A couple of years ago the young Swiss historian Casper Hirschi began an article on early-modern learned polemics with the observation that he, like many other scholars in their mid- or late thirties, had not yet acquired a permanent academic position. As a postdoc researcher he was still supposed to ‘develop’ himself, although Hirschi added sceptically that a scramble for fellowships and temporary teaching positions contributes very little to development in an intellectual sense of the word. What he took from this experience, however, was an interest in early-modern scholarly practices, or more specifically in frictions between noble ideals of scholarship as a democratic conversation, in which arguments are supposed to be the only things that matter, and the ‘steep hierarchies’ of academic institutions in which such conversations are supposed to take place. Hirschi was not afraid of admitting that his attempt at historicising such tensions was ‘partly inspired by a desire for change, partly also by a need for understanding’ what was at stake in his own experience.2

Something similar fuels at least part of the recently growing interest in scholarly personae. Although the concept of scholarly personae (or scientific personae) as introduced about a decade ago by Lorraine Daston, H. Otto Sibum, Ian Hunter and others is primarily a tool for historians of the sciences and the humanities interested in the demands that scholarly practices of various sorts make upon a scholar’s habits, dispositions or capabilities, there are various reasons why these habits, dispositions or capabilities capture scholarly attention. While some of these emerge in the contexts of long-standing academic debates, others resemble Hirschi’s interest in early-modern scholarship in being stimulated quite directly by present-day concerns about personae that are seen as being threatened by current higher education politics or by uneasiness about a perceived gap between ‘excellence’ and ‘innovation’ in contemporary academic parlance and the impact of reward systems that have little to do with either excellence or innovation.

What I would like to do in this article is to sketch four different approaches to the persona theme, whereby ‘approach’ serves as shorthand for a set of questions or concerns that prompt scholars to focus their attention on scholarly personae. I will argue that the concept enables historical theorists to develop a ‘philosophy of historical practices’, while it encourages historians of the sciences and the humanities to examine the transmission of repertoires of scholarly selfhood throughout disciplines and time frames. This, in turn, prompts a much-needed rethinking of developmental narratives, according to which models of being a scholar succeed each other in time. With Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, I will argue that we need ‘a repository rather than a rupture view’ of history. Finally, I will use the occasion to respond to friendly criticism voiced elsewhere in this issue, emphasising that ‘personae’ and ‘performances’ of scholarly identity can never be considered apart from each other.

Historical theory

Let us start in my original field of expertise – historical theory. In the past half century historical theorists have expended much energy discussing two closely related questions: what are historical explanations and what are historical narratives? Especially in the English-speaking world, the covering law model of historical explanation as designed by Carl G. Hempel and ‘narrativist’ philosophy of history as represented by Hayden White were the two main themes dividing the field and defining its agenda. Consequently, historical theory focused almost exclusively on historians’ written output – on articles and books in which historians develop their explanations and present their narrative accounts. Other, non-discursive aspects of the historians’ practice – think of such ‘doings’ as reading, taking notes, teaching classes, evaluating grant proposals, and organising conference panels – were almost completely ignored. Part of this neglect was addressed by what presented itself as a ‘practice turn’ in historical theory, although it is fair to say that calls for such a turn have been more frequent than actual attempts at studying historical practices from a theoretical point of view.3 Scholars such as Ewa Doman´ska, Aviezer Tucker and myself therefore have introduced the concept of virtues to offer historical theorists a vocabulary for discussing such attitudes or dispositions as meticulousness, perseverance, intellectual courage and fairness that historians display, or must display, in order to excel in teaching, research and administrative ‘doings’.4

