Lexicography, terminology, intellectual history

The intellectual itinerary of a researcher


The direction of my life as a researcher was guided by my participation in the Lexicon Latinitatis Nederlandicae Medii Aevi, the dictionary of Medieval Latin from Dutch sources, which was part of the international “Du Cange project” (named after Charles du Fresne, seigneur Du Cange, a 17th-century scholar who wrote a Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis), aiming to replace this old dictionary by modern ones. Immediately after secondary school (at the Gymnasium Haganum, The Hague) I started to assist my teacher of Latin, Dr J.W. Fuchs, with his work on the dictionary and during my years at Leiden University, where I studied Classical Languages and Literature, I continued to do so, at first during holidays, then for two days a week. On January 1, 1968, I was officially appointed as his assistant and after the end of my studies, in 1972, I started to work fulltime. Dr Fuchs had already collected an enormous number of cards, established by colleagues to whom he had sent the sources of the dictionary in order to copy excerpts. Their mission was to note all words, expressions, grammatical forms and so on which were not to be found in Classical Latin. The files were stored in ten or eleven big metal chests of drawers.

While this work of ‘excerpting’ the texts which had been written in the Low Countries (or by Dutch scholars living elsewhere) between ca. 800 and 1500 continued, we began to write the articles of the dictionary, Dr Fuchs starting with the letter A and I with the letter M, in the somewhat optimistic idea that he would join me some years later. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1974, while I was in Paris following lectures at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and finishing my dissertation, Dr Fuchs suddenly died, at the age of 65. I had to take over the dictionary, not only because I had promised him to finish it if something would happen to him, but also because this kind of long term research would never be started again. The dictionary was in full stream, the first fascicles had appeared and the enterprise had to be carried on.

I never saw the president of the first Dutch ‘DuCange committee’, the reknowned professor Christine Mohrman, but its secretary, Professor Waszink, who had been my teacher of Classical Latin at the university, gave me all the help he could and provided me with an assistant. After a few years, in 1980 I succeeded to persuade Marijke Gumbert to join me and together we managed to publish two fascicles a year, until we finally reached the end of the alphabet in 2005.

Being employed by the Dutch organisation for scientific research (called at first ZWO, then NWO) was a real pleasure. I was appointed for one year, with possible prolongation if the yearly report (one page) and publications were satisfactory. This can not be considered a stable position, but the good thing of alphabetical order is that it can hardly be interrupted before the end and my relations with the responsible functionaries of NWO, first Ben Otker, then Hans Smits, were excellent; this was enough to be reassured about my future. Moreover, I enjoyed a considerable degree of freedom. Nobody objected when I returned regularly to Paris to continue my studies and research. On the contrary, my ‘parallel’ publications, written mainly during weekends and evenings, were always welcomed. And Marijke Gumbert took charge each time I obtained a grant of some kind for a longer stay in Paris.

On the institutional level, the tiny Du Cange Institute of the beginnings – with only two permanent members, Marijke Gumbert and myself, intermittently completed by a third employee – was incorporated in a bigger institute created by the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen), the Constantijn Huygens Instituut, at first mainly centred on text editions, but, after much discussion, also open to intellectual history, even if essentially concerning the Netherlands. I still remember gratefully how the president of the Du Cange committee in those times, Frits Hugenholtz, who was at the birth of the new institute, signed a new agreement between the Dutch Academy and the IRHT for the common programme on the arts faculty (see below), thus securing my research activities other than the dictionary. The institutional situation in The Hague became much less pleasant than before, until my colleague Henk Braakhuis took over the direction of the institute for some years, than making place for a new director, Henk Wals, and a new institute, called Huygens Institute (because apart from Constantijn another famous member of the Huygens family, his son Christiaan, was now also taken into account), introducing, besides philology and text editions, the history of science. This new direction of the field of research and the new director greatly improved the situation. Until my official retirement in October 2011 I benefited from an efficient infrastructure, support from my near colleagues and our director, and from a total liberty to do my research in Paris, during the publication of the last fascicles of the dictionary and afterwards. The last development, the fusion between the Huygens Institute and the Institute for Dutch History, in the spring of 2011, was for me more a formal than a real change. This big institute (called Huygens Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis), with about hundred members, follows other directions and has moved to Amsterdam, thus closing the long period of my work in The Hague, at the Royal Library.


