Johan Huizinga

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Johan Huizinga [ ˈjoːɦɑn 'ɦœyzɪŋɣaː ] (born December 7, 1872 in Groningen , † February 1, 1945 in De Steeg near Arnhem ) was a Dutch cultural historian .

Johan Huizinga


Origin and scientific beginnings

Johan Huizinga comes from a Mennonite family of preachers. His father Dirk Huizinga was a professor of physiology at the Medical Faculty of the University of Groningen . Huizinga grew up in Groningen, attended grammar school there from 1885 and became interested in linguistics , history and anthropology at an early age . He gave up the original plan to study Arabic and linguistics in Leiden for financial reasons and instead began studying Dutch philology in Groningen, where he also studied geography and history with Pieter Jan Blok and Sanskrit with Jacob Speyer .

From 1893 to 1895 he completed his legal clerkship and final exams for teaching in Dutch, history and geography. He then prepared a linguistic dissertation that was to investigate the expressions for light and sound sensations in different Indo-European languages . For this purpose, he undertook a study visit to Leipzig lasting several months in the winter semester of 1895/96 , but broke it off again because the dominance of young grammarians there did not offer a favorable environment for the ethnographic and cultural-historical orientation of his work. Soon after his return he gave up his dissertation project in this form and instead began a dissertation on the comic figure of "Vidushaka" (comparable to the German " Hanswurst ") in the Indian theater ( De Vidushaka in het indisch toneel ). With this work, which also included part of his original dissertation project in one of her theses, he received his doctorate in 1896 under Jacob Speyer. Disappointed by linguistics, especially by young grammarians, whose striving for reconstruction and comparison of formal structures continued to move away from the living spoken language and its emotional and expressive meaning, he turned to the meaning of cultural forms of expression in a kind of personal "semantic turn" .

In 1897 he took up a position as a history teacher at a grammar school in Haarlem . In January 1903 he was also admitted to the University of Amsterdam as a private lecturer in ancient Indian literary and art history, where he held lectures from October.

Since 1902 Huizinga was married to Mary Vicentia Schorer († July 1914), who came from a wealthy Middelburg family. The marriage had five children whom the widower Huizinga raised alone after the untimely death of his wife.

Professor in Groningen and Leiden

His activity as a teacher did not satisfy him. There were no good prospects for a professorship in oriental studies , and he also turned down the offer of journalism. Instead, he turned to history on the advice of his former teacher Blok. He received an impetus for this from the exhibition of late medieval painting in Bruges in 1902 , which strongly stimulated his visual thinking. In 1905, against the reservations of the faculty and the board of trustees, Blok secured him the Groningen chair for general and Dutch history, even before Huizinga's first relevant qualifying work, an archive-based study of the city elevation of Haarlem, was fully published.

He held his history professorship in Groningen and also gave a lecture on agricultural history at the Institute for Agriculture founded there in 1906. He published an edition of legal sources on the history of Haarlem, some smaller historical or regional historical works and a work on the history of Groningen University in the 19th century, in which he combined the university history topic with more general cultural and humanities issues.

In 1915 he was appointed to the chair of general history at the University of Leiden , one of the most prestigious chairs in the country, which he held until the university closed in 1942. There he officiated as rector in 1932/33 . In 1916 he became a member of the Dutch Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, where from 1929 he headed the humanities department. He also worked from 1916 to 1932 as an editor at De Gids , one of the leading cultural magazines in the Netherlands. In 1919 he published his work Autumn of the Middle Ages ( Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen ), which today is one of the major works of history of the 20th century.

In the following years Huizinga published a large number of studies on late medieval and early modern history, literature and art, but also two works on the history and culture of the USA. He was involved in the academy, in scientific societies (including 1918/1919 as chairman of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde ) and in various committees. He was also active in university politics. In 1927 he became dean of his faculty for four years; in the university year 1932/1933 he was rector. He has given lectures worldwide - in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, England, Spain, the USA and the Dutch East Indies - and was honored with honorary doctorates from the universities of Tübingen (1927) and Oxford (1937).

