Frederick Binkerd Artz was born on October 19, 1894 in Dayton, Ohio to Joseph Elam (1867-1952) and May (Binkerd) Artz (1866-1953). He graduated from the public high school in Dayton in 1912 and in the fall of that year entered Oberlin College. At Oberlin College, one of Artz’s favorite lecturers was Professor of English, Charles H.A. Wager (1869-1939). After graduating in 1916 Phi Beta Kappa and with an A.B. degree in history, he spent the year 1916-17 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There he taught courses in American, medieval, and modern European history. In the spring of 1917, Artz enlisted with the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver and joined the U.S. Army Ambulance Camp in Allentown, Pennsylvania in September of that year. The unit was called overseas in December to Contrexeville in the Vosges Mountains of Eastern France. During his military service, Artz kept a journal, which is included in his papers, Series IV.
At the end of World War I, Artz enrolled at the University of Toulouse (France) where he studied through the spring of 1919. Returning to the United States, he continued his graduate work in history at Harvard University, studying medieval French history under Charles Homer Haskins (1870-1937). Artz received the M.A. degree in 1920 and the Ph.D. degree in 1924, following a year of study at the University of Paris (1922-23). Oberlin College awarded Artz the honorary Litt.D. and the Oberlin College Alumni Medal in 1966; he also received the honorary Litt.D. from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1970.
Frederick Artz was one of the most distinguished scholars ever to teach history at Oberlin College. He taught courses in European intellectual history for thirty-seven years, from 1924 to 1961. In retirement, until 1966, he continued to offer the popular “Intellectual History of Modern Europe.” He came to Oberlin as Acting Assistant Professor of History (1924-25), reaching the rank of Assistant Professor in 1925, Associate Professor in 1927, and full Professor in 1936. He served as Chairman of the Department of History from 1949 to 1957. In 1952, he was named to the Brooks Professorship, established by an endowed gift from Garry Brooks in 1881. From 1938 to 1949, he served on the General Faculty Library and Commencement Committees and on the College Faculty Committee on Graduate Study.
During his years at Oberlin, Artz is believed to have taught over 7,500 Oberlin students, of whom at least eighty-five went on to become historians themselves. One of Artz’s most gifted students was Edwin O. Reischauer (1910-90; A.B. 1931), Professor of Far Eastern Languages at Harvard (1938-42; 1950-81) and U.S. Ambassador to Japan (1961-66). In 1964, Artz’s former students honored him with A Festschrift for Frederick B. Artz (Durham: Duke University Press). As a teacher, Artz was celebrated for his encyclopedic mind and ability to synthesize the learning of several disciplines—music, art, literature, and theology—to convey the broad themes of western civilization. His special field of interest was France, and he returned there and to other European countries thirty-two times in his life, either as a tour guide with the Massachusetts-based Bureau of University Travel or as an independent scholar. During these travels abroad, he collected an impressive collection of 10,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts, donated to the Allen Art Museum and Oberlin College libraries on his death. In 1940, along with his longtime friend Oberlin professor Raymond Stetson, Artz designed a spacious home at 157 North Professor Street in which to display his library, antiques, and objects d’art.
Artz published several important works of scholarship, most of them still in print. They include France Under the Bourbon Restoration, 1814-1830 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931), awarded the silver medal by the French Institut Historique, and Reaction and Revolution 1814-1832 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1934), the first of the “Rise of Modern Europe” series edited by William L. Langer (1896-1977). Several seminal articles on French technical education appeared in the Revue Historique Moderne and the Revue d’Histoire Moderne. Best known of all of his writings is the classic The Mind of the Middle Ages, 200-1500 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953), which entered its third edition in 1958 and was later released in paperback. Artz’s numerous articles and book reviews appeared in the Saturday Review of Literature, the South Atlantic Quarterly, the Journal of Modern History, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. He served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Modern History (1932-35) and the Journal of Central European Affairs (1940-65). In 1964, Artz was the Charles Beebe Martin lecturer in Classics at Oberlin. In 1966 Kent State University Press published his lectures, titled “Renaissance Humanism, 1300-1500.”
Throughout his career, Artz was active in the historical profession. He was a member of the Royal Historical Society, the College Art Association, the American Historical Association, the Medieval Academy of America, the Renaissance Society of America, the French Society of Modern History, the American Association of University Professors, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Frederick B. Artz died in Oberlin on July 20, 1983.
A photograph and biographical information about Frederick B. Artz are included in the digital collection “Oberlin College and Military Service in World War I,” presented by the Oberlin College Archives.