Johann Gustav Droysen

Statut : Author / academic


Notes : Johann Gustav Droysen was born at Treptow in Pomerania as the son of a military chaplain. The War of Liberation against Napoleonic rule, which he experienced as a child, made a deep impression on him and laid the foundation for his attachment to Prussia. Droysen was educated at the gymnasium of Stettin and read philosophy and philology at the university of Berlin, where he was taught by Hegel and Böckh. In 1829 he became a master at one of the oldest schools of Berlin, and he also lectured at the university, where he completed his habilitation in classical philology in 1833. Droysen was appointed Extraordinary Professor of Ancient History and Classical Philology in 1836 and stayed in Berlin until he moved to a chair in history at the university of Kiel in 1840. During his time in Kiel he supported the interests of Prussia, defending the independence of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from Danish influence, and he concentrated mainly on modern history. Henceforth his enthusiasm for his subject was closely linked with his political beliefs. He lectured on the War of Liberation and in 1850 co-authored with Carl Samwer a history of the dealings of Denmark with Schleswig Holstein, which was also translated into English. After the revolution of 1848 he became a centre-right member of the Frankfurt Parliament and secretary of its constitutional committee, but retired from politics, when Frederick William IV refused the German imperial crown in 1849. In 1851, after Holstein became Danish, Droysen left Kiel to teach in Jena, where he finished a biography of Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, a Prussian general in the War of Liberation (1851-52). It was also in Jena that Droysen began his work on his magnum opus, the « Geschichte der preußischen Politik » (1855-86), a comprehensive study of 14 volumes which covers the history of the growth of the Prussian monarchy until 1756. Droysen had a strong interest in the philosophy of history and the methodology of his subject. His « Vorlesungen über Enzyklopädie und Methodologie der Geschichte », which were repeated seventeen times and published as « Historik » in 1937, were first delivered in 1857. In 1859 Droysen was called to Berlin, where he remained until his death, and was made a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1867. Droysen’s research in ancient history is associated with the beginning of his career. It included work on papyri as well as translations of Aeschylus and Aristophanes, but it was his « Geschichte Alexanders des Großen », which established his reputation as a historian after its publication in 1833. This volume was followed by a history of Alexander’s successors in 1836 and a history of the formation of the Hellenistic state system in 1843. Originally only the last two volumes were published as « Geschichte des Hellenismus ». From the second 1877-78 edition of the work onwards this title applied to all three volumes. Droysen coined the term Hellenism to describe the neglected epoch of Alexander and his successors. He admired the genius of Alexander, and the period after the victory of Chaeronea in his opinion was not a time of decay but marked the beginning of the completion of Greek history as well as the origin of a new freedom, which he related to emancipatory movements of his own day. The Hellenistic age is described as an era in which particularistic tendencies were overcome by cosmopolitan traits and a period in which Western and Eastern culture interacted, even though the Macedonian expansion was also shaped by national interests. In many ways the unificatory processes of the Macedonian empire served as a model for Droysen’s ideal of a unified Germany. Despite the author’s interest in cultural and religious affairs, his work remained largely a political history. Droysen is the first to have considered Alexander's era not as the conclusion of a glorius history but as the promissing beginning of a whole new historical period.

Traductions :