Many at The New School would agree that it is difficult to graduate from the university without hearing the name Hannah Arendt. Working primarily at the intersection of contemporary politics and philosophy, Arendt’s radical ideas and writings inspired–and continue to inspire–both widespread admiration and controversy in academic and popular circles alike. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arendt and her work are celebrated at The New School, one of only a handful of American academic institutions that has had the pleasure and privilege of hosting one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century.
Born in Hanover, Germany, in 1906, and raised between present-day Kaliningrad and Berlin, Arendt grew up in the socially and politically tumultuous atmosphere of post-WWI Europe. As a university student she studied philosophy under Martin Heidegger, with whom she would later develop a romantic and controversial relationship. At the age of 22, she received her PhD at the University of Heidelberg. As a Jew, the rapid rise of Nazism in Germany posed a significant threat to Arendt’s safety, forcing her to move to Czechoslovakia in 1933. She then settled briefly in Paris, where she was a social worker. In 1940 Arendt married her second husband, Heinrich Blücher, a philosopher and poet who would also go on to teach at The New School between 1950 and 1960. After being briefly interned in Camp Gurs in southern France, Arendt and Blücher traveled to New York on illegally issued visas in 1941.
Through the 1950s Arendt published some of her most renowned works, such as The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition. Arendt also began teaching during this time, becoming the first woman to secure a full-time professorship at Princeton University in 1953. Between the mid-1950s and 1960s, Arendt also held teaching positions at The University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, and Cornell University, and the University of Chicago before joining at The New School as a University Professor of Philosophy.
A New School News Bulletin dated June 1, 1967 announced Arendt’s professorship at The Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science (now known as The New School for Social Research) for the Fall ‘67 semester, where she was scheduled to teach two seminars: “Political Experiences of the Twentieth Century” and “Plato’s Theaetetus.” While this was Arendt’s first official long-term position at The New School, she was no stranger to the institution; course catalogs and news bulletins dating as far back as the spring of 1952 advertise lecture series and public seminars in which Arendt participated. Though Arendt published her most controversial works before joining the Graduate Faculty, she remained a prolific author and commentator during her time at The New School, most notably publishing two books, Men in Dark Times (1968) and On Violence (1970), an extension of her 1969 essay, “Reflections on Violence,” in which Arendt deconstructs the relationship between power and violence.
Hannah Arendt’s writings and legacy are preserved at The New School for Social Research’s Hannah Arendt Center, one of just three locations worldwide to offer access to digital copies of all of Arendt’s personal papers and archives.
Photo: Hannah Arendt. Communications and External Affairs (CEA). New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive.