Johan Huizinga, who was later to become famous for his studies
concerning the Waning of the Middle Ages, was born in Groningen
in 1872. He was educated there and in Leipzig, Germany. His
initial academic training was as a linguist - he studied Dutch
language and literature in Groningen from 1891 until 1897 when he
wrote his doctoral dissertation under the supervision of the
classical scholar J.S. Speyer (1849-1913) on the
Vidûsaka in Indian theatre.
Huizinga shifted his interest towards historical studies
however, with a particular emphasis on studies as a Cultural
historian in line with the school established by Jacob
Burckhardt. After teaching in Haarlem and Amsterdam, he became
professor of history at the University of Groningen in 1905 and
at the Leiden University in 1915.
His most famous work is The Waning of the Middle Ages ,
(published in 1919 trans. 1924), in which he argues that the late
Middle Ages were a period of weariness, pessimism and
This work, which is celebrated for its excellent literary
quality and historical penetration, focuses on the 14th and 15th
centuries in France and the Low Countries as exemplifying the
last phase of the Middle Ages and discusses many aspects of
medieval life: philosophy, literature, painting, chivalry, love,
etc. Huizinga describes how medieval piety often found expression
in rituals and external forms.
The Middle Ages are also discusses in his collection of essays
Men and Ideas. One of these called, "The Task of Cultural
History," argues that history should resurrect the past, and
should give the reader a sense of what it was like to be alive
during a particular period. Huizinga deplores the modern tendency
to write romanticized history and romanticized biography, to try
to make history entertaining and amusing holding that "No
literary effect in the world can compare to the pure, sober taste
Other essays are collected in a volume called Dutch
Civilization in the Seventeenth Century and Other Essays.
Much of this book is written not for the general reader, but for
fellow Dutchmen and contemporaries. His preoccupation with the
Netherlands reminds one of Ortega's preoccupation with Spain. In
an essay called, "The Aesthetic Element in Historical Thought,"
Huizinga declares that he has "faith in the importance of the
aesthetic element in historical thinking," and that he opposes
the idea that history should attempt to be scientific. "The
historian tries to re-experience what was once experienced by men
like ourselves....The true study of history involves our
imagination and conjures up conceptions, pictures,
In the Shadow of Tomorrow isn't a historical work, but
rather an analysis of Western civilization. It discusses the
problems besetting the West, from moral anarchy to artistic
decadence. Though it sometimes reminds one of Ortega's Revolt
of the Masses, its less pertinent to our time than Ortega's
work since much of it is a criticism of Fascism. It is, however,
an interesting, brief and readable book, it argues that that
modern education and the mass media both have harmful effects on
culture: "Our time [is] faced by the discouraging fact that two
highly vaunted achievements of civilization, universal education
and modern publicity, instead of raising the level of culture,
appear ultimately to produce certain symptoms of cultural
devitalisation and degeneration."
In looking at modern art, Huizinga finds a trend toward the
irrational in both modern literature and modern painting.
Literature and painting are held to have become increasingly
unintelligible - poetry is represented as having maintained
throughout history "a certain connection with rational
expression....It is not until the closing years of the
[nineteenth] century that one sees poetry purposely steering its
course away from reason."
Man and the Masses in America and also Life and
Thought in America; are two books that are sometimes
published together in one volume. They consider American history
before 1925, and they also look at modern society in general,
including newspapers, movies and literature. Special attention is
paid to the economic forces that have shaped American
In many of Huizinga's works, he discusses the play element in
culture. Finally, when his life was drawing to a close, and he
was a prisoner of the Nazis, he collected his thoughts on this
subject into a book called Homo Ludens: A Study of the
Play-Element in Culture. Homo Ludens contains some
very interesting ideas, but it presents these ideas in a rather
dry and scholarly manner. He argues that play is one of
fundamental facts of human life, and is at the root of poetry,
music, philosophy - even jurisprudence and war. Anyone interested
in plumbing the depths of human nature, anyone interested in the
question of why people fight wars, create culture, etc., should
take his ideas into account. Huizinga is discussing more than
play, he is discussing human nature, the fundamental drives
within human nature - "The spirit of playful competition is, as a
social impulse, older than culture itself and pervades all life
like a veritable ferment. Ritual grew up in sacred play; poetry
was born in play and nourished on play; music and dancing were
pure play....We have to conclude, therefore, that civilization
is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from
play...it arises in and as play, and never leaves
Other works include early studies of the literature and
culture of India and a biography of Erasmus (1924).
From 1942 until his death in 1945 Johan Huizinga was held in
detention by the Nazis.
Popular European History pages
The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy
of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is
illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by
nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest,
the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every
faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in
appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact;
all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law
in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of
nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole
encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in
one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie
folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp,
kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application
of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
- 1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
- A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.
- 2 The French Revolution of 1848
- A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".
- 3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
- "Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted
to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.
- 4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
- A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.
- 5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
- Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support
the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power
in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European
structure of states and their sovereignty.