Jacob Burckhardt Criticism - Essay

Reinhold Niebuhr (essay date 1943)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Jacob Burckhardt: Force and Freedom: Reflections on History," in A Reinhold Niebuhr Reader: Selected Essays, Articles, and Book Reviews, edited by Charles C. Brown, Trinity Press International, 1992, pp. 138-40.

[Niebuhr, considered one of the most important and influential Protestant theologians in twentieth-century America, is the author of The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944) and Christian Realism and Political Problems (1953). In the following excerpt from a review originally published in the Nation in 1943, Niebuhr summarizes Burckhardt's philosophy as an historian and its significance to the modern world.]


(The entire section is 675 words.)

Wallace K. Ferguson (essay date 1948)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt and the Formation of the Modern Concept," in The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948, pp. 179-94.

[In the following excerpt, Ferguson, a noted Renaissance historian, describes the structure and argument of Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, and evaluates the continuing validity of Burckhardt's portrait of the age.]

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Burckhardt's masterpiece, was planned as an investigation of the inner spirit of Italy during the Renaissance.… Its subtitle, "An Essay," was not merely the product of his accustomed...

(The entire section is 2353 words.)

Arnaldo Momigliano (essay date 1955)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Introduction to the Griechische Kulturgeschichte by Jacob Burckhardt," in Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography, Wesleyan University Press, 1977, pp. 295-305.

[Originally published as the introduction to an Italian edition of The Cultural History of Greece, the following essay places Burckhardt's book in its contemporary intellectual context.]

An inspired teacher with a natural aptitude for collecting together his researches and reflections and presenting them clearly and calmly, Burckhardt was able, as were few other historians, to express his ideas in courses of lectures. This is particularly true of the Griechische Kul...

(The entire section is 3221 words.)

Karl Löwith (essay date 1957)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt," in Meaning in History, The University of Chicago Press, 1957, pp. 20-32.

[In the excerpt below, Lowith discusses Burckhardt's understanding of political continuity, with special reference to Reflections on World History.]

The proper purpose of Burckhardt's lifelong study and teaching of history was neither to construct "world history" philosophically nor to promote technical scholarship but to develop the historical sense. His course on history was intended as an introduction to the study of "the Historical," in order to stimulate the genuine appropriation of those periods of our history which may appeal individually. For to him history was not an...

(The entire section is 2463 words.)

Karl J. Weintraub (essay date 1966)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt, 1818-1897," in Visions of Culture: Voltaire, Guizot, Burckhardt, Lamprecht, Huizinga, Ortega y Gasset, University of Chicago Press, 1966, pp. 115-60.

[In the excerpt below, Weintraub discusses Burckhardt's approach to art and art history.]

Burckhardt's reluctance to theorize must not be confused with dislike for generalization or structuring principles, nor should he be compared with the hesitant factual historian who makes a meager virtue of accurate detail at the cost of any larger vision. Burckhardt had a pronounced love for details, but he criticized the busy piling-up of more and more unwanted facts.… As art historian he sought to rise above...

(The entire section is 3547 words.)

Hayden White (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt: Historical Realism as Satire," in Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, pp. 230-64.

[Below, White analyzes Burckhardt's work within the framework of a structuralist theory of historiography. He emphasizes the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer on Burckhardt's thought.]

The German philosopher and historian of ideas Karl Lowith argued that it was only with Burckhardt that the "idea of history" was finally liberated from myth, and from that nefarious "philosophy of history" spawned by the confusion of myth with historical knowledge which had dominated historical thought from the early...

(The entire section is 4882 words.)

Erich Heller (essay date 1975)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt and Nietzsche," in The Disinherited Mind: Essays in Modern German Literature and Thought, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, pp. 67-88.

[In the excerpt below, Heller describes Burckhardt's approach to original source material, positing an affinity between that employed by the historian and by the poet Goethe.]

When in 1495 Raphael was apprenticed to Pietro Perugino at Perugia, this city was one of the many Renaissance centres of political strife, moral outrage and ruthless violence. Matarazzo, the chronicler of the Perugia of that time, relates in some detail the story of the two rival families, the Oddi and the Baglioni, interlocked in a deadly...

(The entire section is 2511 words.)

Russell Kirk (review date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Irrational Behavior? No, Historical Experience," in The Birmingham News, March 2, 1980, p. E8.

[An American historian, political theorist, novelist, journalist, and lecturer, Kirk was one of America's most eminent conservative intellectuals. His works have provided a major impetus to the conservative revival that has developed since the 1950s. In the following excerpt from a review of Reflections on History, Kirk offers high praise for Burckhardt as a wise and prescient historian.]

[Reflections on History] is a handsomely produced edition of lectures delivered a century ago by the great Swiss historian [which] contains an informative...

(The entire section is 333 words.)

Hans Baron (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Limits of the Notion of 'Renaissance Individualism': Burckhardt after a Century," in In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought, Vol. II, Princeton University Press, 1988, pp. 155-81.

[In the excerpt below, Baron evaluates Burckhardt's concept of the Renaissance, assessing criticisms of it and outlining two areas of weakness in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.]

September 1960 marked the hundredth year since the appearance of Jacob Burckhardt's Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. No other work has had a comparable influence on the formation of the historical concept of the...

(The entire section is 5313 words.)

William Kerrigan and Gordon Braden (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt's Renaissance," in The Idea of the Renaissance, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pp. 3-35.

[In the following excerpt, Kerrigan and Braden analyze Burkhardt's understanding of Renaissance individualism and posit that, in Burckhardt's view, the concept of honor provides the only counterbalance to the destructiveness of unbridled individualism.]

In the offing [in the stories about the spiteful wit Pietro Aretino] is one of Burckhardt's most troubled points about the individualism that he is sometimes taken merely to celebrate. Emperors aspire to uniqueness. A private selfhood that adopts in metaphorical form the authority and autonomy of...

(The entire section is 3256 words.)

Felix Gilbert (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Burckhardt's Concept of Cultural History," in History: Politics or Culture, Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 46-80.

[In the following excerpt, Gilbert describes Burckhardt's intended projects in his early career and one of his early works, The Age of Constantine the Great.]

When his years of study came to an end, Jacob Burckhardt decided to work in a particular field of history: in cultural history. What did that decision mean? What did he understand by this term? Did his conception of cultural history undergo significant changes in the course of his life? These are the questions with which this chapter is concerned.

In the early 1840s,...

(The entire section is 2696 words.)