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Who is Hannah Arendt

One of the most celebrated philosophers of the 20th Century, Hannah Arendt is the author of an original and revolutionary work, concerned with the problems of her time and committed to her desire to understand. She offers us a way of thinking in a world that lost its capacity to settle parameters of right and wrong, good or evil, by exercising our cognitive and judgment capacities on the experience of political action. 

Her international recognition happened after publishing her book "Origins of Totalitarianism", a 600-page account of the unique experience of totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 20th Century. Guided by her "necessity to understand", this political phenomenon informed her intellectual pursuit to think in a world after the "rupture between the past and the future". Her next book, "The Human Condition", reflects on questions related to mass societies and their influence on political action. Her sharp critics and writing style did put Arendt at the center of many controversies, especially with her account of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, but it's also a mark of her courage and independent thinking. Arendt is known as an unapologetic thinker, never afraid to speak her opinions and not compromised with any ideology or political group.

A philosopher inspired by the political experiences of her time, Arendt dedicated herself to political theory, but never really abandoned her house: German philosophy. A dedicated friend, throughout her life she was in intense conversation with some of the great minds of the 20th Century. True to herself, she said once that somehow she doesn't fit in and lived for her personal commitment to think without banisters.


  • 1906, October 14 – Born in Hannover, Germany, the only child of Paul Arendt, an engineer, and his wife Martha, née Cohn; official name: Johanna Arendt, after her paternal grandmother (Both parents were Jews from Koenigsberg [East Prussia]; Hannah Arendt once wrote that she grew up in a “typically German-Jewish assimilated milieu.”)

  • 1909 The family moved to Koenigsberg

  • 1913 Grandfather Max Arendt died; father died after a long illness of progressive paralysis (In 1920, Martha Arendt remarried [Martin Beerwald, a widower with two daughters: Clara and Eva].)

  • 1913-24 At school in Koenigsberg and Berlin, partly self-educated, enrolled at Berlin University, educated by private teachers; graduation (Abitur) in Koenigsberg as a non-matriculated student in 1924

  • 1924-28 Studied philosophy (major), Protestant theology, and Greek at the universities of Marburg, Freiburg, and Heidelberg; teachers were: M. Heidegger, E. Husserl, K. Jaspers; R. Bultmann, M. Dibelius; O. Regenbogen

  • 1928, November – Ph.D. in Heidelberg; supervisor of dissertation: K. Jaspers, topic: Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin (published 1929, reprinted in 2003, 2006; English edition (ed. and revised by J. Vecchiarelli Scott and J. Chelius Stark): Love and Saint Augustin, 1996)

  • 1929, September – Married  Guenther Stern (Anders) in Nowawes near Berlin (For a short period of time, the Sterns lived in Frankfurt/Main.)

  • 1930-33 Research on “the problem of German-Jewish assimilation, exemplified by the life of Rahel Varnhagen,” sponsored by the Rescue Society of German Science [Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft] and by a Jewish organization; first publications as a freelance writer

  • 1933, July – Arrested in Berlin; after release, flight from Germany

  • 1933-40 Lived in Paris; deprivation of German citizenship in 1937

  • 1933-37 Activities (“social work”) within the scope of Zionist politics; founder of the French branch of  Youth Aliyah (1935); three-month stay in Palestine (1935)

  • 1936, Spring –  Met Heinrich Bluecher

  • 1937-38 Resumed scholarly work, completed book on Rahel Varnhagen based on her post-doctoral research (first published in an English translation in 1958;  German original published in 1959); began work on the history of anti-Semitism; gave lectures

  • 1938-40 After the November pogroms in Germany, returned to “social work” organizing the “immigration of children and adults from Central Europe to France” in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Jerusalem, and French Zionists

  • 1940, January – Married Heinrich Bluecher, after having divorced Guenther Stern (1937)

  • 1940,  May-July – Five weeks of internship as “hostile alien” in camp Gurs in southern France; thereafter, escape via Lourdes (stay with Walter Benjamin) to friends in Montauban

  • 1941, January – Left France by train and traveled via Spain to Portugal

  • 1941, January through May – In Lisbon as a stateless refugee

  • 1941, May – Arrived in New York by ship, together with Heinrich Bluecher (Her mother arrived one month later and lived with the Bluechers until her death [July 27, 1948].)

  • 1941, May until end of life – Resident in New York City; granted American citizenship in December 1951

  • 1941-52 A political writer and lecturer: published articles in Aufbau (collected and republished in 2000) and other particularly American-Jewish papers and/or journals; worked with the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction; lectured at various New York academic institutions

  • 1944-46 Director of studies at the Conference on Jewish Relations (Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction)

  • 1946-48 Chief editor at Schocken Books, New York

  • 1949-52 Executive Secretary of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, New York

  • 1949-50, November through March – First trip to Europe on behalf of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction: extensive traveling in the Federal Republic of Germany, including a stay in Berlin; reunion with K. Jaspers, M. Heidegger, and friends from former times

  • 1950, June – Began notes in the Denktagebuch [thought journal]; 28 notebooks in all (until 1973) published posthumously in 2002

  • 1951 Publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism / The Burden of Our Time (German edition in 1955: Elemente und Urspruenge totaler Herrschaft)

  • 1952-53 Work on a research project, “Totalitarian Elements of Marxism,” sponsored by the Guggenheim Foundation