Although language of virtue is becoming increasingly widespread among historical theorists in Europe and North America, this does not imply a consensus on the need to move beyond ‘explanations’ and ‘narratives’ towards ‘practices’ and ‘doings’. Virtues, after all, come in two sorts. On the one hand, there are virtues in the original sense of human dispositions or character traits (‘a deep and enduring acquired excellence of a person, involving a characteristic motivation to produce a certain desired end and reliable success in bringing about that end’).5 On the other, virtues can be metaphorically interpreted as qualities not of human beings but of scholarly theories or interpretations (let us call them ‘theory virtues’). Following Noël Carroll and Mark Bevir, among others6, Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen and Bart Karstens have recently been advocating a virtue approach to issues of theory choice. The idea is that scholars employ such virtues as ‘accuracy’ and ‘scope’ in assessing the relative merits of competing explanations. If they find themselves confronted with diverging interpretations of, say, the social conventions governing scholarly polemics in early-modern Europe, it is virtues like ‘accuracy’ and ‘scope’ that enable them to determine which of these interpretations is most convincing.7 Although I am sympathetic to this line of reasoning, especially in so far as it replaces absolute criteria for theory choice by comparative ones, the question at stake is a fairly classic one. It continues a well-established tradition of inquiry focused on what Raymond Martin calls ‘explanatory competition’.8 If we are interested in shifting attention from what historians produce (explanations, narratives) to what it takes to engage in processes of acquiring and distributing knowledge (research, teaching, outreach), these theory virtues turn out to be of no avail. What we need is a vocabulary for describing the demands made on the scholar’s professional ‘self’ such as provided by virtues in the original sense of human dispositions.

Arguably, however, virtues are too narrow a category for describing the full range of what scholarly selfhood entails. Scholarly selfhood is an embodiment of attributes that, at a given time and place, are regarded as essential for the pursuit of scholarly work.9 These attributes include virtues of the sort just mentioned – meticulousness, perseverance and intellectual courage – but typically also such things as the capacity to decipher early-modern handwriting, the ability to find relevant secondary literature and the capability of writing a grant proposal. For this reason, I have argued elsewhere that the category of virtues must be supplemented with that of skills – an umbrella term for linguistic skills, reading skills, study skills, writing skills and organisational skills, to mention but a few. ‘Skills’ here include ‘talents’ such as frequently invoked in debates over the historian’s ‘artistic qualities’. Thus the ‘narrative talent’ needed for writing a compelling narrative is a literary skill, not a virtue, just as the ability to manage thousands of notes, photocopies and/or computer files is an organisational skill, not a virtue. What virtues and skills have in common is a teleological aspiration: they aim at realising something difficult. However, whereas skills aim at realising concrete projects – reading a source, writing a paper, convincing a grant selection committee – virtues aim higher: they pursue such abstract goods as knowledge of the past and moral understanding.10

The categories of virtues and skills as I have just described them allow at least a partial description of scholarly selfhood. It might well be that additional categories such as ‘faculties’ (memory, perception) are needed for providing a more exhaustive description of what it takes, in terms of personal attributes, to be a scholar. I would prefer however, to keep the analysis focused on virtues and skills, partly because these, historically speaking, are the most contested categories and partly also, more pragmatically, because virtues and skills already provide us with a quite substantial number of variables. For virtues and skills never come alone. It is necessary, but not sufficient, for historians to be accurate and thorough. In one way or another, the virtues of accuracy and thoroughness must be balanced by other virtues and skills, such as visionary power, intellectual courage and literary skill. It is therefore not individual virtues and skills, but clusters of virtues and skills that are demanded from the ‘scholarly self’. This, subsequently, not only applies to what scholars are expected to do in particular situations – the virtues and skills that should guide them in writing a monograph, reviewing a book or refereeing a grant application – but also, more generally, to what it takes to be a scholar in the first place. Different conceptions of scholarly selfhood tend to operate with different catalogues of virtues and skills, depending on the relative weight they assign to such goods as knowledge, moral insight, political power and economic profit.11

