Writing in 1941, Benedetto Croce argued, ‘All history is contemporary history’. In doing so, he created an aphorism that offers two dimensions to ‘presentism’.1 It can mean, for example, that we seek present-day concerns in the past, searching in the archives for the earlier versions of our own contemporary lives and interests. But ‘presentism’ can also mean attempts to remove texts from any particular period or place, asking them to represent universal rather than historically situated values. Like Robin Osborne’s classicism (described elsewhere in this set of articles), the framework of the Renaissance and early modern in Europe poses particular challenges in understanding this dual role. Both period labels drew on complex nineteenth-century nationalistic historiographies.2 The concept of the ‘rebirth’ of classical antiquity, a rinascita, or renaissance, was first adopted by Jules Michelet for the seventh volume of his...

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