  • 1952 Heinrich Bluecher was given a permanent position as professor of philosophy at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

  • 1953, October/November – Six Lectures held within the Christian Gauss Seminars on Criticism at Princeton University on “Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western [Political] Thought” (partly published posthumously)

  • 1954, March – Three-part lecture at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, on “Philosophy and Politics: The Problem of Action and Thought after the French Revolution” (partly published posthumously)

  • 1955, Spring – Visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley: lecture on “History of Political Theory,” and two seminars

  • 1955, Autumn –  Travelled as lecturer and tourist, in Italy, Greece, Israel, Switzerland, and the Federal Republic of Germany 

  • 1956, April – Six Walgreen Lectures at the University of Chicago on “The Labor of Man's Body and the Work of His Hands” (resulting in The Human Condition [1958], German edition: Vita Activa [1960])

  • 1956, Autumn – Trip to Europe: research sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and lectures

  • 1958, April through June – Trip to Europe, including, among others, lectures in Bremen (“Die Krise in der Erziehung” [“The Crisis in Education,” published in 1958]), Zurich (“Freiheit und Politik” [“Freedom and Politics,” published in 1960]), Munich (“Kultur und Politik” [“Culture and Politics,”  published in 2007])

  • 1958, September – Laudatio for K. Jaspers when he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt/Main

  • 1959, Spring – Visiting professor at Princeton University: lecture on “The United States and the Revolutionary Spirit” (resulting in On Revolution [1963], in German Ueber die Revolution [1965])

  • 1959, September – Awarded the Lessing Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

  • 1959, December – Moved from Morningside Heights to 370 Riverside Drive, where she lived until her death

  • 1960-61 Various appointments as a visiting professor: Columbia University (Fall 1960); Northwestern University (Spring 1961); Wesleyan University (Fall 1961)

  • 1961, April and June – Present at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem as a reporter for The New Yorker

  • 1961 Publication of Between Past and Future, a collection of six [later eight] “Exercises in Political Thought” (in German published in an enlarged edition: Zwischen Vergangenheit und Zukunft [1994])

  • 1962, March –  Hospitalized after a serious traffic accident while riding in a taxi in New York

  • 1962, Autumn – Guest lectures at the University of Chicago; thereafter, seminar at Wesleyan University

  • 1963, February - The New Yorker began its five-part series of “A Reporter at Large: Eichmann in Jerusalem”; in March the series appeared as a book: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (revised German edition: Eichmann in Jerusalem: Ein Bericht von der Banalitaet des Boesen, 1964)

  • 1963, February through June – Travelled in Europe, including an extensive vacation trip with Heinrich Bluecher and Lotte Beradt in Greece and Italy

  • 1963-67 Professor (with reduced teaching load and specially arranged hours) at the University of Chicago, Committee of Social Thought, lectures included: “Introduction into Politics,” “Basic Moral Propositions”; courses at the New School for Social Research, New York, included: “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy” (published posthumously in 2003, German edition in 2006)

  • 1964 Awarded membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters

  • 1965 Visiting professor at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

  • 1967-75 University Professor at the New School for Social Research, N.Y.; among lectures: “Philosophy and Politics”, “Kant’s Political Philosophy” (published in 1982; in German 1985)

  • 1967, October – Awarded in absentia the Sigmund-Freud-Preis for scholarly prose by the Deutsche Akademie fuer Sprache und Dichtung [German Academy for Language and Poetry]

  • 1968 Publication of Men in Dark Times, a collection of literary portraits (enlarged German edition: Menschen in finsteren Zeiten, 1989)

  • 1969, February – K. Jaspers died

  • 1969, Summer – In Europe (with Heinrich Bluecher); for several weeks in Tegna-Locarno, Switzerland (In almost all the next years, Arendt stayed some weeks in the Casa Barbatè in Tegna.)

  • 1970, October – Heinrich Bluecher died

  • 1971 “Thinking and Moral Considerations” appeared (Work begun on the second volume of The Human Condition, i.e., The Life of the Mind.)

  • 1971, November – The German Supreme Court decided in favor of Arendt’s appeal for restitution payments (“Lex Arendt”)

  • 1972, November – Participation in a conference titled “The Work of Hannah Arendt” at York University in Toronto, Canada (conference proceedings published in 1979)

  • 1973, April through May – Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland: “The Life of the Mind, First Series: Thinking” (published in 1978, in German 1979)

  • 1974, May – Continuation of Gifford Lectures: “The Life of the Mind, Second Series: Willing” (broken off on May 10, due to heart attack)

  • 1974, September – Wystan H. Auden died

  • 1975, April – Awarded the Sonning Prize for Contributions to European Culture by the Danish government (Her ceremonial address was published in 2003, in German in 2005.)

  • 1975, May – Speech “Home to Roost” at the Boston Bicentennial Forum (published in 1976, in German in 1986)

  • 1975, May through September – In Europe; among stopovers: Marbach (Deutsches Literaturarchiv), Tegna (work on The Life of the Mind; “Willing” [published 1978, in German 1979] and “Judging”), Freiburg (visit to M. Heidegger)

  • 1975, December – Died of a heart attack in her New York apartment

This table of data was originally published by and based on the “Tabellarische Lebenslauf,” published in Hannah Arendt: Ich will verstehen: Selbstauskünfte zu Leben und Werk, ed. with a complete bibliography by Ursula Ludz. Munich-Zurich: Piper Verlag.





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