Leopold von Ranke

Leopold von Ranke

Leopold von Ranke (December 21, 1795May 23, 1886) was a German historian of the 19th century, and frequently considered one of the founders of modern source-based history. Ranke set the tone for much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance on primary sources, an emphasis on narrative history and especially international politics ("Aussenpolitik") and a commitment to writing history "as it essentially [was] " In his own words: " […] nicht das Amt die Vergangenheit zu richten, die Mitwelt zum Nutzen zukünftiger Jahre zu belehren, sondern bloß zu zeigen, "wie es eigentlich gewesen" (" […] not the duty to judge the past, nor to instruct one's contemporaries with an eye to the future, but rather merely to show "how it actually was").


Ranke was born in Wiehe, Electorate of Saxony. He was educated partly at home and partly in the Gymnasium of Schulpforta. His early years engendered a life-long love of Ancient Greek and Latin and of the Lutheran Church. In 1814, Ranke entered the University of Leipzig, where his subjects were Classics and Lutheran theology. At Leipzig, Ranke became an expert in philology and translation of the ancient authors into German. As a student, Ranke's favorite authors were Thucydides, Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Friedrich Schlegel. Ranke showed little interest in the work of modern history because of his dissatisfaction with what he regarded as history books that were merely a collection of facts lumped together by modern historians.

Between 1817–1825, Ranke worked as a Classics teacher at the Friedrichs Gymnasium in Frankfurt an der Oder. During this time, Ranke became interested in History in part because of his desire to be involved in the developing field of a more professionalized history and in part because of his desire to find the hand of God in the workings of history.

Beginning with his first book in 1824, the "Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514" ("History of the Latin and Teutonic Peoples from 1494 to 1514"), Ranke used an unusually wide variety of sources for a historian of the age, including "memoirs, diaries, personal and formal missives, government documents, diplomatic dispatches and first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses." In this sense he leaned on the traditions of Philology but emphasized mundane documents instead of old and exotic literature.

Ranke began his book with the statement in the introduction that he would show the unity of the experiences of the "Teutonic" nations of Scandinavia, England and Germany and the "Latin" nations of Italy, Spain and France through the great "respirations" of the "Völkerwanderung" (great migration), the Crusades and colonisation that in Ranke's view bound all of the nations together to produce modern European civilization. Despite his opening statement, Ranke largely treated all of the nations under examination separately until the outbreak of the wars for the control of Italy starting in 1494. However, the book is best remembered for Ranke's comment that "History has had assigned to it the office of judging the past and of instructing the account for the benefit of future ages. To show high offices the present work does not presume: it seeks only to show what actually happened". Ranke's statement that history should embrace the principle of "wie es eigentlich gewesen" (show what actually happened)" is taken by many historians as their guiding principle. There has been much debate over the precise meaning of this phrase. Some have argued that "wie es eigentlich gewesen" meant that the historian should only offer the facts of history without offering any of his own views while others have argued that Ranke meant that the historian should discover the facts and find the general prevailing motifs of the time under question that coloured the facts. Ranke went on to write that the historian must seek for the "Holy hieroglyph" that is God's hand in history by keeping an "eye for the universal" whilst taking "joy in the particular".

Following the success of "Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514", Ranke was given a position in the University of Berlin. At the university, Ranke became deeply involved in the dispute between the followers of the legal professor Friedrich Carl von Savigny who emphasized the varieties of different periods of history and the followers of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who saw history as the unfolding of a universal story. Ranke supported Savigny and criticized the Hegelian view of history as being a one-size-fits-all approach. Also during his time in Berlin, Ranke became the first historian to utilise the forty-seven volumes that comprised the diplomatic archives of Venice from the 16th and 17th centuries. Ranke came to prefer dealing with primary sources as opposed to secondary sources during this time. Ranke later wrote "I see the time approaching when we shall base modern history, no longer on the reports even of contemporary historians, except in-so-far as they were in the possession of personal and immediate knowledge of facts; and still less on work yet more remote from the source; but rather on the narratives of eyewitnesses, and on genuine and original documents".

