Humanities in Crisis… since the Renaissance?
Andrew Keener smartly notes that Jacob Burckhardt described a kind of “crisis in the humanities” that took place in the sixteenth century. In Burckhardt’s 1860 Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien, we read about the rise of scholarly acrimony:
Of all men who ever formed a class, they had the last sense of their common interests…. All means were held lawful, if one of them saw a change of supplanting another. From literary discussion they passed with astonishing suddenness to the fiercest and most groundless vituperation. Not satisfied with refuting, they sought to annihilate an opponent. (272-73)
Keener sees parallels to the current humanities crisis rhetoric:
I want to emphasize that Burckhardt’s account, composed during the mid-nineteenth century, delivers a picture of sixteenth-century Europe in which the humanist struggled to get by. The wide availability of printed books rendered his lectures and expertise less relevant or necessary. He faced opposition from the public, and was scorned as self-indulgent, extravagant, and atheistic. However, he also attacked and was attacked by other humanists in a heated race for influence and glory. Wandering up and down the country in search of stable income, the humanist ultimately found it difficult to settle in one place, and found himself disconnected from the public, which “demanded something new.”