In the 1920s, Huizinga was the Dutch reviewer for the Rockefeller Foundation's Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, and in that capacity in 1926 toured American educational and scientific institutions for three months. In 1933 he became a member of the Commission Internationale de Coopération Intellectuelle of the League of Nations .

Protest against German anti-Semitism

Shortly after the German seizure of power in 1933, Huizinga, an advocate of nonviolence and characterized by an Anabaptist skepticism against political power, set a widely perceived signal against German National Socialism and anti-Semitism , as well as solidarity with the Jews persecuted in Germany.

Shortly before the end of a French-German-English-Dutch conference of the International Student Service taking place at Leiden University in April , Huizinga, as the rector of the university, invited the National Socialist Johann von Leers, who was present as the head of the German delegation, to an interview and asked him about the von he wrote anti-Semitic inflammatory pamphlet with the title: “Demand of the hour: Jews out!”, of which he had recently become aware. In this work, which appeared for the first time in 1928, Leers took up the cliché of anti-Semitic ritual murder legends from the Middle Ages and claimed that Christian children were also in danger of being murdered by Jews in the 1930s. In addition, Leers attributed a criminal character to Jews in the brochure, as Martin Finkenberger describes in his investigation in the bulletin of the German Historical Institute in Moscow as typical of Leer's publications. Leers defended his anti-Semitic stance and his brochure with unconvincing arguments. The rector then asked him to leave the university and with it the conference and said goodbye without a handshake. The rector saw the idea of ​​the conference, which served the international academic exchange, violated. As a result of this reproof, the German delegation left and the conference ended one day earlier.

In the Netherlands there was initially not only approval for Huizinga's religiously founded humanistic stance. Huizinga had to justify himself within the university to the board of trustees of his university. But there was also great support for Huizinga. In Germany, Huizinga was severely attacked. The editors of the historical journal publicly distanced themselves in a comment on an article by Huizinga that was in print and wrote that they would not have reprinted this article if they had known of the incident caused by Huizinga. She also stopped reprinting Huizinga articles. Huizinga was put on the list of harmful and undesirable literature introduced by the Reich Chamber of Literature - a publication ban in Germany. In addition, Huizinga received an entry ban. In addition, Huizinga was put on the Gestapo's wanted lists. Huizinga's example from 1933 caught on. Subsequent rectors and other professors spoke out against the anti-Semitism of the Germans. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands, there were lectures by professors at the University of Leiden who were directed against the Germans and their anti-Semitism in October 1940 when a number of employees of Jewish origin had to leave the University of Leiden.

Last years

During the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-1945) in World War II , Johan Huizinga was initially able to exercise his professorship. Although his name had been on a list of potential hostages since May 1940 and he expected his arrest, Huizinga declined an invitation to emigrate to the United States in August 1940. In February 1941 he helped formulate a declaration against the anti-Semitic measures of the German occupiers, which was subsequently weakened again by the university's rectorate and board of trustees. Huizinga and other professors asked for his release at the end of April 1942 as part of a protest against the interference of the occupation authorities in university affairs. He retired on June 1, 1942, and had to resign from his membership in the Academy of Sciences. In the same year the University of Leiden was closed.

In August 1942 Huizinga was interned with other celebrities in the St. Michielsgestel hostage camp. On the basis of a medical report, which declared him to be "not liable for the long term," he was released by a ministerial order in October, since in view of Huizinga's international fame it should be avoided in any case was killed in German custody. However, he was released on condition that he did not return to Leiden. He then settled in De Steeg near Arnhem with his second wife, Auguste Schölvinck (1909–1979), who was almost forty years his junior and whom he married in 1937, and their daughter . He kept in touch with friends and colleagues by letter. On December 7, 1942, for his seventieth birthday, he was offered two manuscripts in the manuscript, which, however, could not appear in print until 1948. In March 1943 his writings were banned in the Netherlands. After a brief illness, Huizinga died on February 1, 1945 in De Steeg.

History as cultural history

Huizinga's understanding of history was shaped by his studies in linguistics and by his enthusiasm for art, especially painting. He understood historiography as a pictorial, intuitive mentality or cultural history. His inaugural lecture in Groningen with the title Het aesthetischeStockdeel van geschiedskundige voorstellingen (1905) can be seen as programmatic for this. He expressed himself in more detail about his morphological methodology in essays that were published in the volume Paths of Cultural History (1930).

