Johan Huizinga  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Johan Huizinga (December 7, 1872 - February 1, 1945), a Dutch historian, was one of the founders of modern cultural history, noted for Homo Ludens (1938).


Born in Groningen, he started out as a student of Comparative linguistics, gaining a good command of Sanskrit. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the role of the jester in Indian drama in 1897. It was not until 1902 that his interest turned towards medieval and Renaissance history. He continued teaching as an Orientalist until he became a Professor of General and Dutch History at Groningen University in 1905. Then, in 1915, he was made Professor of General History at Leiden University, a post he held until 1942. From this point until his death in 1945 he was held in detention by the Nazis. He died in De Steeg in Gelderland, near Arnhem, and lies buried in the graveyard of the Reformed Church at 6 Haarlemmerstraatweg in Oegstgeest.

Huizinga had an esthetic approach to history, where art and spectacle played an important part. His most famous work is The Autumn of the Middle Ages (a.k.a. The Waning of the Middle Ages) (1919). He here reinterprets the later Middle Ages as a period of pessimism and decadence rather than rebirth.

Worthy of mentioning are also Erasmus (1924) and Homo Ludens (1938). In the latter book he discusses the influence of play on European culture. Huizinga also published books on American history and Dutch history in the 17th century.


  • Mensch en menigte in America (1918), translated by Herbert Rowen as America; A Dutch historian's vision, from afar and near (Part 1) (1972)
  • Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (1919), translated as Herbst des Mittelalters by Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg (1924), The Waning of the Middle Ages (1924) and as The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1996)
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (1924), translated by Frederik Hopman as Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (1924)
  • Amerika Levend en Denkend (1926), translated by H.H. Rowen as America: A Dutch Historian's Vision, from Afar and Near (Part 2) (1972)
  • Leven en werk van Jan Veth (1927)
  • Cultuurhistorische verkenningen (1929)
  • In de schaduwen van morgen (1935), translated by his son Jacob Herman Huizinga In the Shadow of Tomorrow
  • De wetenschap der geschiedenis (1937)
  • Geschonden wereld (1946, published posthumously)
  • Homo Ludens. Proeve eener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur (1938), translated as Homo Ludens, a study of the play element in culture (1955)
  • Nederland's beschaving in de zeventiende eeuw (1941). Translated by Arnold Pomerans as Dutch civilisation in the seventeenth century (1968)
  • “Patriotism and Nationalism in European History”. In: Men and Ideas. History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. Transl. by James S. Holmes and Hans van Marle. New York: Meridian Books, 1959.
  • Men and ideas. History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. Essays (1959). Translations by James S. Holmes and Hans van Marle of parts of Huizinga's Collected Works

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