and emotion in Muni’s Natya Shastra. Later in the thirteenth-century, Sarngadeva’s (1175-1247) Sangita Ratnakara appeared that was the definitive text for Hindustani and Carnatic music. A system of rules was devised based on the relative tone (sruti), the music sound of a single tone (swara), the mode or melodic formula (raga) and the rhythmic cycle (tala), with the rhythmic cycles subdivided into specific rhythmic ratios.

In China the Book of Rites, which was attributed to Confucius and in which a chapter was devoted to musical practice, is the first analysis of music in China. The relationship between music and reality was based on the pentatonic Zhou scale (named after the Zhou dynasty, 1046-771 BC). The next important musicological work was the the Huainanzi (a compendium of Taoist, Confucianist, and Legalist teachings), which was edited by Liu An (179-122 BC). This work analyzed the Chinese twelve-tone temperament with approximations accurate to six figures and two decimals.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) Chinese opera was born and musical history was part of court chronicles, although there was no attempt to understand underlying musical principles or patterns until Cai Yuanding’s (1135-1198) Lülü xinshui. In this work he described how the tones in the traditional circle of fifths contradicted the widespread cosmological interpretation of the twelve standard tones. The twelve tones should be equidistance, cyclical, and form complete octaves. However, as Cai demonstrated, this interpretation was incorrect if scales were transposed, producing higher or lower tones. Thus, the cosmological concept of cyclicity, which played a key role in Chinese historiography, was refuted on purely musicological grounds. Although his proposal of using an extra six notes was not adopted, Cai’s work showed that mathematical harmony theory was studied during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

In the medieval period there were no new principles in musicology but new patterns were discovered. The mathematical proportion principle (which defines constant interval) was used in the Arabic, Indian, Chinese, and European musicology. European musicology lagged behind these other civilizations but it did produce innovations by employing existing principles–the mathematical proportion principle of Pythagorean music theory and the procedural system of rules–that resulted into two new patterns. The first was a procedural system of rules for pieces of music (Musica enchiriadis) and the second was the concept of musical style as a shared set of rules.

A renewed interest in the laws of harmony led European humanists to see consonances as based on an underlying system. But this search for a theoretical foundation for the ratios between consonances within the empirical-Aristoxenian approach failed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By the seventeenth-century, musical practice came to the aid of theory by the increasing acceptance of previously perceived dissonant intervals in music compositions. Yet from Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) to Leonhard Euler (1707-83) Europeans tried to devise either an empirical or theoretical explanation of the “pleasantness” of consonances with all of them sharing the insight that consonance was no longer linked to abstract ratios of numbers but to the physical category of vibration frequency where the ratio remained the same. While they failed to find an underlying law, they did discover that the distinction between consonances and dissonances was not clear (which in turns rebuts the Pythagorean theory of cosmic harmony) and empiricism was to be valued over theory.

Other important developments in European music was Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) analysis of chords using harmonic progression (sequence of chords) and Gallus Dressler’s (1533-80/9) system of musical grammar. Although Dressler’s system was soon outdated, he set forth study in the rules of musical grammar with declarative rules replacing rules of procedure: the boundaries or constraints within which polyphonic composition could occur (e.g., Johann Joseph Fux [1660-1741]; Johann Mattheson [1681-1764]). The history of music also emerged with Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-84), Martin Gerbert (1720-93), and Charles Burney (1726-1814) playing key roles in the history of musical instruments (organology).

While little agreement or advancement about musical theory or history transpired in Europe, musical theory and history continued in China with Zhu Zaiyu’s (1536-1611) Yuelü quanshu providing a historical account of musical theory. In India several treatises appeared, like Raga-Vibodha (1609) and Sangit-Sudha (c.1650), which described how features, like mode, could be expanded into complex variations. However, it was not clear whether the system of rules was intended to be descriptive or prescriptive. Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) wrote a treatise of Turkish music, Kitab-i ilm al-musiki ala vech al-hurufat, where he developed a specific script, the ebced notation, to represent Turkish instrumental music and thereby preserved hundreds of seventeenth-century pieces of Ottoman music for posterity.