It is such constellations of commitments that I regard as distinctive of scholarly personae. Scholarly personae, understood as models embodying the personal attributes that are regarded as necessary for being a scholar, distinguish themselves through the relative importance they attach to the acquisition of knowledge, the synthesis of research, the transmission of scholarly insight, the education of the general public and the desire to influence political decision-making (not to mention other goods that scholars pursue). These different goods, in turn, make different demands on scholars: they require different virtues and skills. This implies that constellations of commitments translate themselves into constellations of virtues and skills, that is, into different prioritisations of qualities. Usually, when scholarly personae clash, they do so on the concrete level of these qualities, with scholars quarrelling over the question, for example how important it is to strive for objectivity.12 Ultimately however, it is the scholars’ commitments – what are the goods that scholars qua scholars should pursue? – that determine how much weight is assigned to such virtues and skills. Decisive is the relative importance they attach to the various goods to which they are committed. Scholarly personae then, are ideal-typical views on what it takes to be a scholar, defined by their constellations of commitments, which translate into constellations of virtues and skills.13

History of the sciences and the humanities

If this sounds rather abstract, scholarly personae become much more concrete in a second approach, advanced particularly by historians of the sciences and the humanities. In a sense, they begin where historical theorists stop. For if scholarly personae come in the plural, given that scholars in different circumstances often judge differently about the relative importance of epistemic, aesthetic, moral, political and economic goods, then personae will be subject to historical development. Historical research on the emergence, transmutation and deployment of scholarly personae is then of crucial importance. Moreover, historical research can add much-needed nuance to theoretical generalisations of the sort presented under my first heading and show in concrete historical detail how, why and under what circumstances scholarly personae are invented, appropriated, contested, revised, combined and rejected.

Historians pursuing this second research agenda do not always do so with the same questions in mind. Ian Hunter, for example, writes the history of philosophy through the prism of personae in order to highlight the ‘psychagogy’ involved in all philosophising, that is, the production of specific types of subjects by means of ‘spiritual exercises’ in Pierre Hadot’s sense of the word.14 Lorraine Daston and H. Otto Sibum, by contrast, have attempted to show that culturally sanctioned models of being a scholar tend to be variations on a limited number of archetypes, such as the Naturforscher, the femme savant and the technocrat.15 While Mineke Bosch also works with prototypes or repertoires, she is more interested in offering thick descriptions of how such models are appropriated in specific acts of scholarly self-fashioning (for example, how the twentieth-century nobleman and history professor Pieter Jan van Winter, drawing on ancient aristocratic and ascetic repertoires, cultivated an image of himself as sober, honest and hard-working in order to lend credence to his work).16

Distinct as these historical approaches are, they are united by what I would call a hermeneutic understanding of the relation between ‘personae’ and ‘performances’. In one way or another, they all emphasise the mutual dependency of models, archetypes or templates of scholarly conduct on the one hand and practices of ‘subjectification’ (also spelled as ‘subjectivation’ or ‘subjectivisation’) on the other. Subjectification refers to processes of producing, reproducing, and representing socially sanctioned selves or, in academic settings, to practices that turn students into ‘professional’ scholars, for instance by rewarding ‘professional’ conduct or discouraging ‘unprofessional’ behaviour.17 Although subjectification outside the university has received more scholarly attention so far than subjectification within academic contexts18, historians of science have drawn attention to one specific form of subjectification known as ‘scholarly self-fashioning’.19 Borrowed from Stephen Greenblatt, this concept refers to modes of representation rather than to modes of production. Its leading questions are: How do scholars depict themselves in public? How do they present themselves to their students, to their colleagues or to the general public? How do they pose for a portrait, depict themselves in autobiographical writing or dress for an academic event? By addressing these questions, students of scholarly self-fashioning examine the identity politics of scholarly self-representation (why did the Jewish historian Harry Bresslau in his autobiography keep silent about his religious background?)20 as well as the politics of clothing and (facial) hair (why did so many nineteenth-century professors have moustaches and side whiskers?).

