By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons
Brian W. Ogilvie, associate professor of History, is conducting research in Europe this year through a $40,000 Fellowship for University Teachers from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a fellowship at the Columbia University Institute for Scholars at Reid Hall in Paris.
Drawing on the collections of the Bibliothhque Nationale and several other archives in France, London and Berlin, Ogilvie is gathering material on Ezechiel
Spanheim, a Geneva-born numismatist, scholar and diplomat, for a book on the learned culture of 17th-century Europe.
Raised in the Calvinist republics of Geneva and the Netherlands, Spanheim spent most of his life in the service of absolutist princes, and much of it in Catholic Italy and
France, notes Ogilvie. He lived throughout western and central Europe and was a member of a cosmopolitan, international corps of diplomats after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War. Spanheim later lived in Rome, Heidelberg, Cologne, Paris and Berlin before settling in London, where he died in 1710 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
In addition to being a diplomat for most of his life, Spanheim was a scholar of Roman and Greek history and literature and also produced works in French for a broader public. By studying Spanheim’s life, Ogilvie hopes to find evidence to support his hypothesis that the culture of 17th-century diplomacy encouraged a reconciliation between erudition and polite society.
“Cultural historians of the late 17th and early 18th centuries have tended to distinguish between erudite scholars and literary writers,” he says. “The former wrote interminable, crabbed works of scholarship for a tiny audience, while the latter wrote elegant literature for the educated public; the former were concerned with increasingly trivial technical questions, while the latter addressed the big questions about life.”
Spanheim’s unique role in European culture offers a glimpse into the changing nature of the era, says Ogilvie. “In the end I intend to write a book that will view his life and times as a bridge from the late Renaissance to the early Enlightenment, and that will explain to a modern audience why Spanheim, who was famous in his day, has been almost completely forgotten now, even by historians.”