The dominance of music theory ended in the nineteenth-century when the historical approach was given central position. In 1885 Guido Adler (1855-1941) distinguished systematic and historical musicology: the former concerned with laws applicable within different trends in music while the latter looked for regularities in the history of music. In systematic musicology, Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-94) explained degrees of dissonance on the intensity of the beats in harmonic tones, from which he deduced whether two tones were in phase. Other factors were discovered to play a role in the perception of consonance and dissonance, such as acoustics, musical culture, and the critical bandwidth of a person’s audio capacity. Finally, there were other achievements in systematic musicology: the hierarchical analysis of music (music split into smaller parts, such as phases or segments); the concepts of the motif, relative pitch, and harmonic triads; and the continuing search for an underlying structure or grammar for music, including atonal.

Besides searching for patterns in musical compositions, musicologists also have searched for regularities and laws in music history. The classification of musical styles and periods was the result of this quest (e.g., baroque, classical). Like other disciplines in the humanities, musicology also had been influenced by structuralism, critical theory, deconstructivism, and new cultural history. The goal of this new musicology was to the creation of a new view (and criticism) of music rather than to increase knowledge about music. Once the example of an exact humanistic discipline, musicology now has become a vague discipline that rejects pattern-seeking for questions about race, class, gender, and power.

Art Theory

The oldest surviving art history is Pliny the Elder’s (23-79 AD) Naturalis historia which described the attempt to portray the world realistically as possible (illusionism). He rejected that good art can be spelled out in rules (the anomaly principle) but did believed that basic principles existed from which artists drew for their art: the canon and the mathematical proportion principles based on Pythagoras’ whole number ratios. The importance of mathematical proportions also was applied in architecture, with concepts like symmetry, beauty, firmness, and commodity being essential as explicated in Marcus Vitruvius’ (c. 80/70-15 BC) De architectura.

In India the Sadanga, written according to tradition in the first century BC, described the principles of painting as knowledge of appearances; correct observation, measure, and structure; action, feeling, form; grace; similitude; and the use of brush and color. The Vishnudharmottara (c. 400 AD) contained similar rules for artists to follow. Chinese art also specified six principles. Xie He’s (c. fifth-century AD) Gu huapin lu had similar principles found in the Sadanga and probably was inspired by it. Later Chinese painting was categorized as historiography became an affair of the state, with Zhang Yanyuan’s (c.815-77) Lidai minghua ji tracing the history, development, and classification of Chinese painting.

In medieval Europe, there were two Christian art theories: Pope Gregory’s (reign 590-604) “art as instruction” and the Byzantine mystic Pseudo-Dionysius’ (c. fifth and sixth-centuries AD) “art as anagogy.” For Gregory, art was to instruct the illiterate about the truth of the Bible, while for Dionysius art was to lead people to contemplate God. By the time of the Renaissance, art theory underwent a transformation with Leon Battista Alberti’s (1404-72) De pictura showing how to reproduce a three-dimension object on a two-dimensional surface: the linear perspective. Alberti’s theory of perspective in turn inspired Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to search for an underlying law of perspective that was empirical rather than mathematical, at which he ultimately failed. Alberti’s De re aedificatoria also influenced European architecture with its principles of number, proportion, and distribution.

Art theory was also altered by art historiography, with Giorgio Vasari’s (1511-74) Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori that consisted of a collection of biographies of artists arranged in chronological order from the thirteenth century to Vasari’s own time. Vasari saw patterns of progress, beauty, persuasiveness, and the expression of abstract ideas. Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s (1717-68) Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums considered the classical period in Greek art to be the most perfect, while Alexander Baumgarten’s (1714-62) Aesthetica and Edmund Burke’s (1730-97) A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful created the new discipline of philosophical aesthetics.

By the modern period, one of the most acute question was the relationship between art theory and cultural history. Franz Kugler (1808-58) adopted Hegel’s philosophy and divided art into pre-Greek, classical, romantic (medieval), and modern in his Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte. Another concern was stylistic analysis, first undertaken by Giovanni Morelli (1816-91) who found the depiction of painterly details remained constant during an artist’s career. Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) developed an analytical method in which all the separate of parts of a work were examined, their relationships to one another, and the use of light and color. Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) established iconology as an independent art-historical method that looked at the symbolic meaning in art. The most recent developments in art theory are computational image analysis and the new art history, which like the new musicology, is concerned about race, class, gender, and power.


