1 minute read

Cultural History

Culture And Language, Material And Spiritual Culture, Twentieth–century Developments, Bibliography

As a discipline, cultural history is a bit over two centuries old, but it has an extensive prehistory going back to Renaissance scholarship, especially in areas of the history of literature and the history of philosophy. In the Renaissance, cultus or cultura was commonly associated with the cultivation of literature, philosophy, eloquence, law, arts, and sciences, whose fruits were the human virtues necessary for civil society. In the seventeenth century the form "culture" (cultura) was employed by Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Pufendorf, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Johannes F. Buddeus, Christian Thomasius, and others, who spoke of the cultivation of the soul, mind, intellect, or reason (cultura animi, mentis, intellectus, rationis); and Leibniz, for one, rendered it into the vernacular as "Cultur," or "Kultur."

The terminology was shifted from an individual to a social level as a way of indicating levels of civilization and judging "which peoples may be judged to be barbaric and which cultivated," in the words of Pufendorf in 1663. "True culture" (vera cultura), according to Buddeus, was an indication of morality, sociability, and emergence from an animal state; and the first question centered on the "origin of human culture and civility" and their emergence from a "primeval condition." In 1774 Jean–Bernard Mérian wrote of primitive savages as "a people of hunters, navigators, without culture, without laws, without arts." Thus "culture," together with its companion, "barbarism," represents the judgments passed by Europeans on their own and other societies, past and present.

"Cultural history" (Kulturgeschichte) arose as a term and a concept in the later eighteenth century, as "culture" replaced earlier equivalents, including "spirit" (mens, esprit, Geist, etc.), which was extended from individual psychology to collective mentality (e.g., Volksgeist or Zeitgeist), and literature, referring to all the written remains of human cultural achievement. The "history of the human spirit" (historia intellectus humani; histoire de l'esprit humain; Geschichte des menschlichen Geistes) was a phrase often used by eighteenth–century historians of particular disciplines. "Literary history" (historia literaria), was a major genre, treating (as the seventeenth–century polyhistor Gerhard Joannes Vossius wrote) "the lives and writings of learned men and the invention and progress of the arts." As Nicholas Wickenden has put it, "What Vossius called 'literary history' was really what would now be called cultural history."

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cosine to Cyano group