Just like other forms of subjectification though, self-fashioning can never be an act of creatio ex nihilo: it always draws on available scripts or repertoires. Take the oil portraits that have been painted of Leopold von Ranke (1868), Theodor Mommsen (1881) and Johann Gustav Droysen (1885). As Falko Schnicke has recently shown, these portraits are highly stylised images that depict the historians as respectable, industrious and productive (key virtues in the nineteenth-century bürgerliche Wertehimmel).21 The portraits achieve this partly by drawing on the visual conventions of the professorial portrait, partly also by providing the three historians, in the best tradition of saint symbolism, with individualising attributes such as copies of their own books.22 Autobiographies often followed similar strategies. When Bresslau wrote at length about his gymnasium and university teachers, while emphasising that he conducted his historische Übungen in the 1870s ‘after Droysen’s example with tea and cake in my house’, he followed a conventional narrative template in which loyalty (Treue) to former teachers was of key importance.23 The discursive power of this template is particularly visible also in Bresslau’s linear story of progression towards a full professorship in Strasbourg – a story concealing that his Jewish background in reality had been a serious barrier to his career.24

Against this background, one might argue that ‘self-fashioning’, like other forms of subjectification, is best conceptualised in terms of ‘performance’, which is to say that it consists of appropriation and adaption of one or more existing repertoires of scholarly selfhood. Performances like Bresslau’s draw on scripts or models, which in turn are kept alive to the extent that they are transmitted in academic practice or in ‘academic memory cultures’.25 This implies that personae and performances can never be considered apart from each other. Personae and performances are like the foci of an ellipse: they presuppose each other. Historians therefore need this pair of terms – not just the one or the other – to do justice to both individual agency (the freedom to choose, reject, adapt and transform existing models of scholarly selfhood) and the discursive power of culturally sanctioned scripts (the scholarly personae available at a given time and place).26

Concretely, this means that histories of scholarly personae will never operate at an ideal-typical level but show in concrete detail how scholars in the past found themselves torn between different, incompatible personae and wove their way between them. Why did Dietrich Schäfer try to reconcile his commitment to meticulous archival research in the tradition of his teacher Georg Waitz with grand-scale historical interpretation after the example of Heinrich von Treitschke? Why could Waitz’s Catholic student Georg Hüffer identify with neither the objectivity cult of the Ranke Renaissance nor the ultramontane Catholic alternative personified by Johannes Janssen? Why did Albert Naudé, a former student of Bresslau, increasingly model himself after Reinhold Koser, a Prussian historian whose talent for narrative synthesis was as pronounced as Bresslau’s interest in ‘getting the facts straight’?27

A highly stylized oil painting depicting historian Leopold von Ranke, by J. Schrader (1868).

Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Andres Kilger.


Historical research along the lines just sketched has two interesting implications for what is known among historians as ‘historiography’ – the history of historical studies as taught in academic history programmes by way of introduction to the discipline’s past.28 One is implied in everything said so far: historians are not alone in struggling with scholarly personae. Moreover, the kinds of dilemmas historians are facing – how desirable is service to the state in relation to academic freedom or ‘getting the facts straight’ in comparison to answering ‘big questions’? – are sometimes surprisingly similar to those faced by scholars elsewhere in the humanities. Historians and non-historians sometimes even draw on similar personae in solving such dilemmas, as witnessed by the persona of the meticulous philologist that made a career throughout the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Geisteswissenschaften.29 This implies that research on scholarly personae has the potential of opening up transdisciplinary perspectives: it can trace and compare personae across disciplinary divides. A persona-oriented focus therefore encourages historians of historiography to enlarge their canvas so as to write not only disciplinary histories, but contribute to a ‘history of the humanities,’ as this emerging field is nowadays called.