The Greeks were one of the first people to develop valid reasoning, known as logic or dialectics, with Zeno of Elea (c. 490-c. 430 BC), Plato (c. 428/27 or 424/23-c. 348/47 BC), and Aristotle (384-322 BC) playing critical roles in its development. Aristotle’s Organon presented a system of logic that was adopted by Europe until the nineteenth century. Syllogism was at the core of Aristotelian logic: an argument in which a proposition (conclusion) was deduced from two other propositions (the premises).

After Aristotle, a different type of logic developed by the Megaric and Stoic schools: propositional logic. The truth or untruth of combinations of propositions was deduced from the truth or untruth of the propositions themselves, with the operations on propositions taking place on the basis of connectives: negation, conjunction, disjunction, implication. Despite its precision, propositional logic was no match for Aristotle’s logic because of the latter’s practicality.

In India there was also a flourishing tradition in the study of logic that was older than the Greek’s. The oldest speculation about logic was to be found in the Rigveda (c.1500 BC) in which various logical distinctions were made, such as “A,” and “not A.” Medhatihi Gautama (c. seventh century BC) created the first school of logic. Punarvasu Atreya (c. 550 BC) and Panini’s grammatical work, Ashtadyayi later created their own schools. But the most important Indian school of logic is Aksapada Gautama’s Nyaya Sutras (c. 200 AD). Four sources of knowledge were identified: observation, inference, comparison, and evidence. Unlike Aristotle’s logic, this form of reasoning was not deductive and therefore more applicable in practice, such as making medical diagnosis on the basis of symptoms.

Themes of logic were found in China’s Book of Changes (Yijing) but the most important school was the Mohist in the fifth-century BC. Disputing Confucian ideas, Mo Tzu (c.468-391 BC) placed logic at the center of his studies. The Mohists concentrated on analogical reasoning rather than formal logic and used four techniques: illustrating, parallelizing, adducing, and inferring. But like Aristotle, the Mohists developed the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle in what they called the basic principles to which all reasoning had to be subjected.

In medieval Europe there were no new developments in logic from Aristotle. Between 500 to 1200 there was the old logic that was based on the Boethius’ translations of two books from Aristotle’s Organon; between 1200 to the Renaissance logic was based on Aristotle’s Analytica priora which became available in Europe in the twelfth century. Despite the looming presence of Aristotle, the period did see some significant and original contributions to the discipline of logic: Peter Abelard (1079-1142)’s modus ponens and modus tollens; William of Ockham’s (c.1287-1347) De Morgan laws and supposition theory; and Jean Buridan’s (c.1295-1358) Tractatus de consequentis and Summulae de dialectica.

In the Islamic world, al-Farabi (c.382-c.950) and Averroes (1126-98) continued the Aristotelian tradition of logic while Avicenna (980-1037) created his own independent logic based on inductive reasoning. Islamic logic eventually split into two camps along these lines of thinking. Two schools also developed in India: Gangesa’s (c. twelfth century AD) Tattvacintamani, which continued the inductive logic of Nyaya, and the Buddhist Dignaga’s (c.480-c.540 AD) Hetucakra, which was similar to Aristotelian syllogistics. Buddhist logic was introduced to China which eventually displaced the Mohist school.

By the time of the early modern period in Europe, logic became intertwined with linguistics with scholars looking back to antiquity for new insights rather than rely upon Modist linguistics or scholastic logic. There was a renewed interest in grammar, with Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas (1523-1600) who applied logic to syntax in his Minerva (1587). He gave a new syntactic theory based on substitution, deletion, addition, and permutation, all of which were subject to rules. This theory influenced the Port Royal linguists, who became aware that first principles were the basis of both word and sentences forms in language. The attempts to model vernacular language after Latin was stopped in the recognition that every language was autonomous which, in turn, started the discipline of comparative philology.

Finally, many thinkers were critical of scholastic logic. René Descartes (1596-1650) and Francis Bacon created a new science to replace it. Descartes advocated a new type of mathematics and logic while Bacon supported experimental investigation and the construction of a new, universal language for the civilized world to replace Latin. Finally, before logic became absorbed into linguistic studies, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) created symbolic logic where the manipulation of symbols yielded new truths.


