Authors: Johan Huizinga

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Dutch historian

Author Works


Mensch en menigte in Amerika, 1918

Herfsttij der middeleeuwen, 1919 (The Waning of the Middle Ages, 1924)

Erasmus, 1924 (English translation, 1924)

Amerika levend en denkend, 1926

In de schaduwen van Morgan, 1935 (In the Shadow of Tomorrow, 1936)

Homo Ludens, 1938 (Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, 1949)

Verzamelde werken, 1948-1953 (9 volumes; partial translation as Men and Ideas: History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, 1959)

Dutch Civilization in the Seventeenth Century, and Other Essays, 1968

America: A Dutch Historian’s Vision, from Afar and Near, 1972 (translation of Mensch en menigte in Amerika and Amerika levend en denkend)

Briefwisseling, 1989-1990 (letters; 2 volumes)


Johan Huizinga (HOY-zihng-uh) was educated at Groningen and Leipzig Universities. He was a professor of history, first at Groningen and then at the University of Leiden from 1916 until 1942, when the school was closed by the Nazis. After the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, Huizinga spoke openly against the evils of National Socialism, and he was sent to the concentration camp located in St. Michielgestel. The intervention of Swedish diplomats resulted in his release, but he was sentenced to internal exile in the small eastern Dutch city of De Steeg, where he was under constant watch by the Gestapo. His health rapidly deteriorated, and he died on February 1, 1945, shortly before the Allies liberated his homeland.{$I[AN]9810000536}{$I[A]Huizinga, Johan}{$I[geo]NETHERLANDS, THE;Huizinga, Johan}{$I[tim]1872;Huizinga, Johan}

Although he was a prolific writer, only a few of Huizinga’s works have been translated into English. In Erasmus, he explored moral and ethical aspects of the philosopher’s works. This book is still considered essential reading for scholars interested in Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance. In the Shadow of Tomorrow examines the cultural causes of dictatorship. Huizinga’s two major works are The Waning of the Middle Ages and Homo Ludens. Vastly different in character and content, the books have had a major influence upon modern scholarship.

The Waning of the Middle Ages, subtitled A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought, and Art in France and the Netherlands in the Dawn of the Renaissance, was the first attempt to deal with the death of a civilization; as Huizinga points out, historians are most often preoccupied with questions of origins and beginnings. Huizinga hoped not only to shed new light upon the origins of the Renaissance but also to do so by examining the culture of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a distinct historical phenomenon.

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga identified and described “Man the Player” in contradistinction to Homo sapiens, “Man the Knower,” and Homo faber, “Man the Maker.” Although the concept of play had been discussed since the time of Friedrich Schiller, Huizinga’s view was new. As he wrote in his preface, “Were I compelled to put my argument tersely in the form of theses, one of them would be that anthropology and its sister sciences have so far laid too little stress . . . on the supreme importance to civilization of the play factor.” Homo Ludens opened new fields of inquiry.

Huizinga was a learned and highly prolific scholar, and he believed that scholars should not make any compromises with morally corrupt governments. His simple heroism cost him his freedom and eventually his life, but it also earned him the admiration of his fellow Dutch citizens and scholars from around the world.

BibliographyClark, G. N. Preface to Erasmus of Rotterdam: With a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus, by Johan Huizinga. London: Phaidon Press, 1952. An excellent assessment of Huizinga’s heroism during the Nazi occupation of his homeland.Huizinga, Johan. Introduction to Men and Ideas: History, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Translated by James S. Holmes and Hans van Marle. 1959. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. An excellent biographical sketch of Huizinga is included in this introduction.McConica, James K. “The Waning of the Middle Ages”: An Essay in Historiography. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1995. Includes bibliographical references.Mansfield, Bruce. Man on His Own: Interpretations of Erasmus c. 1750-1920. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1992. Huizinga’s contribution to scholarship on Erasmus is well described.Schoeck, R. J. Erasmus of Europe: The Prince of Humanists, 1501-1536. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1993. Analyzes Huizinga’s contribution to Erasmus scholarship.
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