Seminari Michael Hagner: The Book and the Future of the Humanities


The Book and the Future of the Humanities

Michael Hagner

ETH Zurich

Dimecres 2 de maig, 12 h

Residència d’Investigadors  (c/ Hospital 64 – 08001 Barcelona – Metro L3-Liceu)

Organització: IMF (CSIC), CEHIC (UAB) i Residència d’Investigadors


In media studies it is often argued that the emergence of new media inevitably leads to anxieties among devotees of old media who suspect that these media become irrelevant: photography menaces painting, film executes photography, TV menaces film, and the internet finishes off everything else. The printed book is no exception from this logic. Long before the invention of ebooks and Open access, various prophets predicted the decline of the Gutenberg Galaxy. Even without subscribing to such apocalyptic visions, we cannot overlook the fact that the humanistic book has come under pressure. Being the unquestioned and primordial scientific medium in the 20th century, an assembly of habituations and practices has shifted within a few years. That implies institutions of advanced studies, publishers, research communities and the scholars themselves. The question, thus, is:  Which role will the printed book play within and outside the humanities?

I shall present my considerations in three points. First, each phase of a complex cultural shift leads to metaphysical disorientation and turmoil embodied either as a pessimistic expectation for the future or as an optimistic hope for redemption. The second aspect deals with what I call “Überforschung”, that is, at least in the German-speaking world the humanities have expanded so heavily in the last 25 or so years that we are suffering from this abundance of money, resources and scholars. Thirdly, I will discuss the possibilities and limitations of Open Access, which has a strong impact on the production and publication of printed books.

Michael Hagner studied medicine and philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin. After obtaining his medical degree, he worked as a neuroscientist and shifted to the history of science in 1989. He spent some years in London, Lübeck and Göttingen and moved to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in 1995. Since 2003, he has been Professor of Science Studies at the ETH Zürich. In 2008 he was awarded the Sigmund Freud Preis für Wissenschaftliche Prosa of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. His current research projects include the history of the scholarly book, neuroaesthetics, and the role of images in the sciences and humanities.