In antiquity rhetoric was an independent discipline and the crowning achievement on the foundations of grammar and logic. The sophists, Plato, and Aristotle all contributed to the development of rhetoric, with Aristotle’s Rhetorica being the first systematic attempt to treat the discipline from the perspective of speaker, argumentation, and audience. If one followed his general procedure, then one’s rhetorical presentation would be one of proof (enthymeme). This procedural system of rules and principles included 1) finding a precedent or example; 2) a statement plausible to a target group, and 3) the final rhetorical argumentation in the form of an abbreviated syllogism. The spread of Greek culture under Roman rule led to the rhetoric being taught as a liberal art and organized by Cicero’s (106-43 BC) De inventione as inventio (discovering argument), disposition (ranking arguments), elocutio (style), memoria (memorizing the speech), and action (the delivery).

In India the Chlaraka-Samhita (550 BC) explained the methods of debating and were adopted by the Nyaya philosophers. The categorization of rhetoric was 1) definition of the subject of debate; 2) a proposition; 3) a counter-proposition; 4) the speech or source of knowledge; 5) the application (e.g., logical induction); 6) the conclusion; 7) the response; 8) the example; 9) the truth established by experts or proof by deduction; 10) doubt or uncertainty that was accepted by both parties. The Chinese also were interested in the practicalities of debate and under the Mohist school adopted an analogical logic to undergird its rhetoric. A debate therefore was defined as a disagreement about assertions that are in contradiction with two featured principles. The first debating principle was that one of the two contradictory assertions must be untrue; the second was that it was not possible for both assertions to be untrue: one of the two must be true.

Rhetoric and poetics were so interwoven in medieval Europe that they are analyzed together. Augustine grounded rhetoric in the biblical coherence principle: classical rhetoric was reinterpreted in terms of Christian teachings, as already happened in historiography and would later happen in art theory. Poetics likewise was recast in Christian terms, with Augustine’s De doctrina christiana (397/426) contending that every text could be interpreted both literally and allegorically. The allegorical method made it possible for the Old and New Testament to be in concert with each other and influenced Aquinas’ (1225-74) four-level biblical exegesis: 1) literal, 2) allegorical, 3) moralistic; and 4) anagogic. Dante (1265-1321) also used Aquinas four-level biblical exegesis but for secular stories.

Islamic civilization continued to follow Aristotelian rhetoric and poetics, with rhetoric being tied closely with logic and poetics in oratorical evocation (takhyil). Poetry was considered one of the key sources of knowledge, since the Koran was written in verse. Avicenna’s takhyil was a complex interaction between memory, imagination, and emotion where the image was wedded with logic. Poetics was a way to discover universal canons that applied to all or most people. Literary criticism also thrived in the Islamic world. Tha’lab’s (c. ninth century) Qawa’id al-shi’r analyzed poetry on a linguistic basis: the examination of words rather than poetic features, like meter. al-Jahiz (781-868), Ibn Rashiq (999-1063), and Ibn al-Nadim (c. tenth century) contributed to Arabic poetics and literature, although no formal rules or methodological principles were established.

Logic and rhetoric also were indistinguishable in India. The Mimamsa and Natya Shastra schools presented prescriptive rules for the ritual interpretation of the Vedas on the basis of rasas. However, there were no new patterns discovered during this period. The most significant development was Kumarila Bhatta’s (c. 700 AD) influential commentary on the Vedas, Mimamsa-slokavarttika, which enabled the Vedic tradition to endure.

The first systematic analysis of Chinese rhetoric was Chen Kui’s (1128-1203) Wen Ze that was used in preparation for taking government examination, where candidates had to demonstrate originality and skill in argumentation. Kui derived his rules and principles of good writing from existing texts and then tested them on new works and amended his rules if necessary. By combining empirical rhetoric and instruction with the ambitions of young men into a single work, Kui created one of the most original and important works of rhetoric in the Middle Ages.