His main work is Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), which is now considered a classic in European historiography of the 20th century.

In Homo ludens (1938; German: 1939) Huizinga examines the role of play and creativity in all areas of culture, especially in law, science, art and philosophy. The game is seen as a central, independent cultural factor and the tendency to play is seen as the place of origin of all great cultural formations. He means “ game

  • "A voluntary act or employment,
  • those within certain fixed limits of time and space
  • is carried out according to voluntarily accepted but absolutely binding rules,
  • has its goal in itself and
  • it is accompanied by a feeling of tension and joy and an awareness of 'being different' from 'ordinary life'. ”( Homo ludens , paperback edition Rowohlt-Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1991, p. 37).

However, Huizinga expressly (and against some misunderstanding) differentiates his view from the hypothesis that culture emerges from the game in a development process. Rather, he wants to show “that culture arises in the form of play”. “Culture is initially played”. In their games, the community expresses its interpretation of life and the world. "This is not to be understood in such a way that play changes into culture, rather that the culture in its original phases has something play-like peculiar to it, indeed that it is performed in the forms and mood of a game" (Paperback edition Rowohlt-Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 2009, p. 57).

Huizinga is at the beginning of a discussion about the origin of sport . If he is generally human, he cannot, as u. a. Postulated by Allen Guttmann to have arisen with industrialization in Great Britain, but its elements must have existed long before that.

In addition, Huizinga published a history of the University of Groningen in the 19th century, Mensen en menigte in Amerika (1917) and Amerika levend en Denkend (1926) on the culture and history of the USA, a biography of Erasmus of Rotterdam , a biography of the Dutch artist Jan Veth (1927), a representation of Dutch culture in the 17th century, as well as the two writings Im Schatten von Morgen (1935) and Geschändete Welt (posthumously 1945), which dealt critically with social developments in the present.

In addition, shortly before his death, he wrote the short autobiographical work Mein Weg zur Geschichte (published posthumously in 1947).


Verzamelde works (complete edition)

  • Vol. 1: Oud-Indië, Nederland , Tjeenk Willink, Haarlem [there also all other volumes], 1948.
  • Vol. 2: Nederland , Haarlem 1948.
  • Vol. 3: Cultuurgeschiedenis I , Haarlem 1949, online .
  • Vol. 4: Cultuurgeschiedenis II , Haarlem 1949.
  • Vol. 5: Cultuurgeschiedenis III , Haarlem 1950.
  • Vol. 6: Biography , Haarlem 1950.
  • Vol. 7: Geschiedwetenschap, Hedendaagsche Cultuur , Haarlem 1950.
  • Vol. 8: Universiteit, Wetenschap en Kunst , Haarlem 1951.
  • Vol. 9: Bibliography en Register , Haarlem 1953.

