Paul Michael Kurtz - PhiSci

IntroductionPaul Michael Kurtz.jpg

Philology as Science in 19th-Century Europe (€1.5 million, 5 years, 4 researchers)

PhiSci aims to pursue a central research question: How was philology constituted and consolidated as a system of knowledge-production that could claim to be a universal approach to great diversity in cultural artifacts and the human past? It thus examines the articulation of protocols, representation, cooperation, and instrumentation into robust programs for the genesis of stable knowledge and knowledge communities.

Paul Michael Kurtz is Associate Research Professor in the History of Humanities. Before coming to Ghent, Kurtz conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge and Queens’ College. This followed his doctorate at the University of Göttingen, during which time he also held fellowships at the University of Chicago, Leibniz Institute of European History, and Max Weber Center for Advanced Studies. Before that, he completed a master’s degree at Princeton Theological Seminary. In support of his research, Kurtz has received generous funding from the European Research Council, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, German Academic Exchange Service, Flemish Research Council, Fulbright Program, and American Schools of Oriental Research.

Project description

PhiSci develops a novel framework to understand how philology – the historical study of text and language – once reigned as ‘queen of the sciences.’ This project pioneers a new account of how and why philology achieved such extraordinary success in nineteenth-century Europe, the time when the research university was founded and modern disciplines were formed.

By drawing on history of science, media theory, and informatics, PhiSci analyzes textual and linguistic study as a ‘science in the making.’ The team will thus uncover how local practices, forms of representation, adaptations of instruments, and strategic cooperation consolidated into robust programs that generated stable knowledge and knowledge communities. Specifically, their work will focus on infrastructure, media, collaboration, and scholarly protocols and trace their impact across Semitic, Indo-Iranian, Romance, Germanic, and Classical philologies. In doing so, PhiSci aims to explain how philology operated as a diverse system of relations that projected a unity which enabled it to wield a scientific authority greater than the sum of its parts.

Ultimately, this research on the history of knowledge opens up vistas onto such contemporary problems as the capture of data, production of information, and use of conceptual objects. These issues prove especially important as they underpin textual studies and digital humanities and drive new streams of global knowledge today.


These are the objectives of PhiSci:

  • To establish how vast difference in written objects (variation in materiality, unruly traditions, cultural diversity, heterogeneity in chronology, geography, genre, language) was suspended, reduced or dissolved
  • To recover how physical instruments, structures and media were activated and organized
  • To delineate the regimentation and routinization that structured the capturing, circulating and processing of disparate textual data
  • To discern the construction of objective, reproducible and meaningful knowledge

Role of Ghent University

UGent is the host institution for this project, sponsoring the research, nurturing the researchers, furnishing facilities, and supplying full support staff.



prof. dr. Paul Michael Kurtz
Department of History

Funding info

vlag plat funded by the eu.JPG

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union of the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA). Neither the European Union nor the authority can be held responsible for them.