The discovery of the complete text of Cierco’s De oratore and the introduction of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, led to a revitalization of rhetoric that incorporated classical learning. Vico’s Institutione oratoriae (1711) and Johann Gottsched’s (1700-66) Ausführliche Redekunst studied rhetoric positively. Bernard Lamy’s (1640-1715) Art de parler provided an overview of rhetoric by analyzing the combination of individual sounds and the ranking of words. However, this was the high point of rhetoric, as later it swiftly declined with Descartes, Hobbes, Bacon, and other disparaging rhetoric. Eventually rhetoric merged with the discipline of poetics.


Poetic and rhetoric closely resembled each other but Plato made a distinction between the two, calling the former mimesis (imitation). Rhetorical tools might be employed but the experience was essentially mimetic. While Plato believed poetics was unhealthy, Aristotle considered the human need for imitation natural and possibly beneficial if poetics followed certain rules that resulted in catharsis. The two concepts of mimesis and catharsis continued in Horace’s (65-8 BC) Ars Poetica and Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ (c.60 BC-c.7 AD) De compositione verborum, with the later believing that poetics should be modeled after the natural world. Finally, Longinus’ (c. first century or c. 213-273 AD) Peri Hupsous introduced the idea of the sublime, a style of writing that rose above the ordinary. There were five sources of sublimity: great thoughts, strong emotions, figures of speech, noble diction, and dignified usage.

There was a search for rules in poetics in India, too, with Natya Shastra providing the basis for all literary and dramatic productions in Sanskrit. There were eight rasas (rhetorical sentiments): erotic, comical, pathetic, furious, heroic, terrible, odious, and marvelous. Each rasa expressed an emotional condition. In China Liu Xie’s (465-521 AD) Wexin diaolong was the oldest surviving systematic work about Chinese literature that explained its thirty-two genres, the process of writing, and the role of the critic and writer in society.

The 1549 translation of Aristotle’s Poetics led to new studies in poetics. However, Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558), Antonio Minturno (1500-74), and Lodovico Castelvetro (1505-71) transformed Aristotle’s description of poetics into normative instruction, such as the unity of time, place, and action. These ideas would spread throughout Europe until Samuel Johnson (1709-84) launched a successful attack on classicistic poetics. According to Johnson, plays should not be judged on how well they corresponded to real life but on their dramatic content, thereby making certain objectives, like the unity of time, place, and action, irrelevant. A play was like a narrative in which different time and places can be given shape: the audience recognized the artificiality of the play and did not mistaken it for reality itself.

The most important literary criticism during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was Hu Yinglin (1551-1602) who asserted the essence of poetry was two principles: 1) formal style and musical tone; and 2) imagination and personal spirit. Rules could be applied to the first principle but none for the second. Yet without spiritual resonance or imagination, there was be no poetry.

In the modern period, poetics became transformed into literary, theater, media, cultural, and digital media studies. Literary studies was primarily bibliographic but eventually became positivist in the belief that a work can be explained causally (e.g., Darwinian, naturalist). Later formalists believed that writing from the same period or region normally displays common features. Scholars of literary history therefore transitioned from a nineteenth-century preoccupation with philosophy and positivism to a twentieth-century focus on formal elements.

Literary theory also was influenced by formalists like Vladmir Propp (1897-1970). He attempted to create an exact model of analysis for narratives in folk tales. The influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ (1908-2009) structuralism and formalism gave rise to narratology, a term coined by Tzvetan Todorov (born 1939). Narratology sought to have a complete narrative analysis that revealed not solely the constituent parts and their functions and relations, but the themes, motives, and plots, too. Narratology has been formalized to such an extent that for some media it can be executed algorithmically (usually in television procedural shows). However, narratology’s focus on the text gave way to the attention of the reader in the movement of poststructuralism, with the meaning of any text dependent upon the identity of the reader. Postmodernism also had tremendous influence on philosophy, particularly in deconstructivism.

This history of literary theory is known as hermeneutics, started by Fredrich Schlegel (1772-1829) and later developed by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1843) and Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). The concern was how to understand a text in its parts and as a whole, how the parts and whole were related to each other (i.e., hermeneutic circle), and how the reader and author interpret text in their own respective cultural contexts. Whereas nineteenth-century hermeneutics explored the author’s intention, twentieth-century hermeneutics examined how prejudices, preconceptions, and pre-judgements affected one’s understanding of a work. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) argued the most important thing is to be aware of one’s own (the interpreter’s) position, while Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) called for readers to understand a text as it applied to the reader’s own situation (i.e., fusion of horizons). Other literary movements that emerged from formalism and structuralism were the new criticism (the close reading of texts), the new historicism (the historical context of a text), psychonarratology (the application of psychology to narrative), rhetorical analysis and argumentation theory, and the study of orality.