German-language editions

  • Autumn of the Middle Ages. Studies of forms of life and spirit in the 14th and 15th centuries in France and the Netherlands. Translated into German by Tilli Jolles Mönckeberg. Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich 1924.
    • Autumn of the Middle Ages. Studies of forms of life and spirit in the 14th and 15th centuries in France and the Netherlands. Edited by Kurt Köster. German by T. Wolf-Mönckeberg. Second improved edition. Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich 1928.
    • Autumn of the Middle Ages. Studies of forms of life and spirit in France and the Netherlands in the 14th and 15th centuries. Third, revised edition. Kröner, Leipzig 1930 (11th edition. A. Kröner, Stuttgart 1975 / 12th edition. A. Kröner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-520-20412-6 ).
  • Erasmus. German by Werner Kaegi . Benno Schwabe, Basel 1928.
    • European humanism: Erasmus. (= Rowohlt's German encyclopedia. Volume 78). Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 1951.
    • Erasmus. Facsimile reprint of the 1928 edition. With numerous wood and metal cuts by Hans Holbein the Elder. J. Schwabe, Basel 1988.
    • Erasmus. A biography. [New edition]. With updated bibliography. Epilogue v. Heinz Holezcek. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1993.
  • Erasmus and Luther - European Humanism and Reformation. 1928 (original title: Erasmus ); New translation by Hartmut Sommer, Topos-Taschenbuch, Kaevelaer 2016, ISBN 978-3-8367-1071-8 .
  • Paths of cultural history. Studies. German by Werner Kaegi. Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich 1930 (Pantheon, Amsterdam / Leipzig 1941).
  • Dutch culture of the seventeenth century. Your social foundations and national characteristics. Jena 1932 (in the original German; a Dutch revision 1941; German: 1961).
  • About the connection of the poetic with the theological in Alanus de Insulis. Noord-Hollandsche Uitg.-Mij, Amsterdam 1932.
  • The mediation of the Netherlands between Western and Central Europe. BG Teubner, Leipzig a. a. 1933.
  • In the shadow of tomorrow. A diagnosis of the cultural suffering of our time. Gotthelf Verlag, Bern 1935 (Zurich 1948).
  • Man and culture. Bermann-Fischer, Stockholm 1938.
  • Homo Ludens. Attempt to determine the play element of culture . Academic Publishing House Pantheon, Basel 1938.
    • Homo ludens. From the origin of culture in play (= Rowohlt's German Encyclopedia. Volume 21). Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1956.
    • Homo ludens. From the origin of the culture in the game. In close collaboration with the author, translated from Dutch by H. Nachod. With an afterword by Andreas Flitner . Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1987 (19th edition. Reinbek 2004, ISBN 3-499-55435-6 ).
  • Under the spell of history. Considerations and designs. Transferred by Werner Kaegi and Wolfgang Hirsch. Academic Publishing House Pantheon, Amsterdam 1942.
    • Under the spell of history. Considerations and designs. Revised Swiss license edition. Occident / Pantheon, Zurich / Bruxelles 1942.
  • When the guns fall silent. The prospects for recovery of our culture. German by Wolfgang Hirsch [Geschändete Welt]. Amsterdam 1945 / Burg, Basel 1945.
  • Parerga . Edited by Werner Kaegi. Amsterdam / Basel 1945.
  • My way to history. Last speeches and sketches. German by Werner Kaegi. Schwabe, Klosterberg / Basel 1947.
  • Writings on criticism of time (contains: In the shadow of tomorrow / Desecrated world ). Pantheon, Bruxelles 1948 / Occident-Verlag, Zurich 1948.
  • Burgundy. A crisis in the Romance-Germanic relationship , Tübingen 1952.
  • The problem of the renaissance. Tübingen 1953.
  • History and culture. Collected Essays. Edited and introduced by Kurt Köster. Kröner, Stuttgart 1954.
  • Dutch culture in the seventeenth century. A sketch . German by Werner Kaegi. Final version. With fragments from 1932, Basel / Stuttgart 1961.
    • Dutch culture in the seventeenth century. A sketch. Final version. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1977.
    • Dutch culture in the seventeenth century. A sketch. Final version with fragments from 1932. From the Dutch by Werner Kaegi. With an afterword by Bernd Roeck . Munich 2007.

Other works

  • Het aesthetic inventory of divorced offices. [Inaugural lecture], Haarlem 1905.
  • The divorce of the Groningen University. 1914.
  • People en mended in America , 1918.
  • America levend en thinking, Haarlem 1926.
  • America dagboek April 14 - June 19, 1926 . Edited by A. van der Lem, Amsterdam 1993.
  • Leven en werken van Jan Veth , Haarlem 1927.
  • Over de limits van spel en Ernst in de cultuur . Speech, Tjeenk Willink, Haarlem 1933.
  • A Definition of the Concept of History. In: Philosophy and History. Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer. Edited by R. Klibansky and HJ Paton , Oxford 1936, pp. 1-10.
  • De wetenschap der geschiedenis , Haarlem 1937.
  • Men and Ideas. History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. Essays. Meridian Books, New York 1959.
  • America. A Dutch Historian's Vision, from Afar and Near. Translated by HH Rowen, 1972.
  • De taak der cultuurgeschiedenis [ The task of cultural history. Contributions to the theory of history ]. Samengesteld, verzorgd en van een nawoord voorzien door WE Krul, Historische Uitgeverij, Groningen 1995.
  • De hand van Huizinga. Collected Essays. Edited by Willem Otterspeer. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2009, ISBN 978-908964020-8 ( digitized on the OAPEN Library pages).


