For centuries, the idea of a Renaissance at the end of the Middle Ages has been an active agent in shaping conceptions of the development of Western European civilization. Though the idea has enjoyed so long a life, conceptions of the nature of the Renaissance, of its sources, its extent, and its essential spirit have varied from generation to generation. Confined at first to a rebirth of art or of classical culture, the notion of the Renaissance was broadened as scholars of each successive generation added to what they regarded as the essence of modern, as opposed to medieval, civilization.
Originally published in 1948, Wallace K. Ferguson's The Renaissance in Historical Thought is a key piece of scholarship on Renaissance historiography. Ferguson examines how the Renaissance has been viewed from successive historical and national viewpoints, and by canonical thinkers over the centuries, including François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire and Jacob Burckhardt. Republished as part of the Renaissance Society of America Reprint Text series (RSARTS), Ferguson's study remains an essential part of Renaissance scholarship and will once again be available for students and scholars in the field.