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Origins and Nature of the Changes in Humanities and Social Sciences in 19th – 21st Centuries

The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The main objective of this pilot project is to study the origins and nature of the changes in modern humanities and social sciences, their boundaries and the parameters of their ‘external’ (organizational and institutional) and ‘internal’ (methodological) regulation.
History, i.e. knowledge about the past, and its evolution has been chosen as the main exemplary case for the study, because it served as a model for the trajectory of other disciplines. In history, the period between the 16th and the 19th centuries saw the formation of strategies and practices of ‘scientification’ and source criticism that became both crucial and representative for all other humanities. This, in turn, has prompted the project participants to study historical culture as the medium in which the principal standards and criteria of history as a science are being formulated and internalized.

The authors identified three aspects in historical culture:
Historical knowledge as a set of ordered and hierarchically structured conceptualizations of the past with the entire institutional system of their accrual, double checking and storage (the system of science, education, and information storage including archives, periodicals, etc.).
Historical consciousness - a wider set of social and group conceptualizations of the past, both unspecialized (common-sense knowledge) and those related to professional practices of historiography and socially significant modes of looking at the past.
Historical imagination - the sphere of image patterns (visual, rhetorically or aesthetically oriented) that are used for processing and distribution of human knowledge about the past at various stages of human history.

In terms of methodology, project participants identified several key provisions that are applicable to the evolution of the humanities in general:
1. At an early stage of the modern human science development (up to the 18th/19th cc.), the self-definition of history as a discipline was based not on reflection of the authors of historical works themselves but on general methodological classifications, typically by philosophers, and on diverse ways of cultural and political appropriation of historical knowledge (especially in the Renaissance and the ‘Classical age’).
2. In the Modern era, the context of knowledge transfer from one disciplinary or national community to the other gained importance in connection with the borrowing and transformation of development patterns and construction principles of individual branches of science.
3. As we approach the present, the direct organizational intervention of the state with its ideological and administrative structures becomes a significant factor in the development of history as a discipline. But at the same time, the degree of autonomy of professional communities increases in the humanities and in history in particular. These communities develop their own independent criteria and practices to evaluate competence and skills. And while, on the one hand, in many countries by the end of the twentieth century the state relaxes its efforts to mobilize the social sciences for its own purposes, on the other hand, the scholars’ opinions experience a growing impact on the part of changing social and cultural conditions.
4. Project participants proceed from the assumption that the general ‘scientification’ trend in social sciences and humanities is balanced or offset, especially towards the end of the twentieth century, by the opposite movement, i.e. the strengthening of the fictional, which has to do with social imagination and artistic creativity. Thus, instead of following a single-line trajectory, each new ‘turn’ in the humanities interacts with other more or less similar tendencies.
5. The study confirmed the initial hypothesis according to which two divergent trends of disciplinary development interact in the evolution of social sciences and humanities. On the one hand, there is a tumultuous ‘emancipation’ of new ideas and trends transcending the usual boundaries of disciplines, and a widening gap between the old system and the new tendencies. On the other hand, this process in the second half of the twentieth century was characterized by stability of the old forms of knowledge organization and by a revival of old symbioses and ‘consensus’ conventions both within and between disciplines.


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