Call for Essays: The Emergence of Impartiality

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on April 28, 2010

From H-Net:

The Emergence of Impartiality: Towards a Prehistory of Objectivity
Proposals due by 30 June 2010

We are inviting proposals for contributions to a volume to be published in the series Intersections. The volume will be edited by Anita Traninger (Freie Universität Berlin) and Kathryn Murphy (Oxford University).

Intersections is a peer-reviewed series on interdisciplinary topics in Early Modern Studies. Contributions may come from any of the disciplines within the humanities, such as history, art history, literary history, book history, church history, social history, cultural history, and history of ideas. Each volume focuses on a single theme and consists of essays that explore new perspectives on the subject of study. The series aims to open up new areas of research on early modern culture and to address issues of interest to a wide range of disciplines.

From the early seventeenth century onwards, the epithet ‘impartial’ (germ. unpartheyisch, fr. impartial, sp. imparcial/desinteresado, it. imparziale) appears in the titles of historical works, works on economy, law, philosophy, and histories of the church and of emerging nation states, to name just a few. This occurs at a time when gaining, teaching, and transferring knowledge was still widely conceived as a fundamentally agonistic activity. Intellectual exchange had been conceptualized as a contest since antiquity, and even the alleged methodological shift from ‘medieval’ dialectics to Renaissance rhetoric (held to mirror the epochal shift from scholasticism to humanism) had not changed the agonistic disposition towards academic practice and the ensuing conceptualization of arguments as fights or duels between opponents. The claim of impartiality would have sat very awkwardly with medieval and Renaissance scholars.

What was then meant by the use of the term ‘impartial’ in the discourses of the early modern world? At a time when knowledge formation was an agonistic enterprise, when arguments were associated with schools or authorities, and truths were proposed or refuted but very rarely reached through compromise, what advantage could there be in deploying the term ‘impartial’ in order to argue a point? And what sort of fixed meaning could it have if it could be used so freely in so many different contexts?

Where did the word come from, and what did it signify? Did it emerge at the same time, and in the same discourses, in different languages? There is evidence that in the German-speaking lands the term ‘impartial’ was first broadly used and promoted in newsbooks. Was this the case in other European countries? And other disciplines and discourses? If the term did indeed originate in journalism, is that also the relevant and authoritative discourse for the idea of impartiality? What relationship does it bear to the natural sciences and their emerging paradigm of observation? Is legal discourse relevant? Or is impartiality, as the polemics between theologians such as Gottfried Arnold and Ernst Salomon Cyprian about heterodoxy suggest, originally a selling point and claim of authority in debates on confessional matters? Is there a genealogical link between the rise of ‘impartiality’, and the discourses of objectivity emergent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, recently described by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison? If so, how did this manifest itself in different discourses? In general, was the promotion of impartiality a surface phenomenon of academic self-description, while everyday practice continued to be driven by the frame of opposition and controversy?

The objective of the volume will be to map out the contexts in which impartiality emerged as a key tenet of learned practices during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to describe the implications of the changing self-descriptions of cultures of knowledge. The contributors are invited to trace impartiality in various discourses (art theory, literature, rhetoric, historiography, philosophy, law, medicine, theology, etc.) and to map the contexts in which it figures. We encourage the formulation of hypotheses about the emergence and development of this “travelling concept,” the routes it took, and the role played by various discursive fields in shaping it, as well as considering whether and how it has shaped modern academic and disciplinary self-perception. Contributions on literary impartiality, in particular in satirical writing, are also welcome.

The volume is scheduled to be published in 2012. Proposals of about 300 words should be sent electronically to both editors before June 30, 2010: atra@zedat.fu-berlin.de (Anita Traninger) and kathryn.murphy@ell.ox.ac.uk (Kathryn Murphy).

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