Johan Huizinga

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Huizinga, Johan


Born Dec. 7, 1872, in Groningen; died Feb. 1, 1945, near Arnhem. Dutch cultural historian.

Huizinga was a professor at the universities of Groningen (1905–15) and Leiden (1915–40). During the fascist German occupation of the Netherlands, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Huizinga won world renown for his works dealing with the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Western Europe: Erasmus (1924) and The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919). In the latter work, he uses an analysis of the Franco-Flemish culture of the Burgundian state in the 15th century to describe the essential features of medieval culture at the period when its decline had just begun.

Huizinga emphasized what was unique and concrete in the historical process and was skeptical about the possibility of formulating universal historical laws. However, in his chief work on the philosophy of culture, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1938), he proceeded from the category of “play” as the basic characteristic of every culture. The study of the role of ritual and other cultural phenomena was important for the development of semiotic and systemic approaches; however, Huizinga presented the play principle as if its role in different cultures was always identical. As a thinker with a liberal and humanistic orientation, Huizinga wrote regretfully about the decline of bourgeois Western civilization, suggesting a return to the old values. His works have been repeatedly republished and translated into many European languages.


Verzamelde werken, vols. 1–9, Haarlem, 1948–53.


Averintsev, S. S. “Kul’turologiia I. Kheizingi.” Voprosy filosofii, 1969, no. 3.
Kaegi, W. Das historische Werk Johan Huizingas. Leiden, 1947.
Köster, K. Johan Huizinga, 1872–1945, vol. 1, parts 1–2. Oberursel, 1947.
Vermeulen, E. E. G. Fruin en Huizinga over de wetenschap der geschiedenis. Arnhem, 1956.
Johan Huizinga, 1872–1972. (catalog). Groningen, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Johann Huizinga's work, especially his magnum opus The Waning of the Middle Ages, serves to remind us of how breathtaking and bold history can be.
(20) Johan Huizinga, Men and Ideas, Essays by Johann Huizinga, trans., by J.
Dismissed by Johann Huizinga in his Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919) as dour world-denying representatives of a waning culture, but praised by Albert Hyma as agents of change and the very embodiment of the essence of a new era in The Christian Renaissance (1924), the Modern-Day Devout became a Rorschach test of sorts for scholars throughout the twentieth century, in which all descriptions of the contours of the subject were couched in terms of polarities and mixtures: old versus new.
Christoph Strupp, author of a biography of the Dutch historian Johann Huizinga, advocates a thematic structure to overcome the tyranny of chronology.
In fact, as it witnessed again, in vividly dislocated form, the actor behind the fictional personae, it felt to me as though the audience became enthralled again by the privileged, inside view it was given of what Johann Huizinga called "the magic circle of play." Even as the audience was taken in by the magic, it saw the magician exposing the trick.
Johann Huizinga's Waning of the Middle Ages (1919), cited as a precursor of today's `visual turn', in fact deplored supplanting text by pictures as substituting `artistic for intellectual apprehension'.