The 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
Of 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 His orations, books and essays cover a huge array of subjects and his style is –although of course a little outdated- very lively, fresh and passionate.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.”
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.