perfect historyIn “The Idea of Perfect History,” George Huppert postulated that Renaissance historians considered the previously written history of the medieval era to be of little value.  The old medieval histories bore more resemblance to fiction than to fact, and they were worthless not only because they were not founded on research but also because they failed to explain the “causes and motives” of events.  Renaissance historians also discredited medieval writers because their scope of the classical histories was not global. Bodin was the leading Renaissance historian who refuted medieval history.  Bodin did not believe that the Roman Empire still existed because other empires also had existed, and he did not believe that the world was living in Augustine’s sixth age of decline.  Bodin saw progress everywhere in history, so he argued for a new golden age based on his historical studies.

Renaissance writers modified many medieval ideas to suit their own altered view of history.  They ignored medieval beliefs such as the four kingdoms of Daniel, the six ages of Augustine, and historical theology.  Renaissance writers concluded that natural history and theology had nothing in common with human nature.  They embraced the idea of natural law governing man’s actions.  The traditional reasons for studying history, like the calculation of the world’s end, the illustration of God’s plan, and the erection of memorials to saints, changed with the Renaissance writers.  They completely separated history into the secular and the sacred.  Secular history focused on political states, universal history, and economical pursuits.  The medieval world thought of universal history in the sense of being chronologically complete, but Renaissance writers believed that universal history should take into account a general history about politics, arts, and sciences for all known societies, past and present.  History should ask the questions that can be answered only by historians.

– Hannah S. Bowers


Huppert, George. The Idea of Perfect History: Historical Erudition and Historical Philosophy in Renaissance France.  Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1970