However, if I label the third approach to scholarly personae ‘historiographical’, I am referring to a second, more fundamental implication than a widening of disciplinary horizons. In the history of science, technology and medicine (STM), John Pickstone and others have drawn attention to how ‘ways of knowing’ can emerge, rise to prominence and recede to the background. Crucial is their insight that ways of knowing can lose their currency, but seldom disappear entirely. As Pickstone argues: ‘(N)ew ways of knowing are created, but they rarely disappear. As Western society has grown more complex, so ways of knowing and doing have been built up. [...] In this view, history of STM is not a matter of successions, or the replacements of one kind of knowledge by another; rather it is a matter of complex cumulation and of simultaneous variety, contested over time, not least when new forms of knowledge partially displace old forms.’30 Ian Hacking uses similar terms in arguing that scientific ‘styles of reasoning’ are better seen as ‘cumulative’ than as ‘successive’. They are like layers added on top of each other. Although the top layers, of course, are more visible than the lower ones, it would be wrong to assume that older layers disappear in the accumulation process.31

Can the same be said about scholarly personae? Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison answer this question affirmatively. They are committed to what they call ‘a repository rather than a rupture view (of history, H.P.)’, according to which the archetypical models that scholarly personae are serve as repertoires.32 Although not all repertoires are manifestly present at one and the same time, they are latently available as possibilities as long as they are either transmitted in scholarly practice or remembered in scholarly memory cultures. This explains why Johannes Kepler, confronted with conflicting demands made on his persona, could fall back on a late medieval model of the scholar as ‘Mathematicus, Philosophicus, Historicus’33, or why Georg Hüffer, the nineteenth-century student of Waitz, could solve his aforementioned dilemma by identifying with the scholarly persona of seventeenth-century Maurists (French Benedictine scholars engaged in critical historical scholarship).34 Such appropriations or re-appropriations of seemingly outdated personae in fact, are not all too uncommon. Wasn’t Hayden White, to some extent, a twentieth-century mix of Giambattista Vico and Alexis de Tocqueville?35 Isn’t there a sense in which current-day big data specialists in ‘digital humanities’ vary on models developed by sixteenth-century humanist philologists?36

If scholarly personae resemble Pickstone’s ways of knowing and Hacking’s styles of reasoning in being cumulative rather than successive, then historical research on scholarly personae potentially challenges some of the developmental models that are current in the history of historiography. I refer not only to Whiggish disciplinary histories of the sort often criticised for their presentist and teleological assumptions37, but also to narratives of ‘modernisation’ and ‘professionalisation’ of historical studies, with often remarkable linear story lines, and to the ‘schools’ and ‘approaches’ on which historiography textbooks often treat their readers. The antiquarian school, for instance, is typically presented as an early-modern tradition that was ‘superseded’ by Rankean history writing – even though offshoots of this antiquarian tradition can be found up to the present day. Students likewise learn that historicism was a nineteenth-century mode of thought that vanished with the world wars and the post-war attempt at getting ‘beyond historicism’.38 However, does not this very epochal mode of history writing testify to the enduring attractiveness of historicism, as do recent reappraisals by Frank Ankersmit and others?39 Developmental models are often ill-prepared to deal with such unexpected comebacks and creative appropriations of older modes of studying the past.

The question therefore is how well developmental models can account for scholarly personae in the sense of repertoires that are not always manifestly present, but strangely able to re-emerge in different forms if circumstances so require. Does a history of the humanities written through the prism of scholarly personae require a different, non-developmental plot? Can it be written as a story in the first place? This is what I would call the historiographical challenge, defined as the challenge to rethink inherited models of how to write the history of the sciences and the humanities if those inherited models appear unable to handle Kepler’s seventeenth-century appropriation of a medieval template, Hüffer’s identification with an early modern archetype and White’s attempt to be a twentieth-century Vico and Tocqueville at the same time.

