Touched by History

JohanHuizingaThe first publication of the OAPEN project has recently come to light, a collection of essays by Johan Huizinga entitled De hand van Huizinga, collected and with an introduction by Willem Otterspeer; the essays are in Dutch, via Amsterdam University Press, but will also be translated into several other languages via the other OAPEN partners, in French by Presses Universitaires de Lyon and in English by Manchester University Press.

Who would have known that the works of such a, as some characterize him, posh and studious historian, would be at the forefront of these kind of digital experiments? For as I wrote before, one of Huizinga’s other great works, Homo Ludens, was part of an AUP/Athenaeum Bookstore POD series which is doing very well in the Netherlands at the moment (strange thing being that I have been seeing these editions pop up everywhere now – makes you wonder whether a secret small print run hasn’t replaced the ‘handicraft’ disguise of the ‘genuine POD edition’). Next to that Huizinga’s works can also be found on the Project Gutenberg Website, amongst others The Waning of the Middle ages (in Dutch), his most famous work, and Erasmus and the Age of Reformation

De hand van HuizingaOf course Huizinga’s international renownedness, the accessibility of his work, covering a wide range of topics, and the beautiful and playful character of his language will be appealing to both an academic public as well as a more broader public interested in general cultural topics and literature. These considerations must have been influential when it comes to the choice of such an author and scholar for these kinds of new projects; not only to give the projects themselves a little more flair and esteem, but foremost to revive interest in one of Holland’s most gifted scholarly writers.

On a more personal level I am also very proud and glad this selection of essays has been picked to be the first OAPEN publication, as I am originally a (cultural) historian by education and Huizinga has always been my favorite historical thinker – well to be honest it is a tie between him and Walter Benjamin, although the latter can’t technically be called a historian as he is such an inherent cross- and interdisciplinary thinker.

But Huizinga can’t be called an ‘ordinary’ historian either! His orations, books and essays cover a huge array of subjects and his style is –although of course a little outdated- very lively, fresh and passionate. I absolutely love the little review Carel Peeters wrote about the essay collection for the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland. Here is an excerpt (my translation):

“Although he [Huizinga] developed from an esthete who believed art to be far superior to the natural sciences, into a moralistic cultural critic, Otterspeer sees the ‘larger unity’ of his work in the logical ‘metamorphoses’ he went through. Out of the philologist developed the historian, out of the historian came the cultural critic and from there developed the cultural-anthropologist. The connection between everything being the Burckhardtian idea that history is ‘poetry in its highest sense’. For Huizinga it eventually all comes down to literature.”

Johan Huizinga

This excerpt is a direct reference to Otterspeer’s introduction to the essay collection, where Otterspeer furthermore states that ‘according to Huizinga language originated like poetry originated: from a lyrical merging of sensory impressions. Synesthesia was the cradle of language’ (my translation). Otterspeer’s introduction tries to give an insight in the development of both Huizinga’s character and his work and is a must-read if you are interested in Huizinga’s works and thoughts. You can read or download De hand van Huizinga here in Dutch or wait a little longer for the French and English translations.


4 comments on “Touched by History

  1. Ibis Sanchez Serrano
    September 21, 2009

    Huizinga was, without doubt, one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. I read most of his essays published in English and Spanish many years ago and am re-reading them. When one reads “America” or “In the Shadow of Tomorrow”, it is as if one were reading an oracle. The things that Huizinga said more than 80 years ago are just as contemporary now as if they had been written today. I just marvel at how beautiful and intuitive the mind of this man was and am so happy that several of his unpublished (and already more than past-due) essays will come to light in English, French and other languages. The issue is: Who will be capable of capturing the subtlety and passion of this thought, in languages other than Dutch? Please, keep me abreast on this. Regards and congratulations!
    –Ibis Sanchez-Serrano, Panama & Boston

  2. jannekeadema1979
    September 21, 2009

    Hi Ibis! You are very right, Huizinga’s unique narrative style is in a way untranslatable. However, the attempt to open up his work to a broader international audience is of course a merit in itself. The different OAPEN partner presses will be responsible for the translations, if you like I can try to find out who they will choose to conduct the translations.

  3. jannekeadema1979
    September 21, 2009

    I just received some more information about the translations. The translators will be selected in close cooperation with the author of the book, Willem Otterspeer, in cooperation with the NLPVF (Dutch Literary Production and Translation Fund). The quality of the translations will be top priority, as they are essential to the narrative and also with regards to ‘badly’ made translations in the past. I will keep you updated on further developments!

  4. Ibis Sanchez Serrano
    September 22, 2009

    Thank you, Jann! I really look forward to this! I hope that eventually he gets translated into Spanish as well, as for some strange reason, Huizinga’s thought is very akin to ours. José Ortega y Gasset used to complain about how badly Huizinga was translated into Spanish; even in English you can sense that a great irony is streaming underneath the narrative, as hot water runs through the pipes inside a wall. Have you read Vintila Horia? If you haven’t, please, do so. He greatly admired Huizinga. I honestly think that these two men were the greatest minds of the past century. And again I am so happy to hear about this initiative. Cheers!


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