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Diffusion des Humanismus: Studien zur nationalen Geschichtsschreibung europaischer Humanisten.

Johannes Helmrath, Ulrich Muhlack, and Gerrit Walther, eds. Diffusion des Humanismus: Studien zur nationalen Geschichtsschreibung europaischer Humanisten.

Gottingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2002. Pbk. 464 pp. + 19 b/w pls. index. illus. [euro] 35. ISBN: 3-89244-506-0.

Diffusion des Humanismus presents papers from a symposium of 2001 that was part of a project funded by a German foundation. The fifteen papers and three editorial chapters focus on clarifying the concept of "diffusion" through the example of the history of humanistic "national" historiography. Introductory pieces by editors Johannes Helmrath, "Introduction to 'the Diffusion of Humanism,'" and Ulrich Muhlack, "Humanist Historiography," are followed by four papers on humanistic historiography in Italy, three on Germany, one on Switzerland, three on eastern Europe (one that generalizes and one each on Poland and Hungary), then two on France and two on England.

The last chapter--entitled "National History as Export Commodity, Possible Answers to the Question: What is 'the Diffusion of Humanism?'"--is a content overview by Gerrit Walther, another editor of the book and coordinator of the foundation's research project. Walther describes the contributors as agreeing that humanism was certainly not an epiphenomenon of economic or political forces, nor a construct of later historical reflection but, rather, an irreducible and autonomous historical reality that arose uniquely in Italy as a "aesthetic-social system" constituted by shared values, methods, and stylistic ideals. In Italy, humanists, beginning with Biondo, created a new kind of collective identity in natio conceived as a community committed to identification with a foundational cultural past. Italia illustrata asserted the existence of a nation of elite Italians cultivating Roman identity and invited others on the peninsula to join it through commitment to the nation-constituting (humanistic) culture. This new cultural method, made valuable by the general brilliance of Renaissance Italy, was then exported in the luggage of students, bureaucrats, and tourists and "diffused" into the mainstream of European elite culture as a standard practice for legitimating rulers and elite classes.

The argument for this position can easily be presented by translating a selection of the paper titles. Thus Jorg W. Busch, starts the set of symposium papers in the book on the very ground, the politics of twelfth-century Italian communes, on which Jacob Burckhardt began constructing our image of the Renaissance. His chapter "The Homeland as Portrayed by Lay Pre-Humanist Historians in Northern Italian Communes," sets the stage for Ottavio Clavuot, "Flavio Biondo's Italia illustrata. A Portrait and Historical-Geographical Legitimation of the Italian Humanistic Elite." Soon after we can arrive in Germany where this Italian export is seen diffusing into the cultural bloodstream in three articles on nation-building humanism: Ulrich Muhlack, "The Project of the Germania illustrata, a Paradigm for the Diffusion of Humanism?"; Reinhold Stauber, "Hartmann Schedal, the Humanist Circle in Nurnberg and 'the Expansion of the German Nation'"; and James Hirstein, "Ermalao Barbaro as Role Model. The Influence of his Pliny Commentary on the Historiography of Beatus Rhenanus in his Rerum Germanicorum Libri III." The expansion of this process is witnessed in other pieces, such as: Thomas Maissen, "How the Swiss Confederacy became the Helvetians. The Humanistic Definition of a Nation"; Franck Collard, "Paulus Aemilius' De rebus gestis Francorum. Diffusion and Reception of a Humanist Historical Work in France"; Susanne Saygin, Historia magistra vitae? The Understanding of Humanist Historiography in England as Exemplified by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447)"; and Frank Rexroth, "Polydor Vergil as Historian and the English Contribution to European Humanism."

Especially interesting for this reader was Busch's article which presents a careful account of the origins of a critical, medieval, lay historiography in the political concern for communal self-definition among urban laymen caught between Empire and Papacy, thus distinguishing a content that pre-humanist and humanist historiography could share from the stylistic issues of literary form and Latinity that particularly characterize humanistic productions.

The other chapters not mentioned above are: Bruno Figliuolo, "Humanistic Historiography in Naples and Its Influence in Europe (1450-1550)"; Johannes Helmrath, "On Imitating Enea: Enea Silvio Piccolomini as 'Apostle' of Humanism. Forms and Paths of his Diffusion"; Horst Bredekamp, "Rulers and Artists In the East European Renaissance"; Laslo Havas and Sebastyen Kiss, "Antonio Bonifinis' Conception of History"; Jan Piroznski, "Humanistic Historiography in Poland"; Heribert Muller, Early French Humanism, ca. 1400. Patriotism, Propaganda and Historiography."

WOOD BOULDIN

Villanova University
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Bouldin, Wood
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:707
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