Moral self-reflection

Such templates from the past, finally, play a major role in the fourth approach I would like to distinguish. Scholarly personae are also of particular significance to moral reflection on the question what sort of scholars we want to be in our own day. May I exemplify this, after Hirschi’s example, with a small piece of autobiography? In the 1990s I received a solid, perhaps somewhat old-fashioned, instruction in history at the University of Groningen. I remember being sent to small and far-away archives to study the minutes, correspondences and annual reports of nineteenth-century public libraries in Holland. This kind of instruction left me with an enduring fascination for archival research and honest admiration for careful historical reasoning. However, in my PhD research on the aforementioned Hayden White, I soon encountered a different type of persona – an historian strongly committed to a moral agenda and eager to address large ethical questions by historical means. This was a model that, for different reasons, I also came to appreciate. Now, more than a decade later, I am directing a research team at Leiden University with money gained at the research grant market – a market that makes quite different demands on me and requires a rather different kind of curriculum vitae (a ‘track record of achievements’) than I would have written ten years ago. Most importantly, through its practices of subjectification, including especially its status reward system, it imposes a different persona on me than traditional archival research or moral commitment along the lines envisioned by White: it encourages productivity, self-promotion and careerism to a greater degree than either of the two other models would allow. Facing such a diversity of models, I presume I am not the only historian pondering such questions as, ‘Is there a difference between a good and a successful historian?’, ‘What kind of an historian do I want to be?’ and ‘How can I navigate the tensions between my ideals, the expectations held and by students and the wider public and the practices of subjectification dominating current academic life?’

There are several modes of reflection on the moral concerns underlying these questions. One is to take a stance against the growing dominance of, especially, the ‘economic gaze’ in modern academia by exposing and criticising (often also ridiculing) the neoliberal logic behind it.40 There is a well-established genre of monographs and manifestos on the ills of the neoliberal university, which navigate with different degrees of subtlety between policy analysis and policy evaluation. Unfortunately, they are often stronger in their criticism than in their suggestions for improvement, also with regard to scholarly personae. ‘The paradigmatic neoliberal academic’, writes Jeffrey R. Di Leo, for instance, ‘is a docile one. He [sic] is the product of an academic culture dominated by the recording and measurement of performance, rather than the pursuit of academic freedom or critical exchange – an academic climate that renders him risk averse and compliant.’41 Although Di Leo detests this persona, the ‘acts of resistance’ that he concretely envisions hardly transcend the negative level of ‘disruption’ and ‘resistance’. Tellingly, in his conclusion he quotes Pierre Bourdieu on neoliberalism as ‘a discourse that is very difficult and hard to fight’ and Baruch Spinoza on ‘all things excellent (being, H.P.) as difficult as they are rare’.42 In so far then, as this is a representative example, criticism of neoliberalism might help us, modern scholars, understand some of the forms and modes of subjectification to which we are subjected, but its predominant focus on wrong-headed policies leaves us rather ill-prepared to answer the question how we can make a positive difference.

More interesting, from this perspective, is a second type of moral reflection paradigmatically embodied by a piece that recently received tens of thousands of views on even before it was officially published: a collectively authored article entitled ‘For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University’.43 Although the authors – eleven geography professors from Canada and the United States – severely criticise the ‘temporal regimes of the neoliberal university’, they do so from a positive commitment to what they call a ‘feminist ethics of care’, central to which are practices such as listening, conversing and caring, which in turn revolve around virtues like openness, humility, patience and trust. Concretely, the authors not only give advice (‘count what others don’t’, ‘turn off email’, ‘make time to think’, ‘say no’, ‘take care’), but also report about their attempts to practice what they preach by writing the article collectively, without time pressure, in multi-voiced format, for publication in an open-access environment. Although, obviously, the authors cannot themselves perform a full-blown alternative to the neoliberal persona, they do whatever they can to alert their readers to the ideal of a persona in which openness, humility, patience and trust serve as key virtues.44

Finally, a third mode of reflection might consist of open-ended questioning. It does not start with firmly established positions, but with careful discernment and assessment of the demands that currently prevailing personae make upon scholars, what sort of dispositions and habiti they encourage, what sort of alternative repertoires are available and how attractive these various personae are, especially but not only from a moral point of view. In a sense, this third mode combines the two earlier ones. It is more focused however, on encouraging moral self-scrutiny than on taking a stance (negatively or positively). Consequently, its preferred genre is not the pamphlet or the manifesto, but the conversation. Preferably, this conversation takes place in a collegial setting such as offered in the gathering for which this article was originally written – a one-day conference organised by the Royal Netherlands Historical Society in November 2014, aimed at exploring the moral dilemmas that Dutch historians inside and outside the academy encounter in their day-to-day work. The conversations that took place in interactive workshops as well as over lunch and coffee were helpful, I think, not because the over one-hundred participants agreed (which they often did not), but because their exchanges encouraged moral self-reflection and offered some conceptual tools for it.

