Kristeller, Paul Oskar, 1905-1999

Alternative names
Birth 1905-05-22
Death 1999-07-07
Latin, English, German, French, Italian

Biographical notes:

Philosopher, authority on the intellectual history of the Renaissance, Frederick J. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, 1968-1973, and a member of the faculty at Columbia since 1939.

From the description of Paul Oskar Kristeller papers, 1910-1989. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 288916248


From the description of Reminiscences of Paul Oskar Kristeller : oral history, 1981. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309743178

Epithet: of New York

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000298.0x00028f

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Paul Oskar Kristeller, the Frederick Woodbridge Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, was a major scholar of Renaissance philosophy and Renaissance humanism.

Paul Oskar Kristeller was born Paul Oskar Gräfenberg on May 22, 1905 in Berlin Germany to well-to-do Jewish parents. Paul Oskar's father, Oskar Gräfenber, was a merchant who died of a heart attack shortly after Paul Oskar's birth. In 1911 Alice Magnus married the wealthy industrialist Heinrich Kristeller, whose last name Paul Oskar Kristeller adopted in 1919.

Kristeller, always intellectually curious, attended school at the Mommsen Gymnasium in Berlin starting in 1914 and graduating with honors in 1923. The curriculum included an extensive foreign language program, including 12 years of Latin training. In 1923 Kristeller started college, studying philosophy, medieval history, and mathematics at Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Marburg between the years 1923-1928. He went on to continue his studies at the University of Heidelberg, earning his PhD in 1928 with a thesis on Plotinus. He went on to do a Habilitation with Martin Heidegger in Freiburg, writing his Habilitationsschrift on the fifteenth century Platonist Marsilio Ficino, a thinker that would continue to figure in Kristeller's scholarship throughout his career.

The rise of the National Socialist government in Germany and their racist and anti-Semitic policies put an end to Kristeller's academic career in Germany in 1933. With his career in Germany cut short, Kristeller went to Italy where he taught German at a number of schools and Universities including the Istitito Superiore di Magistero in Florence and the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa and the University of Pisa, where he also received the degree of Dottore in Filosofia in 1937. He remained in Italy, studying and teaching until 1938, but as the Mussolini regime gained more power in Italy, Kristeller began his attempts to secure an academic position in the United States. He eventually received an invitation to teach a graduate seminar at Yale University in 1939, and he remained based in the United States for the rest of his life, becoming a US citizen in 1945.

Kristeller obtained a permanent faculty position in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University in the fall of 1939 where he was to spend the rest of his professional career. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1956 and taught classes, gave lectures until his retirement in 1973. Even after his retirement, Kristeller remained an active member of the Columbia Community giving occasional lectures and continuing his own research and scholarly projects up until the time of his death in 1999.

Kristeller was an internationally recognized scholar on the intellectual history of the Renaissance. He published widely, including a book length study on Marsilio Ficino and hundreds of articles on topics in Renaissance humanistic thought and Renaissance medicine. Though his scholarship is prodigious, he is probably best known for his work compiling research guides and manuscript catalogs, particularly his magnum opus the Iter Italicum, a seven volume catalog of previously uncataloged humanistic manuscripts.

Kristeller received many academic honors and accolades over the course of his career. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and was awarded a Macarthur "genius" award. Kristeller was a member of editorial board of the =Journal of the History of Ideas, and was a founding member, and president, of the Renaissance Society of America.

In 1940 Kristeller married Edith Lind Lewinnek, another German Jewish émigré from Hamburg. Edith Kristeller received a diploma in physical therapy from New York University, and her medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She spent most of her career working in rehabilitative medicine at various New York City hospitals. Edith Lind Kristeller died in 1992.

Paul Oskar Kristeller died on June 7, 1999 at the age of 94.

From the guide to the Paul Oskar Kristeller Papers, 1905-1998 [Bulk Dates: 1941-1997], (Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )


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  • Scholarly publishing
  • Manuscripts, Greek
  • Classical literature
  • Philosophy, Renaissance
  • Intellectual life--History
  • Archives
  • Civilization, Medieval
  • Classical education
  • Manuscripts on microfilm
  • Antisemitism
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  • Renaissance
  • Civilization, Modern
  • Middle Ages
  • Authors, Latin--To 1700
  • Manuscripts, Latin
  • Latin language, Medieval and modern--Study and teaching
  • Latin literature, Medieval and modern--Bio-bibliography
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Humanism
  • Philosophy
  • Philosophy--History


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  • Germany (as recorded)
  • Europe (as recorded)
  • Europe (as recorded)
  • Germany (as recorded)
  • Germany (as recorded)