Lange Voorhout, former site of the Royal Library


From the intellectual point of view, my career developed harmoniously, since my almost automatical immersion in the Middle Ages. My first ‘parallel’ publications were text editions, but soon I became interested in the terminology of intellectual life in the Middle Ages. In 1978 the Thomas Institute in Cologne organised a colloquium on the theme “Soziale Ordnungen im Selbstverständnis des Mittelalters” and I presented a paper on the terms used by the medieval intellectuals to talk about the universities – a new institution emerging around 1200 – and the teaching given in this context. The question was if they used newly coined words or already existing terms in a different sense, how these words were compatible with the new situation and what exactly was their new meaning. Later, I developed this first study in a publication entitled Terminologie des universités au XIIIe siècle, which appeared in Rome in the series “Lessico Intellettuale Europeo”, in 1987.


The creation of CIVICIMA


While working on this subject I noticed once and again how inaccurately modern historians used medieval terms and how useful a contribution semantic research can be to intellectual history. Some historians even coined Latin terms from their own language, terms that were afterwards used by others as if they had any original meaning. I became convinced that the study of technical vocabulary was an essential part of history. And as I was more and more interested in the history of intellectual life, including of course the universities, I decided to extend my semantic research to a wider intellectual context. So I took the initiative to create the “Comité international du vocabulaire des institutions et de la communication intellectuelles au moyen âge », abbreviated as CIVICIMA, a long title aiming to describe the fields we wanted to cover: the terminology of institutions of intellectual life and the means of communication (teaching, instruments and methods, libraries, etc.), but not the ones of the contents of the various disciplines; in short, the terms used by the scholars of that time to describe the tools with wich they performed their intellectual activities, such as commenting on a text, organising a library, making indexes etc., not the doctrinal ideas they transmitted, such as logical or metaphysical concepts discussed during the teaching. The basic idea was that the study of terms leads to the understanding of the concepts they represent and thus to the reality to which these concepts refer, a combination of historical and semantic research leading to a better understanding of facts.

At the first meeting of our international committee, which took place in Leiden and The Hague in l985, we established a programme, essentially consisting in five points: the terminology of schools, of universities, of books and writing, of methods and instruments of intellectual work, of the names of disciplines and their students. Every two years we organised a colloquium in a different European country, in collaboration with a national institution, in order to make our project known internationally. Thus, a colloquium in Paris in 1987, in collaboration with the French Comité Du Cange, concerned the theme “Vocabulaire du livre et de l’écriture au moyen âge”, the next one took place in Rome in 1989, in collaboration with the Ecole française de Rome, on the theme “Vocabulaire des écoles et des methodes d’enseignement”, and so on (colloquia in Leuven, London, Porto). The proceedings of the colloquia were published in a new series, “Etudes sur le vocabulaire intellectuel au moyen âge”, published by Brepols (see List of publications). The last colloquium we had planned in Jena in 1998, never took place. I had the impression that the most important part of our programme had been covered and that it was time to synthesize and to close the project. Thus we planned a final volume, which would recapitulate the terms treated in the previous volumes, this time in alphabetical order and with short descriptions of their history and use, and which would at the same time describe the numerous lacking terms. This work was entrusted to a young researcher, Mariken Teeuwen. She published the very useful final volume, completing the CIVICIMA series, in 2003, under the title Vocabulary of Intellectual Life in the Middle Ages, and after its completion she continued to work in our institute on other projects.


The Faculty of Arts


For the inquiry into a field of research the study of the technical vocabulary is indispensable, but at the same time it is insufficient to obtain a thorough knowledge of the reality. My interest shifted from vocabulary to the contents and methods of teaching, in particular at the Faculty of Arts. In 1992, I consulted Louis Holtz, then director of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS, Paris) about the possibility of a common research programme between this institute and my small Du Cange Institute at The Hague. We decided to found such a programme on the theme “La Faculté des arts dans les universités médiévales (Paris et Oxford, XIIIe-XVe s.)”, comprising the study of all aspects of the arts faculties, especially those of Paris and Oxford. Thus I found a new research environment, the IRHT, one of the biggest European institutes devoted to the history of the Middle Ages in its various aspects (philology, palaeography, history of libraries, Latin, Greek, Arab and Hebrew studies, etc.). I owe much to its succeeding directors and my French colleagues, inside and outside the IRHT : without them the programme would not have been possible.