Starting in 1831 at the behest of the Prussian government, Ranke founded and edited the "Historisch-Politische Zeitschrift" journal. Ranke, who was a conservative, used the journal to attack the ideas of Liberalism. In his 1833 article "The Great Powers" and his 1836 article "Dialogue on Politics" Ranke claimed that every state is given a special moral character from God and individuals should strive to best fulfill the "idea" of their state. Thus, in this way, Ranke urged his readers to stay loyal to the Prussian state and reject the ideas of the French Revolution, which Ranke claimed were meant for France, not Prussia.

Between 1834–1836 Ranke produced the multi-volume "Die römischen Päpste, ihre kirche und ihr Staat im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert" ("History of the Popes, their Church and State"). As a Protestant, Ranke was barred from viewing the Vatican archives in Rome, but on the basis of private papers in Rome and Venice, Ranke was able to explain the history of the Papacy in the 16th century. In this book, Ranke coined the term the Counter Reformation and offered colourful portrayals of Pope Paul IV, Ignatius of Loyola, and Pope Pius V. The papacy denounced Ranke's book as anti-Catholic while many Protestants denounced Ranke's book as too neutral. However, Ranke has been generally praised by historians for placing the situation of the Catholic Church in the context of the 16th century and for his treatment of the complex interaction of the political and religious issues in the 16th century. In particular, the British Catholic historian Lord Acton defended Ranke's book as the most fair-minded, balanced and objective study ever written on the 16th century Papacy. Ranke followed this book up with multi-volume "Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation" ("History of the Reformation in Germany") in 1845–1847. Ranke used the ninety-six volumes from ambassadors at Imperial Diet in Frankfurt to explain the Reformation in Germany as the result of both politics and religion.

In 1841, Ranke was appointed Royal Historiographer to the Prussian court. In 1849, Ranke published "Neun Bücher preussicher Geschichte" (transated as "Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and History of Prussia, during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries"), where Ranke examined the fortunes of the Hohenzollern family and state from the Middle Ages to the reign of Frederick the Great. Many Prussian nationalists were offended by Ranke's portrayal of Prussia as a typical medium-sized German state rather than as a Great Power.

In a series of lectures given to the future King Maximilian of Bavaria, Ranke argued that "every age is next to God," by which Ranke meant that every period of history is unique and must be understood in its own context. He argued that God gazes over history in its totality and finds all periods equal. Ranke rejected the teleological approach to history where every period is inferior to the period that follows. Thus, the Middle Ages were not inferior to the Renaissance; only different. In Ranke's view, the historian had to understand a period on its own terms, and seek to find only the general ideas which animated every period of history. For Ranke, then, history was not to be an account of man's "progress" because, "After Plato, there can be no more Plato." Moreover, for Ranke Christianity was morally most superior and could not be improved upon. Ultimately, "History is no criminal court."

In 1865, Ranke was ennobled, in 1882 appointed a Prussian Privy Councillor and in 1885 he was given an honorary citizenship of Berlin. In 1884, he was appointed the first honorary member of the American Historical Association. After his retirement in 1871, Ranke continued to write on a variety of subjects relating to German history such as the French Revolutionary Wars, Albrecht von Wallenstein, Karl August von Hardenberg, and King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Starting in 1880, Ranke began a huge six-volume work on World History, which began with ancient Egypt and the Israelites. By the time of Ranke's death in Berlin (1886), he had only reached the 12th century. Subsequently his assistants used his notes to take the series up to 1453.


At the core of his method, Ranke did not believe that general theories could cut across time and space. Instead, he made statements about the time using quotations from primary sources. He said, "My understanding of 'leading ideas' is simply that they are the dominant tendencies in each century. These tendencies, however, can only be described; they can not, in the last resort, be summed up in a concept." Ranke objected to philosophy of history, particularly as practiced by Hegel, claiming that Hegel ignored the role of human agency in history, which was too essential to be "characterized through only one idea or one word" or "circumscribed by a concept." [ Von Ranke (1973), p.27. ] This lack of emphasis on unifying theories or themes led some to denigrate his "mindless empiricism." In the 19th century, Ranke's work was very popular and his ideas about how an historian should operate were much copied. Starting in the 20th century, some historians such as E.H. Carr opposed Ranke's ideas of empiricism as naive, boring and outmoded.

