In a continuing series on great historical thinkers, we turn this week to Jacob Burckhardt. In a previous episode, Marco Cabrera-Geserick referred to Burckhardt as the founder of the discipline of cultural history. But who was Burckhardt? And how did he “found” a historical discipline?
Burckhardt was born in and died in the Swiss city of Basel, and spent nearly half a century as a professor at that city’s ancient university. A student of Leopold von Ranke, a man generally regarded as the progenitor of the modern discipline of history, Burckhardt chose his own path. As a proud Swiss, he in time rejected the spirit of German nationalism that characterized his lifetime; as a professional, he chose to remain in the now sleepy city of Basel rather than take a prestigious position in one of the great German universities; as a scholar he chose to develop his own way of seeing the past. (That’s him in the photo above, walking by the Basel cathedral on the way to class.)
Helping us to understand this remarkable man is Dr. Thomas Albert Howard. Tal Howard is the recently appointed Professor of History and the Humanities, and holder of the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Ethics at Valparaiso University, Indiana. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Religion and the Rise of Historicism: W.M.L. de Wette, Jacob Burckhardt, and the Theological Origins of Nineteenth Century Historical Consciousness (Cambridge, 2000) and Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford, 2006).
For Further Investigation
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
—Reflections on History, translated by Gottfried Dietze (1979)
—The Age of Constantine the Great, translated by Moses Hadas (1983)
—Judgments on History and Historians (1999)
—The Letters of Jacob Burckhardt (2001)
Lionel Gossman, Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas (Chicago, 2000)