One of the main projects within this programme was to make a new “Glorieux”, that is to say to make a repertory of Parisian masters of arts and their writings. The volume of Palémon Glorieux, La Faculté des arts et ses maitres au XIIIe siècle, published in 1971, was not only limited in time, but also very defìcient. I used it only as a supplementary source, the essential basis of my work being the card file called “Répertoire bio-bibliographique” of the IRHT (Section Latine), which contains in principle all Latin authors and anonymous texts from the end of Antiquity until ca. 1500. Of course, this had to be completed by various more or less recent publications as the repertory of commentaries on the works of Aristotle by Charles Lohr, the Handlist of British Authors of Richard Sharpe, etc., as well as by personal research. I decided to create an international network of scholars working on various aspects of the arts faculty and to ask them to correct and complete the first drafts of my articles. This proved to be a very fruitful approach: generally about thirty or forty correspondents provided me with missing details, important corrections and sometimes new authors, until then unknown to me. Some of my ‘readers’ reviewed the whole files, every page of them, others commented on authors familiar to them. Some of them have to be mentioned explicitly because of their fidelity from the beginning to the end and because of the special friendship that bound us: Louis Jacques Bataillon, who disappeared in 2009 before the end of the repertory, and was much missed afterwards, and Professor L.M. de Rijk, my teacher and friend from the beginning, who read everything until the end. Sten Ebbesen also provided me with much important information, allowing me to complete many articles and to eliminate many errors, especially in the field of logic, while Angel d’Ors, joining us later, was an unfailing corrector and source of new articles on Spanish authors. In fact, all information I received from my correspondents was essential for the quality of the repertory. Because the ever growing bibliography made the work on the repertory more and more difficult, I asked for assistance and in 2007 Monica Calma joined me: together we published the last fascicules: 7 (P), 8 (R) and 9 (S-Z).


Cover of the first fascicle of the repertorium


The title under which the repertory has been published (by Brepols) may seem amazing at first sight: Le travail intellectuel à Faculté des arts de Paris: textes et maitres. It intends to stress its basic approach, the writings of the masters and the contemporary works they used in their teaching and research having precedence over prosopographical information. This was inspired by the conviction that the works related to the teaching at the arts faculties should be considered as a closely interrelated tradition more than as a series of independent literary productions. As René-Antoine Gauthier remarked: “les maitres ès arts forment un milieu homogène, leur enseignement est l’enseignement d’une faculté plus que d’un homme” (preface to his Anonymi magistri artiumLectura in librum De anima, published in 1985). My intention was to give a picture of the intellectual life at the Parisian arts faculty and the texts of colleagues used by the masters when writing their own commentaries were also important, even if those colleagues never taught at the arts faculty, as for example Albert the Great. This approach has been criticised by some scholars because it would give a false idea about the number of Parisian masters. However, the difference between the two categories is clearly indicated by symbols: M for masters, S for sources, D for doubtful. And a list of authors in each fascicule makes it easy to see the proportion between them. A more serious flaw is the absence of anonymous works. They are numerous and often important, but it seemed impossible at this stage to include them. I hoped that the online version of the repertory would incite scholars to complete it and carry on the research on the fascinating milieu of the Medieval Arts faculty; however, this was never realised.

Another project in the context of the research programme is the study of the disputatio, one of the basic methods of teaching and research at the Medieval universities. A first, limited publication under the title La ‘disputatio’ à la Faculté des arts de Paris (1200-1350 environ) appeared in 1995. Afterwards I wrote a more complete study on the disputation at the arts faculties (La ‘disputatio’ dans les Facultés des arts au moyen âge, published in 2002) and then widened the context to the other faculties, theology, law and medicine (Queritur utrum. Recherches sur la ‘disputatio ‘ dans les universités médiévales, published in 2009). The subject is wide ranged in its variety and implications. One of my projects was a larger study on the practice and techniques of disputation and discussion from Antiquity to Early Modern times (realised in 2013 under the title In Search for the Truth, see List of publications).


Studia Artistarum


To accompany the research programme mentioned above we started a new series with Brepols Publishers: “Studia Artistarum. Etudes sur la Faculté des arts dans les universités médiévales”, a series common to the two institutes (in The Hague and Paris). Apart from the fascicles of the repertory and the above mentioned studies on the disputation, the series also comprises a number of proceedings of colloquia (among which the one organised by Louis Holtz and myself in 1995 on “L’enseignement des disciplines à la Faculté des arts de Paris” and the one organised by Claude Lafleur in Québec entitled “L’enseignement de la philophie à la Faculté des arts”, published in 1997, as well as other studies. In the “Subsidia” of the series I published a volume originated by a year of teaching at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, in 1993-1994, under the title Le maniement du savoir. Pratiques intellectuelles à l’époque des premières universités (see List of publications). In this study I tried to describe the various aspects of the teaching at the Arts faculty and some other intellectual practices, like the use of indexes and repertories, a description based on the knowledge we had in those years, rather incomplete compared to what we know today. A different and more up to date description of this subject has been published later (A Scholar’s Paradise, 2015).