Also Fernand Braudel can be considered as an opponent of Ranke's method. With his approach based on the "histoire probleme" Fernand Braudel confronts Ranke and points out the fact that history is defined the moment it's written.

Relation to Robert Graves

Amalie von Ranke, the historian's niece, was the mother of the well-known British writer and historian Robert Graves. Indeed, Graves' full name was Robert von Ranke Graves.

Selected works

* "Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514" ("History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations from 1494 to 1514", 1824)
* "Serbische Revoluzion" ("Serbian revolution", 1829)
* "Fürsten und Völker von Süd-Europa im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert" ("The Princes and Peoples of Southern Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries")
* "Die römischen Päpste in den letzen vier Jahrhunderten" ("The Roman Popes in the Last Four Centuries", 1834-1836)
* "Neun Bücher preussischer Geschichte" ("Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and History of Prussia, During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries", 1847-1848)
* "Französische Geschichte, vornehmlich im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert" ("Civil Wars and Monarchy in France, in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A History of France Principally During That Period", 1852-1861)
* "Die deutschen Mächte und der Fürstenbund" ("The German Powers and the Fürstenbund", 1871-1872)
* "Ursprung und Beginn der Revolutionskriege 1791 und 1792" ("Origin and Beginning of the Revolutionary Wars 1791 and 1792", 1875)
* "Hardenberg und die Geschichte des preussischen Staates von 1793 bis 1813" ("Hardenberg and the History of the Prussian State from 1793 to 1813", 1877)
* "Weltgeschichte - Die Römische Republik und ihre Weltherrschaft" ("World history: the Roman Republic and its world rule", 2 volumes, 1886)


* " [http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&vid=0K3-cga6W3mD82UuOq&id=GBTb-gYw_V0C&dq=leopold+von+ranke&pg=PR3&printsec=2&lpg=PR3 Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation] " ("History of the Reformation in Germany", 1845-1847)Google Book Search cf. Fraktur (typeface)
* [http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC03020986&id=igxSD_v4X4MC&pg=PR3&printsec=8&dq=%22leopold+von+ranke%22 "Universal History: The Oldest Historical Group of Nations and the Greeks" (1884)]
* [http://books.google.com/books?vid=LCCN01015121&id=vxNUdih7ioUC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=%22History+of+the+Popes%3B+their+church+and+state.%22 "History of the Popes: Their Church and State" (1901), Vol. 1] [http://books.google.com/books?vid=LCCN01015121&id=USvoVA3tgRcC&pg=PP9&lpg=PP9&dq=%22History+of+the+Popes:+Their+Church+and+State%22&as_brr=1 Vol. 2]
* "Englische Geschichte, vornehmlich im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert" ("A History of England Principally in the Seventeenth Century", 1859-1869) English translation [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv1.pdf Volume One] [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv2.pdf Volume Two] [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv3.pdf Volume Three] [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv4.pdf Volume Four] [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv5.pdf Volume Five] [http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/ranke/HistEnglandv6.pdf Volume Six]



*cite book |title=Style In History |last=Gay |first=Peter |authorlink=Peter Gay |year=1974 |publisher=McGraw-Hall |location=New York |isbn=0393305589 |pages=256
*cite book |title=Debates with Historians |last=Geyl |first=Pieter |authorlink=Pieter Geyl |year=1958 |publisher=Meridian |location=New York |isbn= |pages=287
*cite book | last = Gilbert | first = Felix |authorlink = Felix Gilbert | title = History: Politics or Culture? Reflections on Ranke and Burckhardt | publisher = Princeton University Press | date = 1990 | location = Princeton, N.J. | pages = 109 | url = | isbn = 0-691-03163-0
*cite book |title=History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century |last=Gooch |first=G.P. |authorlink=George Peabody Gooch |year=1935 |publisher=Longman's |location=New York |isbn= |pages=547
*cite book |title=Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline |last=Iggers |first=Georg |authorlink= |coauthors=Powell, J.M. (editors) |year=1990 |publisher=Syracuse University Press |location=Syracuse, New York |isbn=0815624697 |pages=223
*cite book |title=Ranke: The Meaning of History |last=Krieger |first=Leonard |authorlink=Leonard Krieger |year=1977 |publisher=University of Chicago Press |location=Chicago, IL |isbn=0226453499 |pages=402