Theater studies was primary a subfield of literary theory until Max Herrmann (1865-1942) who wanted to reconstruct lost theater performances. Although such an aim was utopian, it spurred a renewed interest in the historical material of Greek, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance theater, including the recent rebuilding of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London. With respect to theater analysis, art and literary theories have primarily analyses. Likewise, film study has followed art and literary theories, like structuralism in Christian Metz’s (1931-93) Film Language: A semiotics of Cinema. Other key influences have been narratology, critical theory, poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonial studies, and historiography.

The general study of film, TV, journalism, and digital media is denoted under the umbrella term, media studies. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was influential in media studies by pointing out that the value of authenticity was not relevant in film, photography, and the gramophone, since they were mass produced. The result is a pattern of democratization in the arts. This analysis was continued by Marshall McLuhan (1911-80) but with a different focus. For McLuhan, media was an extension of the human senses and therefore the medium itself deserves one’s attention (i.e., “the medium is the message”).

Finally, cultural and digital media studies have emerged as new fields of inquiry in the humanities. Cultural studies included media studies, economics, communication studies, sociology, linguistics, literary studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, art history, poststructuralism, and other disciplines. It attempted to combine all of these disciplines to study cultural practices and their relationship to power. Digital media studies, which was the study of the internet, the web, virtual reality, video games, mobile telephony, digital film, interaction television, was how new media adopted and transformed older media into itself. A critical concept in digital media studies was Gilles Deleuze’s (1925-95) and Félix Guattari’s (1930-92) “rhizome” where a discipline created a multiplicity of junctions without a clear beginning or end. The rhizomatic structure can be covered by the concept of the graph instead of a linear or hierarchal structure.


In antiquity there are several patterns in the humanities that are brought to the forefront: 1) the pursuit for a system of rules; 2) parallel discoveries of patterns in the disciplines of history (cyclical pattern), music (the harmonic principles of tonic, octave, and fifth), logic (the excluded middle and non-contradiction principle), and art theory (numerical proportions for visual harmony), while dissimilar patterns existed in rhetoric, grammar, and narrative; 3) a change from descriptive to prescriptive accounts; 4) the seldom use of deductive method (especially when compared to classical science); 5) hypotheses that could be falsifiable and replicable, such as in historiography, musicology, grammar, and poetics; and 6) different rules for the “good,” the “beautiful,” and the “sublime,” although there was not as a system of valid rules for them.

There also are several unanswered questions. Why did Greek linguistics lagged behind the other Greek humanities and why was no system of rules developed for linguistic syntax whereas one was created for musical syntax? Why is there no Indian historiography? Why Roman learning and science delivered nothing original and remained eclectic? And why did Chinese linguistics and philology remained “backward” when compared with India and Greece?

In the medieval period, the most important innovations came from the Islamic world with advancements made in historiography, logic, and linguistics; and in China with art history, rhetoric, and poetics. The geographical fragmentation of this period was matched with the fragmented nature of principles used and patterns found. Nevertheless, there were still some patterns across regions and disciplines that continued with antiquity: 1) the pursuit of rules (e.g., the biblical coherence principle); 2) parallel discoveries (e.g., example-based grammar, foreshortening in art, congruence between historical and theological time structures); 3) the move from descriptive to prescriptive accounts except for musicology (e.g., Arabic and Latin grammar; Chinese and Christian art theory, rhetoric, and poetics); 4) the seldom use of the deductive (i.e., systems of rules were seldom explained on the basis of first principles except in Aristotelian logic); and 5) empirical rules for the “good” but not for the “beautiful” (e.g., musicology, Chinese art theory and poetics).

