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Jacob Burckhardt

  • Date Submitted: 08/09/2011 05:32 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 45 
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“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 in the mid-nineteenth century. At the time, most historians were generally concerned with keeping track of political facts, rather than critically reviewing civilization itself, something Burckhardt thought was the key. The question, then, is if true history is to be decided by the historian, then what did Burckhardt himself think worthy of note? One who reads Burckhardt will almost immediately see that he considered art and other forms of human creation to be the most important part of history, and his ideas on humanism and individualism led him to write extensively on the idea of cultural history.
To really understand how and why Burckhardt’s views on history eventually came to be, it is important to remember his background. Jacob Burckhardt was born Swiss, and was originally studying theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland (Burckhardt descended from a line of protestant clergymen), until he decided to move to Germany to study history. While studying at the University of Berlin under Ranke and Droysen, Burckhardt developed an extremely enthusiastic feeling toward Germany and Europe in general. He even says in one of his letters, “I often want to kneel down before the sacred soil of Germany and thank God that my mother tongue is German. I have Germany to thank...


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