Former Laureates

Werner Kaegi

Werner Kaegi

1977

“We need history to be able to imagine our own identity and that of the other”, Werner Kaegi once said.
The Swiss historian Werner Kaegi (1901-1979) studied at Zurich, Florence, Paris, Leipzig and Basel. In 1929 he presented his doctoral thesis, on Von Hutten and Erasmus. He was Professor in Basel from 1934 to 1971. As early as 1928 he translated Johan Huizinga’s biography of Erasmus into German. During a stay in Italy, Kaegi experienced a growing interest in the Renaissance and in 19th century historians such as Michelet and Burckhardt. In the ‘Gesamtausgabe’ of Burckhardt’s works (1928-1939) he was responsible for the critical edition of Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. His life-work however is his seven-volume monograph on Jacob Burckhardt, a masterly demonstration of the art of scholarly biography. This study provides a clear insight into the problems that concerned Burckhardt, and at the same time shows a profound knowledge of European culture in the 19th century. In 1932 and 1936, Kaegi’s Historische Meditationen appeared, in which he considers political themes within an historical perspective. Kaegi’s most important field of study was the history of ideas and the historiography of the Middle Ages, modern times, the Enlightenment and the 19th century. He very acutely demonstrates what accounts of the past were given at various times. Kaegi was a typical representative of the old classical humanist European tradition for whom true humanity meant a conversation with the cultural élite of all times and all countries.

Werner Kaegi, the great Huizinga expert, used the money awarded to him to establish the so-called ‘Huizinga Prize’. Within a period of ten years a number of promising history students at Dutch universities were awarded prizes for their doctoral theses.