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Johan Huizinga. a Concept of History

Johan Huizinga. a Concept of History

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Published by Dan Mihalache
Dutch historian, whose most famous works include The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), which dealt with life, ideas, art, and behaviors of the upper classes of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th centuries, Erasmus (1924), a biography of the famous Dutch Renaissance scholar, and Homo Ludens (1938), focusing on the element of play in human culture.

"When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child. Every event, every deed was defined in given and expressive forms and was in accord with the solemnity of marriage, death - by virtue of the sacraments, basked in the radiance of the divine mystery. But even the lesser events - a journey, labor, a visit - were accompanied by a multitude of blessings, ceremonies, sayings, and conventions." (from The Autumn of the Middle Ages)

Johan Huizinga was born in Groningen as the son of Dirk Huizinga, a professor of physiology, and Jacoba Tonkens, who died two years after his birth. Huizinga attended the municipal Gymnasium and entered in 1891 the university, earning his degree in Indo-Germanic languages in 1895. Huizinga then studied comparative linguistics at the University of Leipzig, and after returning from Germany he earned in 1897 his Ph.D. Huizinga's dissertation dealt with the clown figure in Sanskrit drama. His early interest was history, but at the gymnasium his teachers had been so poor, that he changed into linguistics. During the following years he taught history at a secondary school in Harlem and lectured in 1903-05 on ancient history at the University of Amsterdam. In 1905 he became professor of history at Groningen. After the death of his first wife, Mary Vincentia Schorer (1877-1914), he moved from Groningen to Leiden, where he was appointed in 1915 professor of general history at the university.

From 1916 to 1932 Huizinga was an editor of the periodical De Gids. He traveled in the United States in 1926, but he had already published a study on the national characteristics of the country, Mensch en menigte in America (1918). The journey produced Amerika Levend en Denkend (1926). In 1938 Huizinga became vice-president of the International Committee of Intellectual Cooperation with the League of Nations. Alarmed by the rise of fascism and cultural crisis Huizinga wrote In de schaduwen van morgen (1935), which his son Jacob Herman Huizinga translated into English under the title In the Shadow of Tomorrow.

In 1937 Huizinga married Auguste Schölvinck, 37 years his junior. After the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, the University of Leiden was closed. In 1941 Huizinga gave a speech in which he criticized German influence on Dutch science and he was arrested by the Nazis. Huizinga was released in 1942 but not allowed to return to Leiden. Huizinga died in detention at De Steeg in Gerderland, near Arnheim, on February 1, 1945, just a few months before the end of the war.

In his inaugural lecture at Groningen Huizinga had supported the view, that historical knowledge is essentially aesthetic, intuitive, and subjective. This approach was fully developed in Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (The Autumn of the Middle Ages), a nostalgic views of the the past world, which he wrote for both the wide public and specialists. Dutch historians received the work coolly but abroad it became a success and was soon translated into English and other languages. The study was inspired by an exhibition of early Netherlandic painting, which Huizinga saw in 1902 in Bruges. It aroused his life-long interest in the Middle Ages. The Autumn of the Middle Ages, written in poetic style, portrays vividly the age through contradictions - after witch hunts were finished in the city of Arras, people celebrated it by arranging a
Dutch historian, whose most famous works include The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), which dealt with life, ideas, art, and behaviors of the upper classes of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th centuries, Erasmus (1924), a biography of the famous Dutch Renaissance scholar, and Homo Ludens (1938), focusing on the element of play in human culture.

"When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child. Every event, every deed was defined in given and expressive forms and was in accord with the solemnity of marriage, death - by virtue of the sacraments, basked in the radiance of the divine mystery. But even the lesser events - a journey, labor, a visit - were accompanied by a multitude of blessings, ceremonies, sayings, and conventions." (from The Autumn of the Middle Ages)

Johan Huizinga was born in Groningen as the son of Dirk Huizinga, a professor of physiology, and Jacoba Tonkens, who died two years after his birth. Huizinga attended the municipal Gymnasium and entered in 1891 the university, earning his degree in Indo-Germanic languages in 1895. Huizinga then studied comparative linguistics at the University of Leipzig, and after returning from Germany he earned in 1897 his Ph.D. Huizinga's dissertation dealt with the clown figure in Sanskrit drama. His early interest was history, but at the gymnasium his teachers had been so poor, that he changed into linguistics. During the following years he taught history at a secondary school in Harlem and lectured in 1903-05 on ancient history at the University of Amsterdam. In 1905 he became professor of history at Groningen. After the death of his first wife, Mary Vincentia Schorer (1877-1914), he moved from Groningen to Leiden, where he was appointed in 1915 professor of general history at the university.

From 1916 to 1932 Huizinga was an editor of the periodical De Gids. He traveled in the United States in 1926, but he had already published a study on the national characteristics of the country, Mensch en menigte in America (1918). The journey produced Amerika Levend en Denkend (1926). In 1938 Huizinga became vice-president of the International Committee of Intellectual Cooperation with the League of Nations. Alarmed by the rise of fascism and cultural crisis Huizinga wrote In de schaduwen van morgen (1935), which his son Jacob Herman Huizinga translated into English under the title In the Shadow of Tomorrow.

In 1937 Huizinga married Auguste Schölvinck, 37 years his junior. After the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, the University of Leiden was closed. In 1941 Huizinga gave a speech in which he criticized German influence on Dutch science and he was arrested by the Nazis. Huizinga was released in 1942 but not allowed to return to Leiden. Huizinga died in detention at De Steeg in Gerderland, near Arnheim, on February 1, 1945, just a few months before the end of the war.

In his inaugural lecture at Groningen Huizinga had supported the view, that historical knowledge is essentially aesthetic, intuitive, and subjective. This approach was fully developed in Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (The Autumn of the Middle Ages), a nostalgic views of the the past world, which he wrote for both the wide public and specialists. Dutch historians received the work coolly but abroad it became a success and was soon translated into English and other languages. The study was inspired by an exhibition of early Netherlandic painting, which Huizinga saw in 1902 in Bruges. It aroused his life-long interest in the Middle Ages. The Autumn of the Middle Ages, written in poetic style, portrays vividly the age through contradictions - after witch hunts were finished in the city of Arras, people celebrated it by arranging a

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Published by: Dan Mihalache on May 29, 2010
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09/06/2013

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