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Unlike Hegel or Nietzsche, Burckhardt's view of history emphasized exposing people to information about the past through teaching. Instead of simply expounding about "spirit" or debating "historical thought" and "unhistorical thought," he sought to make the past a reality for most people.

Through his correspondence with Nietzsche and other colleagues, Burckhardt had formed the basic elements of his method. While Hegel defined his concept of history by the evolution of "the Spirit," Burckhardt rejected the use of abstract philosophy in the study of history. He understood that an ontological theory, no matter how well argued, could not properly articulate the feelings and thoughts of the individuals who lived in previous ages. Likewise, while Burckhardt did not fully agree with Nietzsche's speculations, he concurred that Hegelian historiography had excessively abstracted history. Burckhardt would consequently attempt to write historical works, which embodied his desire to make the past both comprehensible and sensible through examining the contingent aspects of a given epoch.

The first widely circulated example of Burckhardt's view on history, The Civilization of The Renaissance in Italy, embodied most of his concepts of historiography in a conservative tone. He refrained from any of the direct attacks or critiques of Hegel contained in his letters and adhered to discussing the Italian Renaissance. Emphasizing the origin of the Renaissance's vitality in the culture of the Middle Ages, Burckhardt admonished a friend:

Do drop your hostility to the Middle Ages! What weighs upon us are the apes of the Middle Ages, not the real, genuine age of Dante and his consorts. . . . I have in my hands the historical proofs of how wonderfully people enjoyed themselves . . . when life was more colorful and rich than can possible be imagined.27

The Middle Ages, then, did not represent a period of stagnation in world culture, but provided the roots of the Renaissance. Thus Burckhardt's interest in the vitality of medieval life countered the common notion that the virtue of the Renaissance lay in its termination of medieval culture.

For Burckhardt, the Italian Renaissance was a culture in transition. He saw the Renaissance as the birth place of the modern European condition and described Renaissance Italy as "the mother of our own [age] . . . whose influence is still at work . . .."28


27. Ibid., 105.
28. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, 2 vols. trans. S.G.C. Middlemore (NewYork: Harper & Rowe, 1958), 21.
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