Renaissance and historiography


The movement of Renaissance not only challenged the authority of the Church but also critically examined the social, political and cultural traditions of the society and made attempt to radically changed the intellectual mind of it. Francesco Petrarca (d. 1374), poet & scholar was the first who condemned the middle ages as the dark period of European history. To get rid of this period the Renaissance scholars found out alternative in the classical period of Rome in Greece. Especially Roman period inspired them because of this grandeur and glory. The object of the Scholars was to secularise the mind of people with the help of Greek and Roman philosophical ideas. The problem was lack of resources. Most of the literature was either destroyed or kept in some unknown monasteries and libraries. However, the enthusiasm was on its height. Scholars in search of manuscripts, visited old monasteries and libraries and brought them to light after a long neglected period. In 1455, the Roman historian Tacitus (d. 117AD) the author of Germania and Agricola was discovered which added immense knowledge related to the Roman Empire and its expansion. Some manuscripts were brought to Constantinople after its fall in 1453 and translated them from Greek into Latin. The next important task was to correct them from the mistakes which they contained. The study of philology helped these scholars to correct or delete the insertions which were made by the scribe while copying them. Printing press facilitated printing manuscripts and made them easily available to Researchers & Scholars. The discovery of ancient classical literature was like finding a new world to scholars where the treasure of ideas and thoughts changed the intellectual perspective about the world. In the new curriculum which was introduced by the humanist scholars, history was given important place to study. This brought radical change in history writing. So far in the past, it was hand made of Theology and interpreted it according to religious faith. Renaissance historians and politicians changed its whole structure and constructed it on secular basis. The history was written from 1450 to 1550 observed these changes which we can find especially in The History of Florence written by Niccolò Machiavelli (d.1527). He also wrote Discourses on the Roman history of Livy, who was the leading Roman historian. When his book was published, its index was made by his father and he got a free copy in exchange from the Publisher. Machiavelli got the opportunity to study it and wrote a commentary on some important topics of the book which were also relevant to his time. Francesco Guicciardini’s (d.1540) book on the History of Italy (Storia d’Italia) was written on the same pattern. In fact he tried to find out philosophy of history which added respect and importance to the discipline of history.


The impact of Renaissance was not only on Italy and Western Europe but it also influenced eastern European countries who developed their own concept of history on the basis of their political experience, as these countries suffered by repeated invasions and aggressions of Western European countries which had changed their borders, Rulers and culture. As a result strong nationalism developed among the Eastern European nations. They were not interested to trace their roots of civilisation from Rome or Greece because those countries committed aggression and destruction belonged to this group, therefore they had no interest to revive the glory of Rome and Greece. Their main object was to inspire their people on the basis of nationalism and after achieving unity revive their own past. Therefore, history was not only used politically but also interpreted quite differently than the Western Renaissance historians and attempt was made to assert their superiority over Western European countries.


The same nationalistic sentiments were emerged in the Germany, which was so far not a united country but divided into 300 small States and Duchies. German scholars were either to enhance their status compare to France. Therefore they claimed that their empire was older than Rome and Greece. They were also proud that the German tribes resisted the mighty of the Roman Empire and finally caused its downfall. The element of nationalism in history writing provided a new enthusiasm among the nations to rediscover and search their past and build the nation on historical basis.