It should be added, however, that these tools, including the very concept of virtue, make this third mode of reflection less open-ended than might seem at first sight. Inevitably, if not deliberately, virtue language is loaded with normative connotations. For one thing, it invokes categories of aspiration which assume that the (epistemic, moral, political) goods that human beings pursue can be realised only partially: nobody is 100 percent righteous, honest or impartial. Virtuousness therefore is not measured in binary terms, but on sliding scales.45 Virtues moreover, are classically understood as dispositions that can only be acquired through long-term practice which, in turn, is guided by examples or ‘paradigms’. Virtue language therefore implicitly draws attention to the roles of imitation and repetition in acquiring scholarly habits.46 Finally, given the anachronistic flavour that language of virtue has acquired in the early decades of the twentieth century47, the political subtext of using virtue language in a neoliberal context is hard to miss. At the very least it suggests the possibility or desirability of alternatives to language of ‘excellence’ (such as typically used in academic self-descriptions) as well as to rule- and procedure-oriented oversight mechanisms (such as those installed in response to recent cases of scholarly misconduct).48

A response to friendly criticism

So far I have distinguished four sets of questions and concerns that make scholars interested in scholarly personae. Obviously, this typology has more than just a variation-finding purpose. For despite their differences, overlap and interdependence between the four approaches are not hard to detect. For one thing, historians engaged in moral self-reflection (approach 4) might benefit from not ignoring how personae are studied in the three preceding approaches. They might want to understand what personae are (approach 1), how they function in actual practice (approach 2) and whether available repertoires of scholarly selfhood are restricted to those currently in fashion (approach 3). More importantly, despite the variety in terminology used within the four approaches, I have described them in such a way as to show that they can all operate productively with a definition of scholarly personae in terms of constellations of virtues corresponding to constellations of goods – which might be a great benefit especially for interdisciplinary exchange.

At this point, however, it seems that not everyone is fully convinced. Elsewhere in this issue, some respected colleagues articulate the worry that scholarly personae defined as constellations of goods remain too abstract to be of much value in actual historical research. They fear that my definition unduly prioritises such abstract things as knowledge of the past over the concrete realities of university doors that remained closed to black or female scholars, role uncertainty among first-generation academics from minority backgrounds, and work-life balances threatened by stereotypically gendered role expectations. Also, they doubt whether categories of virtue and skill have sufficient explanatory power to account for the rise of, say, the ‘paradigmatic neoliberal academic’ invoked by Jeffrey Di Leo. Why do I keep silent about social contexts, including institutional hiring and funding policies and audiences responsible for attributing expertise? Does not my definition suggest that I am interested more in x-rays of bones, so to speak, than in flesh and blood (not to mention dress and haircut as important markers of social distinction)?49

I think this criticism reflects a misunderstanding of the hermeneutic model sketched above. For the model expressly grants gowns, moustaches and side whiskers just as important a place in historical research as skeleton-like constellations of goods. Its double focus on personae and performances, which can never exist apart from each other, conveys that detailed case studies on the material, embodied and gendered performances of scholarly personae at specific times and places are just as important as generalising typologies of the role models invoked by scholars in, say, the past three centuries. Indeed, the very idea of the model is that it requires human beings of flesh and blood, enmeshed in the socio-political realities of their own times and places, to articulate, appropriate, adjust and choose between models of scholarly selfhood. For scholarly personae do not have an agency of their own: it is people within the possibilities and constraints of their subject positions who draw upon them, make them available and put them up for discussion.

