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Jacob Burckhardt Essay

1762 words - 8 pages

“History is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.” Jacob Burckhardt’s definition of history specific in that an historian must observe the facts and determine what is important, but it also implies that what each of these historians deems “worthy of note” is inevitably going to be an ever-changing thing. This idea of constant change is extremely apparent in each of Burckhardt’s works, as well as his lectures, which were published posthumously, and contributed greatly to the fame he has sustained for over a century. Burckhardt is considered to be the father of cultural history, something that is well known to historians today, but was a very new way of discussing history ...view middle of the document...

I have Germany to thank for everything!” In 1858, Burckhardt went back to Switzerland to teach history at Basel, but he took his excitement of Germany with him. The irony of this is that, in time, his research led him not to write German history, but to move to the source of Europe’s greatness, which were Italy and the Mediterranean. Burckhardt recognized that to understand how and why Europe rose to such greatness at a specific time in its history, one must study the history of civilization itself. It is in this course of research that Burckhardt produced his most well known works; The Age of Constantine the Great, Cicerone (which was essentially an art traveler’s guide to Italy that he wrote in 1853), and especially The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Burckhardt did write exclusively on the Renaissance, or even Italy, as he would go on to focus many of his later thoughts on the Greeks of antiquity. However, in reading The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Burckhardt argues for his ideas on how culture, and civilization itself can be the most important factor in the bringing of change, rather than just the politics involved.
Burckhardt begins The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by giving accounts of the various tyrannies, which occurred in Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Throughout the work, Burckhardt has a tendency to keep discussing this despotism that plagued the civilization itself. Even though he keeps bringing up these tyrannical rulers, he does so in a way that is entirely different than other historians who had discussed the same time period, and indeed the same occurrences in general. Rather than simply collecting narratives on military leaders and various battles and conflict in the Italian history, he presents the progression of history as something seeded in the civilization at the time. Of course, this is what Jacob Burckhardt is most well known for, but in his works dealing with the Renaissance, he recognizes the culture and the ideals that Italians at this time had were the strongest factors in creating the Renaissance era in the first place.
Burckhardt’s work shows us how art and human creation became extremely important to the culture of the people in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries in Italy. Obviously, art and various other forms of human expression were not new by any means. People have used images to portray certain aspects of society ever since the prehistoric era, but Burckhardt put a vast amount of effort into explaining what exactly set aside the Renaissance from other areas of history. A famous eighteenth century historian, Edward Gibbon, is most well known for his work on the Roman Empire. Indeed, the glory days of Rome have been considered to be the high point of any society, but Burckhardt takes this a step further. He points out that Italians during the Renaissance period not only created brand new art and sculpted their culture in this way, but they took ideas...

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