International Francqui Chair for Rens Bod

The faculties of Arts and Philosophy of Ghent University and UAntwerp jointly nominated Prof. Rens Bod as a candidate for the International Francqui Chair.

As a 'uomo universale of the 21st century', Prof. Rens Bod gives shape and direction to the future of the humanities. He is full professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Amsterdam and President of the international Society for the History of the Humanities.

From February to June 2021, Prof. Bod will be staying at the faculty.

Inaugural lecture

Rens Bod's inaugural lecture will take place on Thursday 24 June at 16:00 in the Abbey Refectory of Ghent city museum STAM  (Godshuizenlaan 2).

Quo Vaditis Humanities?

The idea that the humanities and the sciences are, and have always been, separate is as much alive as ever. It structures the entrenched organization of the university; it is taken for granted in academics' everyday thinking. And yet it is wrong. It fails to fit the practice and the organization of scholarship prior to 1900, when Dilthey, Windelband and other German thinkers began to call the sciences ‘law-establishing’ (‘nomothetic’) as opposed to the allegedly ‘idiographic’ humanities. It fails likewise to fit what happened in their own time, and what has happened ever since.

In my inaugural lecture I will discuss shared methods, practices and virtues in the humanities and the sciences and I will show how they have migrated across disciplines. Thus linguists developed grammar formalisms that were used in designing the first programming languages, geneticists developed tools that were (also) applied to philological text reconstruction, and historians developed source-critical methods that are used in forensic science and other fields. These and other interactions suggest that virtues like formalization and precision transcend disciplinary boundaries. I will put these interactions in the wider frame of past and current thinking about the relationship between the humanities and the sciences, and argue that we need to rethink afresh the idea of the unity of disciplines and the future of the humanities.


  • Welcome speech
  • Speech Prof. Dominique Willems (Francqui Foundation) and presentation of the Francqui medal
  • Speech dean, Prof. Gita Deneckere
  • Inaugural lecture International Francqui Professor Rens Bod
  • Speech and presentation Ghent University medal by the vice-rector, Prof. Mieke Van Herreweghe
  • Reception (as from 17:30)

The inaugural lecture can be followed via livestream on this page:

Classes of Excellence

During his stay, Prof. Bod will organise 'Classes of Excellence' with the central theme: “The Meaning of Digital Pattern Searching in the Humanities”.

Humanities researchers are increasingly using digital tools and methods to derive meaningful patterns in their sources – be they texts, artworks, archeological artefacts, sound recordings or linguistic data. While the availability of digitized sources has dramatically increased, most methodological questions related to pattern-searching have remained underexposed. This course will investigate a series of methodological issues and criticism regarding digital pattern-searching from multiple perspectives. What are patterns in the humanities and what do they convey? Can digital pattern-searching be applied to all sources and all fields? And how are patterns to be interpreted and criticized? Can patterns in the humanities be “refuted” or will there always be exceptions in historical, literary, artistic, linguistic or musical material? Are there “laws” in the humanities or only “tendencies”, and how do patterns relate to these two concepts? Where do patterns stand in the opposition between the nomothetic and the idiographic? Are there deeper principles for patterns in the humanities? The goal of this course is to provide PhD students, postdocs and other researchers with a conceptual toolset to address these questions so as to better understand the surpluses and shortcomings of the various digital tools and methods in their research.

More information and registration.

19 april, 14:00 - 16.30

  • Introductory lecture by prof. Rens Bod on Digital Pattern Searching in the Humanities (1h)
  • Pitch (of 1-2 minutes) by each participant, followed by brief discussion and scheduling of the presentations by doctoral researchers

10 mei, 14:00 - 16.30

  • Presentations by ca 6-8 doctoral researchers (each of 10 minutes) of their research in relation to pattern searching, followed by 10 mins feedback by prof. Rens Bod and group discussion.

7 juni, 14:00 - 16.30

  • Presentations by ca 6-8 doctoral researchers (each of 10 minutes) of their research in relation to pattern searching, followed by 10 mins feedback by prof. Rens Bod and group discussion.

21 juni, 13:00 - 17:00

  • Final Symposium: ca 6 presentations of 20 minutes by senior scholars, each of which is followed by 2 commentaries of 5 minutes by course participants, and general discussion. Final structure is dependent on the number of participants.

Francqui walks

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Think tank humanities

On 12 March, Rens Bod was the central guest at the online meeting of the faculty think tank humanities.

To watch the meeting again, click here.

Faculty magazine 'Binnenstebuiten'

Digital Humanities are the central theme of the second issue of the faculty magazine Binnenstebuiten
Els Lefever interviewed Prof. Bod about his fascination with patterns.  Read the magazine (in Dutch).

Reason for the nomination of Prof. Bod.

As a ‘uomo universale of the 21st century’, colleague Rens Bod shapes and directs the future of the humanities. He is full professor Digital Humanities at the University of Amsterdam and president of the international Society for the History of the Humanities. Not only has Bod written a comprehensive and multi-award-winning historical overview of the humanities: A New History of the Humanities (translated from the Dutch “De Vergeten Wetenschappen: Een Geschiedenis van de Humaniora”, 2011) which has been translated into 7 languages, but because of his scientific background and expertise in the beta and alpha sciences, he also embodies the interdisciplinarity that can enrich the humanities with new insights and innovative methods and techniques. In addition to his monumental synthesis works, Bod has published on artificial intelligence, language and music models, and knowledge patterns. His most recent book “A World of Patterns: The History of Knowledge” (“Een wereld Vol Patronen: De Geschiedenis van Kennis”, 2019) is a completely original approach to the history of science that pushes the natural sciences and Europe out of their central position and thus provides a culturally diverse history of science. Moreover, Bod is internationally renowned as a pioneer of digital humanities.

In short, colleague Bod is the perfect candidate to help the faculty of Arts and Philosophy of Ghent University think about the strong need for a new unifying project for the future of the ‘humanities’ in relation to science and society. Our world in transition is confronted with problems that can only be tackled if the gap between the ‘humanities’ and the ‘technicalities of science’ is bridged. Rens Bod’s project Digital Humanities 3.0 forms such a bridge.
Within the Ghent faculty of Arts, a think tank across academic departments has been active since October 2018 that uses interdisciplinarity and (cultural) diversity as guidelines to transcend fragmentation and niche formation (also within its own faculty). The University of Antwerp is also reflecting on new directions for education and research in the humanities.

With Rens Bod we are nominating a candidate for the International Francqui Professor Chair who, although he is from a neighbouring country, is in a unique position internationally in the connections he is able to establish between alpha and beta, between history (of science), (computational) linguistics, musicology, between the clever use of digital tools (including parsing) and a phenomenal sense of synthesis.