Charles H. Haskins

Charles H. Haskins

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Charles Homer Haskins was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 historian of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, and advisor to US President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

. He is considered to be America's first medieval historian.


Haskins was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania
Meadville, Pennsylvania
Meadville is a city in and the county seat of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, United States. The city is generally considered part of the Pittsburgh Tri-State and is within 40 miles of Erie, Pennsylvania. It was the first permanent settlement in northwest Pennsylvania...

. He was a prodigy, fluent in both Latin and Greek while still a young boy, taught by his father. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 at the age of 16, and then studied in Paris and Berlin. He received a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

 and began teaching there before the age of 20. In 1890 he was appointed an instructor at the University of Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

, became a full professor in two years, and from 1892-1902 he held the chair of European history. In 1902 he moved to Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, where he taught until 1931.

Haskins became involved with politics and was a close advisor of US President Woodrow Wilson, whom he had met at Johns Hopkins. When Wilson attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 where the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 was worked out, he brought only three advisors, including one medieval historian Charles Haskins, serving as chief of the Western European division of the American commission.

Haskins was primarily a historian of institutions like medieval universities and governments. His works reflect an optimistic and mostly 20th century liberal view that progressive government, when staffed with the best and brightest a culture has, is the best course for society to take. His histories of the institutions of medieval Europe stress the efficiency and successes of the bureaucratic institutions, which contained implicit analogy to modern nation states.

Haskins's most well known pupil was medieval historian, Joseph Strayer
Joseph Strayer
Joseph Reese Strayer was an American medievalist historian. He was a student of, and mentored by, Charles H. Haskins, America's first prominent medievalist historian.-Life:...

, who went on to teach a large share of American medievalists, many still teaching today.

The Haskins Society, named in his honor, publishes an annual Journal. Its Volume 11 (1998) reconsidered aspects of Haskins' major work seventy years after its publication. From 1920 to 1926, he was also the first chairman of the American Council of Learned Societies
American Council of Learned Societies
The American Council of Learned Societies , founded in 1919, is a private nonprofit federation of seventy scholarly organizations.ACLS is best known as a funder of humanities research through fellowships and grants awards. ACLS Fellowships are designed to permit scholars holding the Ph.D...

, which today has a distinguished lecture series named after him.

His son, George Haskins, was a professor of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Renaissance of the Twelfth Century

Haskins' most famous work is The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (published 1927). The word "Renaissance," even to historians of the early 20th century, signified the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

 of the 15th century as 19th century Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt had defined it. Haskins opened a broader view when he asserted
The continuity of history rejects violent contrasts between successive periods, and modern research shows the Middle Ages less dark and less static, the Renaissance less bright and less sudden, than was once supposed. The Italian Renaissance was preceded by similar, if less wide-reaching, movements.

Haskins' fresh assessment of a renaissance that ushered in the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

 starting about 1070, was initially resisted by some scholars. His approach was broader than a mere literary revival. He found that the 12th century in Europe
was in many respects an age of fresh and vigorous life. The epoch of the Crusades
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

, of the rise of towns, and of the earliest bureaucratic states of the West, it saw the culmination of Romanesque art
Romanesque art
Romanesque art refers to the art of Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century, or later, depending on region. The preceding period is increasingly known as the Pre-Romanesque...

 and the beginnings of Gothic
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

; the emergence of the vernacular literature
Vernacular literature
Vernacular literature is literature written in the vernacular—the speech of the "common people".In the European tradition, this effectively means literature not written in Latin...

s; the revival of the Latin classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 and of Latin poetry
Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors,...

 and Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

; the recovery of Greek science
History of science and technology
The history of science and technology is a field of history which examines how humanity's understanding of the natural world and ability to manipulate it have changed over the centuries...

, with its Arabic additions, and of much of Greek philosophy
Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Hellenistic period, at which point Ancient Greece was incorporated in the Roman Empire...

; and the origin of the first European universities
Medieval university
Medieval university is an institution of higher learning which was established during High Middle Ages period and is a corporation.The first institutions generally considered to be universities were established in Italy, France, and England in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of...

. The twelfth century left its signature on higher education, on the scholastic philosophy
Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context...

, on European systems of law, on architecture and sculpture, on the liturgical drama
Mystery play
Mystery plays and miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song...

, on Latin and vernacular poetry... We shall confine ourselves to the Latin side of this renaissance, the revival of learning in the broadest sense— the Latin classics and their influence, the new jurisprudence and the more varied historiography, the new knowledge of the Greeks and Arabs and its effects upon western science and philosophy, he stated in his preface.

Haskins focused on high culture to prove that the twelfth century was indeed a period of dynamic growth. He looked at the history of art and science, the universities, philosophy, architecture and literature and provided a celebratory view of the period. More recent views of the renewal have expanded the focus. Once the ice had been broken, other scholars concentrated on an earlier, more constrained revival of learning in some circles under the patronage of Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 and began talking and thinking of a "Carolingian Renaissance
Carolingian Renaissance
In the history of ideas the Carolingian Renaissance stands out as a period of intellectual and cultural revival in Europe occurring from the late eighth century, in the generation of Alcuin, to the 9th century, and the generation of Heiric of Auxerre, with the peak of the activities coordinated...

" of the ninth century. By 1960, Erwin Panofsky
Erwin Panofsky
Erwin Panofsky was a German art historian, whose academic career was pursued mostly in the U.S. after the rise of the Nazi regime. Panofsky's work remains highly influential in the modern academic study of iconography...

, could write of Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art.

Less wide-ranging were Haskins' earlier studies of the Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

, Norman Institutions (1918), which still forms the basis of our understanding of how medieval Normandy functioned, and the more popular book The Normans in European History (1915).

External links