Ronald G. Witt, Who Gave the Renaissance a New Birthdate, Dies at 84

Historians in the News
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Ronald G. Witt, a historian who redrew the map of the Renaissance through influential studies that identified the first stirrings of Italian humanism in a period well before the birth of its traditional father, Petrarch, died on March 15 at his home in Durham, N.C. He was 84.

His wife, Mary Ann Frese Witt, said the cause was heart failure.

Professor Witt was a disciple of the eminent German historians Hans Baron, who coined the term “civic humanism” to describe the political culture of 15th-century Florence, and Paul Oskar Kristeller, who emphasized the work of medieval rhetoricians in preparing the ground for Renaissance humanism.

In his studies of the humanist Coluccio Salutati, chancellor of Florence in the late 14th century, and in two sweeping works, “‘In the Footsteps of the Ancients’: The Origins of Humanism From Lovato to Bruni” (2000) and “The Two Latin Cultures and the Foundation of Renaissance Humanism in Medieval Italy” (2012), Professor Witt persuasively revised previous ideas about the evolution of Italian humanism.

“His books have been major influences on the way the Renaissance is now taught in America and around the world,” James Hankins, a Harvard historian who studied under Professor Witt, wrote in an email. ...




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