Huizinga's 'heimwee': Responding to Burckhardt's 'Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien' in times of loss

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This article offers a new interpretation of the historical relation between two foundational works in cultural history: Johan Huizinga’s ‘The Autumntide of the Middle Ages’ (1919) and Jacob Burckhardt’s ‘The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy’ (1860). The tension between these works has commonly been understood as a scholarly dispute over the proper historical periodization of European fifteenth-century cultural practices: whilst Burckhardt reconstructed his material in terms of its technical novelty, its ability to ‘create’ (schöpfen) a post-medieval world, Huizinga emphasized how fifteenth-century culture continued to ‘re-create’ (her-scheppen) culture according to medieval symbolic codes. The present article suggests understanding this tension not as a product of a trans-historical scholarly dispute over the character of a given period of time, but as a consequence of Huizinga’s experience of loss and nostalgia, his ‘heimwee’ for past times. Between 1903 and 1905, Huizinga witnessed a large-scale destruction of early-seventeenth-century architecture in Amsterdam so as to make way for ‘the spirit of entrepreneurship,’ and it was first in this context that Huizinga grew interested in the importance of historical recreations to European culture. This article shows how Huizinga’s experience of urban modernization and ‘the inhabited ruin’ mediated his critique of Burckhardt’s book on Renaissance Italy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)732-747
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Johan Huizinga
  • Jacob Burckhardt
  • cultural history
  • historical experience


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