Deemed by Heinrich Heine a city of merchants where poets go to die, Hamburg was an improbable setting for a major intellectual movement. Yet it was there, at the end of World War I, at a new university in this commercial center, that a trio of twentieth-century pioneers in the humanities emerged. Working side by side, Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, and Erwin Panofsky developed new avenues in art history, cultural history, and philosophy, changing the course of cultural and intellectual history in Weimar Germany and throughout the world.
In Dreamland of Humanists, Emily J. Levine considers not just these men, but the historical significance of the time and place where their ideas took form. Shedding light on the origins of their work on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Levine clarifies the social, political, and economic pressures faced by German-Jewish scholars on the periphery of Germany’s intellectual world. By examining the role that context plays in our analysis of ideas, Levine confirms that great ideas—like great intellectuals—must come from somewhere.