Description and Reconstruction: An Alternative Categorization of Philological Approaches

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Abstract

Since the early 1990s, philological approaches have been described as either traditional philology on the one hand or New or Material Philology on the other. This chapter discusses the relevance of that division for current philological studies. As philology has moved toward a wider range of approaches, the existing dichotomy has lost its precision, especially in describing studies that fall under New or Material Philology. A philologist who compares several manuscripts may not do so with the aim of establishing an archetype, but may at the same time not want or be able to study all the manuscripts in their entirety. Such a philological study is not adequately described as being either traditional or New or Material Philology, but it is not an uncommon kind of study. In this chapter an alternative categorization is proposed: reconstructive and descriptive philology respectively. Both categories can have further subdivisions into a focus on production or reception. The proposed categories aim to refine the definitions of philological studies, and are an attempt to demonstrate that the main difference in philological approaches lies in what they aim to achieve.

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