External links

* [http://www.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/galerie/texte/rankee.htm Leopold von Ranke] , from Humboldt University of Berlin website
* [http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/Leopold_von_Ranke.html Leopold von Ranke historicism] , from "Age of the Sage" website.
* [http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/l/LeopoldVonRankePapers-Des.htm Leopold von Ranke's papers] at Syracuse University; Ranke's personal library, containing many works by lesser known writers on historical, political and literary subjects of the 16th to 19th centuries, was also donated to the University's [http://library.syr.edu/information/spcollections/rarebooks.htm Rare Books] department.
* Williams, H. S. (1907). [http://books.google.com/books?id=vacFAAAAIAAJ The historians' history of the world] . Volume XV. (ed., this volume covers Leopold von Ranke on [http://books.google.com/books?id=vacFAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA633 Page 633] .)

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  • Leopold von Ranke — (Porträt nach Julius Schrader) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Leopold von Ranke — (21 de diciembre de 1795 23 de mayo de 1886), historiador alemán, uno de los más importantes historiadores del siglo XIX y considerado comúnmente como el padre de la historia científica. Leopold von Ranke en 1877. Contenido …   Wikipedia Español

  • Leopold Von Ranke — (21 décembre 1795 à Wiehe (Unstrut); † 23 mai 1886 à Berlin) est un historien allemand. Biographie Né en Saxe, Ranke est issu d un milieu familial où la religion luthérienne joue un grand rôle. De fait, se destinant à l état ecclésiastique, il… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Leopold von ranke — (21 décembre 1795 à Wiehe (Unstrut); † 23 mai 1886 à Berlin) est un historien allemand. Biographie Né en Saxe, Ranke est issu d un milieu familial où la religion luthérienne joue un grand rôle. De fait, se destinant à l état ecclésiastique, il… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Leopold von Ranke — (21 décembre 1795 à Wiehe (Unstrut); † 23 mai 1886 à Berlin) est un historien allemand. Biographie Né en Saxe, Ranke est issu d un milieu familial où la religion luthérienne joue un grand rôle. De fait, se destinant à l état ecclésiastique, après …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Leopold Von Ranke — (21 de diciembre de 1795 23 de mayo de 1886) Historiador Alemán, uno de los mas importantes historiadores del siglo XIX y considerado comúnmente como el padre de la historia “científica”. Ranke puso énfasis en la narración histórica,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Leopold Friedrich Ranke — Gotthilf Paul Emil Leopold Friedrich Ranke (* 30. September 1842 in Bayreuth; † 27. März 1918 in Lübeck) war ein deutscher lutherischer Theologe und Senior des Geistlichen Ministeriums in Lübeck …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ranke, Leopold von — orig. Leopold Ranke born Dec. 21, 1795, Wiehe, Thuringia, Saxony died May 23, 1886, Berlin German historian. Ranke taught at the University of Berlin (1825–71). Inspired by the scientific method of historical study used by Barthold Georg Niebuhr …   Universalium

  • Heinrich von Ranke — Heinrich Ranke, ab 1891 von Ranke (* 8. Mai 1830 in Rückersdorf (Mittelfranken); † 13. Mai 1909 in München), war ein deutscher Anthropologe, Pädiater, Hochschullehrer und königlich bayerischer Geheimer Hofrat. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Familie …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Friedhelm von Ranke — Friedhelm Johannes Arnold (seit 1865) von Ranke (* 17. September 1847 in Berlin; † 22. Juni 1917) war ein deutscher Generalmajor. Er ist der dritte Sohn des 1865 in den Adelsstand erhobenen Historikers Leopold von Ranke und der Klarissa Graves.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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