Summary and acknowledgments


Over the years, my interest shifted from terminology to intellectual history, from the arts faculty to academic teaching methods in general, but everything originated from my work on the dictionary. Words, concepts, reality, this is still the underlying approach of my research. And this is what determined the three big projects of my intellectual career: the dictionary, the CIVICIMA series and the project on the arts faculty.

These 47 years of research in various institutes and various working places – from a small table amidst the bookshelves of the old Royal Library in The Hague, via a magnificent office overlooking the Lange Voorhout, in the same old library, and various spots in the new building of the Royal Library, not forgetting my place in the IRHT in Paris, evolving from a very limited space to a comfortable bureau – may seem rather monotonous. However, it left enough space for travel, in order to participate in various congresses or to give lectures. My life of researcher was also completed, from time to time, by teaching at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris, at the invitation of Colette Sirat and Jacques Verger, and, most important, it was enriched by continuous interchange with many colleagues and friends.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, I want to mention some personalities who have been important for me as teachers and friends. First, dr. J.W. Fuchs, my teacher of Latin and first employer, who formed me for philological work. From my time at the university on Prof. dr. L.M. de Rijk has been a tutor and intimate friend. He introduced me to the text editions with which I started my career outside the dictionary and kindled my interest in medieval philosophy. In Paris several teachers at the EPHE became close friends, first André Vernet, whose seminaries on medieval Latin literature were attended by several foreign students, and Jacques Monfrin, more a friend than a teacher for me, who made me enter the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres as ‘correspondant étranger’. Since 1991 Colette Sirat, who opened the world of Hebrew studies to me, has been my best friend as well as best reader of my publications. Last but not least, I had the privilege of the friendship of Louis Jacques Bataillon, whom no qualification can describe, but goodness, a deep sensibility, luminosity, generosity and very wide learning are some words that come to mind. Without forgetting all my other friends (for instance, Jacques Verger, with whom I shared, and hope to continue to share, many interesting and pleasurable moments of collaboration and an old friendship; and Francesco Del Punta, disappeared much too early, whom I remember with fondness), these are the ones who had a profound influence on me. I am grateful for the time I have been able to spend with them.


To complete this already somewhat dated account, I want to mention some of the younger scholars, who became friends: Marieken Teeuwen, who succeeded me at the Huygens Instituut and who traced her own path into medieval studies concentrating on a period well before the age of the universities; Monica Brinzei, who assisted me with the repertory of Parisian arts masters and who now has her own field concerning the study of the Sentences (see her Thesis-project followed by the Debate-project), Dragos Calma, my philosophical ‘assistant’, doggy sitter, and ‘homme à tout faire’, who now teaches at Dublin University; Claire Angotti, whose dissertation on the Sentences manuscripts at the Collège de Sorbonne I managed to read entirely with interest and pleasure, and who is teaching at the university of Reims; Bénédicte Sère, who, I still remember with gratitude, offered me precious help with the organisation of my first big colloquium and who is now a passionate teacher of medieval history at the university of Paris-Nanterre; and Emmanuelle Kuhry, whom I also discovered by means of a dissertation jury and whose research since then I follow with pleasure. All of them provide me with a view on contemporary research on an excellent level. Three of them offered me the honour and pleasure of a special volume of ‘homage’ entitled Portraits de maîtres, special also because its contents are without exception highly interesting.

Finally, I should mention the creation of the “Societas Artistarum” in 2012 (an ‘association’ under the French law of 1901), aiming to keep the scholars working on the faculty of arts, who had been part of the international network supporting the work on the repertory, in contact and to promote further research in this field (see Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 57 (2015) pp. 418-420), and the two series related to it: Studia Artistarum (since 1994) and SFAHI (Studies on the Faculty of Arts. History and Influence, since 2013), both edited by Brepols Publishers.



Pour fermer la page, cliquez sur l’icône en forme de croix situé en haut à droite.