Although knowledge of the humanities was fragmented, general trends can be founded during this period. Trends included 1) the move from rules to examples, as in linguistics; 2) formalization and unification in historiography; and 3) a religious revolution in the interpretation and creation of the humanities. Historiography became salvation history, linguistics was a search for the universal language before Babel, poetics became the study of biblical-allegorical interpretation, rhetoric was transformed into preaching, art theory was anagogic, and musicology formalized the polyphonic. Both the subject and method of the humanities had become transformed by religion and adopted allegorical patterns.

This anti-empiricist approach was overturned in the early modern period where works from antiquity became incorporated into the humanities. Both the humanities and the sciences contributed to a new understanding of human being’s relationship to the cosmos. The values of precision, consistency, documentation and the methods of logic, mathematics, and procedural formalization were adopted by practitioners of the humanities. There also was a movement from prescriptive to descriptive accounts in the humanities and parallel discoveries continued to transpire across regions.

During this period there was progress–defined by Bod as problem-solving capacity–in the humanities except in rhetoric. In determining a language’s word forms and sentence structure, linguistics made progress in developing rules, although none were as complete as Panini’s. In dating historical events, historiography made progress for local or internal dating (e.g., Chinese dynasties, Roman ab urbe condita) but the problem of global dating would not be solved until after the harmonization of these different calendar systems. Philology made progress in adopting Polizian’s genealogical method that brought greater reliability in determining textual sources. Alberti’s treatment of empirical perspectives led to a hybrid theory of mathematical and experiential approaches to portray three-dimensional objects on two-dimensional surfaces. Musicology made some progress in developing precise musical notation but the problem of consonance of intervals remained unresolved. Only in Europe and Islamic civilization was there little progress in logic and practically none in rhetoric.

In the modern period, the humanities followed some common patterns: 1) they became historical; 2) the trend from prescriptive to descriptive continued; 3) hierarchical stratification (i.e., works were split into constituent parts); 4) the importance of grammar as both rule and example based; and 5) cross-fertilization with the sciences and social sciences.

Contrary to the depictions of Dilthey, Windleband, and others, Bod argues that the humanities continued in its search for patterns and there was no disruptive break in its tradition. In historiography, Ranke’s source criticism did not represent a break but an extension of the humanistic historiography of Guicciardini’s and Scaliger’s. Philology, linguistics, musicology, art history also had a high degree of continuity. However, logic underwent a transformative change with Frege’s predicate logic, although this result was built on early modern attempts of Leibniz and others. Literary and theater studies also wrestled with similar questions founded in antiquity in spite of the new narrative grammars developed by Propp, Todorov, and others. In this sense, there was a sense of progress in the humanities in the development of each discipline’s problem-solving capacity.

The book concludes with a review of some of the methodologies unique to the humanities and how they interacted and influenced social, cultural, political, and scientific movements. For instance, the invention of source criticism was significant to the birth of the Reformation, and later to the Enlightenment, because the techniques of text reconstruction led to controversy and criticism of the authority of the Bible and the Catholic Church. Other examples Bod cites are the interaction between theory and empiricism in the humanities help form the basis of the Scientific Revolution; the invention of grammar favored imperialism and laid the basis for computer science; the Indo-European language family revealed the relationship between peoples; and the recovery and analyses of ancient texts fueled nationalisms. This interplay between the humanities and the sciences show that the dichotomy between the two is a false one, although the humanities do allow exceptions in their findings, whereas the sciences do not.

The humanities therefore should be seen as the search for patterns and rules and how different regions of the world influence one another. Bod himself points out that more research needs to be done in Asia (e.g., Japan, Korea, Vietnam) and pre-Columbian America to provide a fuller account of the humanities worldwide. And as the humanities continue to adopt new approaches–cognitive, digital, computational, supra-disciplinary–in its search for patterns, scholars need to be aware of these latest methods, approaches, and findings.

A New History of the Humanities is an essential work on the subject. It not only covers the history of the humanities but shows how it can be reconceived in a way that is relevant. It is a bold and fresh attempt to show why the humanities matter today. Although one may reservations or even objections to Bod’s method or findings, A New History of the Humanities is what is needed now: a publicly accessible yet scholarly work that illuminates what the humanities have been, still are, and may be for the peoples of this world.

Lee Trepanier

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Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science, Department Chair, and University Pre-Law Advisor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).