Renaissance and Reformation Hans Baron
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0392


Hans Baron (1900–1988), a German emigré scholar who spent the majority of his professional career in the United States, is the author of The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance, about which it has been said that “no scholarly book in the field of Italian Renaissance studies in this century has provoked more discussion and inspired more research” (Ronald G. Witt, The Crisis after Forty Years. American Historical Review 101 (1996), pp. 110–118). The central concept in this book, civic humanism, has been invoked to help explain everything from the beginning of the Renaissance to the American revolution. Baron’s work had its origins in the prewar German academic community that he fled, and it is generally conceded that the political events of the mid-20th century helped shape what he thought he saw 550 years earlier in Italy. Baron continued to refine his ideas throughout his life, with his work on Machiavelli marking a major innovation. The consensus today is that some of the details of his arguments are open to question, but the concept of civic humanism remains important within the field of Renaissance studies and beyond.

Life and Career

The obvious parallels between Baron’s passionate defense of republican ideals as a stimulus to cultural creativity and the tumultuous events of 20th-century political history in which he was caught up have encouraged a number of efforts to link the two, the most extensive of which is Schiller 1998. Schiller 2003 focuses on the brief period Baron spent in the United Kingdom, while Rubini 2016 uses his relationship with Paul Oskar Kristeller, another German émigré scholar, to provide a framework for inquiry. Baron 1988 offers an essential self-analysis, while Hans Baron Papers 1867–1988 provides abundant resources for anyone who might choose to pursue Baron’s life and its connection to his works further. Molho and Tedeschi 1971 offers a bibliography of Baron’s books and articles. See also Ruehl 2015, cited under the Emergence of the “Baron Thesis”.

  • Baron, Hans. “The Course of My Studies in Florentine Humanism.” In In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought. 2 vols. Edited by Hans Baron, 182–193. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

    The text, lightly edited, of a speech given on 23 August 1965 at the conferment of the Premio internazionale Galileo Galilei, Forte dei Marmi, for work in Italian history. Explains how Baron’s distinctive approach to the development of Renaissance humanism, focused on the emergence of civic republicanism from events in Italy around 1400, developed. Originally published as “Uno storico del Novecento in cammino verso l’Umanesimo civile fiorentino.” Critica storica 9 (1972): 549–557.

  • Hans Baron Papers, 1867–1988. Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

    Eighty-seven boxes containing 49,800 items that include research notes, drafts, memorabilia, documents regarding teaching and research appointments, and correspondence with other scholars who also worked in the field of Italian Renaissance humanism. Essential for tracking the evolution of Baron’s thought, but somewhat difficult to work with, since most of the material is stored off site and not all of it has been carefully organized. Collection guide available online.

  • Molho, Anthony, and John A. Tedeschi. “Bibliography.” In Renaissance Studies in Honor of Hans Baron. Edited by Anthony Molho and John A. Tedeschi, lxxiii–lxxxvi. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971.

    A bibliography of Baron’s books and articles, up through 1970. A necessary resource for anyone wanting a complete picture of Baron’s interests and writings.

  • Rubini, Rocco. “A ‘Crisis’ in the Making: The Correspondence of Hans Baron and Paul Oskar Kristeller.” The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms 21 (2016): 266–289.

    DOI: 10.1080/10848770.2016.1139352

    Summarizes and contextualizes Baron’s correspondence with Paul Oskar Kristeller, detailing how the two men began their work in Renaissance studies before being forced to emigrate from prewar Germany, how they went into exile elsewhere in Europe and then in the United States, how they integrated their distinctive scholarly methodologies into the American academy, and how Renaissance studies in general was reborn in the postwar period.

  • Schiller, Kay. “Hans Baron’s Humanism.” Storia della storiografia 34 (1998): 51–99.

    The most extensive effort to date to tease out the connections between Baron’s life and scholarship, beginning with his intellectual roots in the Weimar Republic, tracing his life and work in exile, and concluding that “for Baron, the Renaissance became instrumental in determining the historical origins of his own time as well as enabling him to cope with the catastrophes of modernity as they affected his own life” (p. 52).

  • Schiller, Kay. “Made ‘Fit for America’: The Renaissance Historian Hans Baron in London Exile 1936–1938.” In Historikerdialoge: Geschichte, Mythos und Gedächtnis im deutsch-britischen kulturellen Austausch, 1750–2000. Edited by Stefan Berger, et al., 345–359. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 2003.

    Focuses on the two years that Baron spent in the United Kingdom before emigrating to the United States. Beginning with a detailed description of Baron’s experiences during those years, Schiller argues that he exercised a considerable influence on the development of Renaissance studies on both sides of the Atlantic.

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