The Belgian historian Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) is commonly acknowledged as one of the most influential European scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In his own country he is not only regarded as a father of history but also an important citizen. He principally derives this status from two much-admired achievements.
Firstly, Pirenne was the first to write a 'truly scientific' national history of Belgium (Histoire de Belgique, 1900-1932) in which he demonstrated the legitimacy of the Belgian state and the existence of a common national identity. The enthusiastic political reception and recuperation of this work, both by advocates and opponents of Pirenne's vision on the facts, also earned him great public renown. Secondly, Pirenne returned from a two year-long forced exile in Germany during the First World War as a celebrated national hero and as an icon of the Belgian intellectual and moral resistance.
Obviously, Pirenne's historical practice, and the status resulting from it, was characterized by an entanglement of his academic, civil and private persona. Conceived as a thematic biography, it is the aim of this research to reconstruct the history of Pirenne's reputation by addressing topics ranging from the influence of his bourgeois liberal milieu over his self-fashioning and his networks to the manner in which his colleagues and successors dealed with Pirenne's intellectual heritage and public image.
In doing so, this study not only wants to shed new light on the much-recounted Pirenne biography, but also on the mechanisms behind academic success in the intellectual and poltical climate of late-19th to mid-20th century Belgium.