This does not imply, however, that definitions of scholarly personae improve if we include those people within them. It surely takes bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers to build a house, but it would be strange to find those skilled labourers drawn in the floor plan or playing a role in architectural distinctions between villas, bungalows and country houses. Likewise, it would be a category mistake – a conflating of personae and performances and a confusing of the two foci of the ellipse – to expect attention for material and embodied practices shaping scholarly identities from definitions of scholarly personae. We need a concept of scholarly personae just as architectural historians need such archetypes as ‘villa’, ‘bungalow’ and ‘country house’: not to offer thick descriptions of individual houses under construction, but to facilitate reflection on the models and archetypes on which architects draw. I would therefore encourage my colleagues ‘to speak with two words’, as the Dutch saying has it: to examine in concrete detail how scholarly personae are being performed, without forgetting that such performances always draw on repertoires that as such transcend the particularities of time, space, bodies and human relations.

Given the currently dominant interest in ‘science as if it was produced by people with bodies, situated in time, space, culture, and society, and struggling for credibility and authority’50, it may seem unfashionable to draw attention to models, templates or repertoires existing above and beyond the level of the individual. Let me add, therefore, the rather empiricist argument that the sources simply force historians to address them. For the nineteenth-century book reviews, obituaries and scholarly polemics that I am studying in the context of my current project continuously invoke constellations of goods. Sometimes, they refer to such constellations with abstract dichotomies between ‘the professor’ versus ‘the schoolmaster’ or ‘the historian’ versus ‘the journalist’ – stereotypical job descriptions expressing the priorities of ‘research’, ‘teaching’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘entertainment’ as goods worthy of pursuit.51 More frequently, however, constellations of goods were named after specific individuals, whereby proper names served as generic names to the extent that they denoted archetypical models more than specific individuals.52 When, for instance, Sigmund Riezler spoke about Wilhelm von Giesebrecht’s conversion from ‘Hegel’ to ‘Ranke’, these served as stylised labels denoting distinct modes of studying the past.53 Likewise, the ‘Waitz’ and ‘Sybel’ between whom Friedrich von Bezold felt he had to choose, and the ‘Dahlmann’ that Conrad Varrentrapp invoked against the hegemony of ‘Waitz’, did not primarily refer to Georg Waitz, Heinrich von Sybel and Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann as individuals: their names had come to serve as shorthand for models that put different weight on the historian’s political responsibility.54 It is models like these, then, to which scholarly personae refer, without ignoring that it was individuals such as Riezler, Bezold and Varrentrapp who invoked these constellations of goods in specific historical contexts.


Just as Casper Hirschi’s interest in power relations in the early-modern Republic of Letters was fuelled in part by his own academic experience, so contemporary reflection on scholarly personae emerges partly out of moral uncertainty: what sort of scholars do we want to be, given the variety of models we are currently facing? Without projecting present-day dilemmas back onto the past, research along the lines sketched in this article might have the potential of showing that scholarly personae in the sense of constellations of goods have long-term histories and that the proper relations between epistemic, moral, political, aesthetic, and economic goods have been subject of scholarly debate for centuries at least. Also, it might provide a helpful vocabulary for analysing currently fashionable models of being a scholar in terms of the goods they favour (what is the relative weight of social and economic goods, compared to moral and epistemic ones, in the persona of the ‘successful grant applicant’?)

At the same time, this article has argued that historical theorists and historians of the sciences and the humanities have reasons of their own for welcoming scholarly personae as a topic of reflection. While the concept provides the former with tools for moving from a ‘philosophy of historiography’ to a ‘philosophy of historical practices’, it enables the latter to examine the transmission and reception of repertoires of scholarly selfhood throughout disciplines and time frames. To the extent that scholars across the entire academic spectrum struggle with the question what sort of scholar they would like to be, scholarly personae could serve as a conceptual focus for an integrated history of the sciences and the humanities. Finally, it prompts a rethinking of developmental narratives in the history of the sciences and the humanities in so far as it challenges the historicist assumption that models of being a scholar simply succeed each other. If scholarly personae are cumulative rather than successive, historians will have to replace their conventional linear storylines by repository-based frameworks, able to account for sometimes surprising comebacks and reappearances of older models of scholarly selfhood.