  • Briefwisseling I. 1894–1924 . Edited by Léon Hanssen, WE Krul, A. van der Lem, Utrecht: Edition Veen, 1989.
  • Briefwisseling II. 1925–1933 , Utrecht 1990.
  • Briefwisseling III. 1934–1945 , Utrecht 1991.


  • Werner Kaegi: Johan Huizinga. In memory. Publishing house press department of the Kgl. Dutch legation, 1945.
  • Kurt Köster : Johan Huizinga 1872–1945. With a bibliography (= a bibliographical series of the Europa-Archiv. Volume 1), Europa-Archiv , Oberursel (Taunus) 1947, DNB 452506344 .
  • WRH Koops, EH Kossmann, Gees van der Plaat (eds.): Johan Huizinga, 1872–1972. Papers delivered to the Johan Huizinga Conference, Groningen 11-15 Dec. 1972. Nijhoff, The Hague 1973, ISBN 90-247-1609-8 .
  • Anton van der Lem: Johan Huizinga. Leven en work in beelden & documents. Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam 1993, ISBN 90-284-1618-8 .
  • Leon Hanssen: A German autumn. On the history and interpretation of Huizinga's masterpiece. In: Jattie Enklaar, Hans Ester (ed.): Exchange of bills . Translation as a cultural mediation. Germany and the Netherlands. Rodopi, Amsterdam / Atlanta, GA 1995, ISBN 90-5183-914-6 , pp. 219-238.
  • Christoph Strupp : Johan Huizinga. History as a cultural history. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-36242-0 .
  • Klaus-Gunther WesselingHuizinga, Johan. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 18, Bautz, Herzberg 2001, ISBN 3-88309-086-7 , Sp. 672-694.
  • Christoph Strupp: Johan Huizinga. In: Lutz Raphael (Hrsg.): Classics of the science of history. Volume I: From Edward Gibbon to Marc Bloch. CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54118-6 , pp. 190-211.
  • Leander Scholz: The Games of the Masses. Johan Huizinga and the Collège de Sociologie , in: Rolf F. Nohr / Serjoscha Wiemer (ed.): Strategy games. Mediality, history and politics of strategy game , Lit-Verlag, Münster 2008 (= Medienwelten. Braunschweiger Schriften zur Medienkultur , Vol. 9), pp. 249–260.
  • Christian Krumm: Johan Huizinga, Germany and the Germans. Encounter and discussion with the neighbor. Waxmann, Münster / New York / Munich / Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-8309-2446-3 .
  • Henning Trüper: Disorder systems. On the practice of taking notes with Johan Huizinga. In: zeitblicke. 10.1 (August 9, 2011) (online) .

Web links

Commons : Johan Huizinga  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jan Noordegraaf: On light and sound. In: Ders .: The Dutch Pendulum. Linguistics in the Netherlands 1740-1900. Munster 1996.
  2. Martin Finkenberger: "Throughout my life I have researched the Jews like a bacteriologist studies a dangerous bacillus." Johann von Leers (1902–1965) - as an anti-Semitic propaganda expert until 1945. In: Bulletin of the German Historical Institute Moscow : Bulletin No. 2. The Special Archives of the Russian State Military Archives. Research reports from scholarship holders of the DHI Moscow. Moscow 2008, p. 90 f. Can be viewed online here . Last accessed on December 3, 2014.
  3. Arnd Krüger , John McClelland (ed.): The beginnings of modern sports in the Renaissance . Arena, London 1984, ISBN 0-902175-45-9 ; John M. Carter, Arnd Krüger (eds.): Ritual and record. Sports in pre-modern societies (= Contributions to the study of world history , Volume 17) Greenwood Press, New York, NY / Westport, CT 1990, ISBN 0-313-25699-3 ; John McClelland: Body and Mind. Sport in Europe from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. London 2007; John McClelland, Brian Merrillee (Eds.): Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe. Toronto 2009; Wolfgang Behringer : cultural history of sport. From ancient Olympia to the present. Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-63205-1 .