Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke (/ˈrɑːŋkə/; German: [ˈʀaŋkə]; 21
December 1795 – 23 May 1886) was a German historian and a
founder of modern source-based history. According to Caroline
Hoefferle, "Ranke was probably the most important historian to shape
[the] historical profession as it emerged in Europe and the United
States in the late 19th century." He was able to implement the
seminar teaching method in his classroom and focused on archival
research and analysis of historical documents. Building on the methods
of the Göttingen School of History, Ranke set the standards for
much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance
on primary sources (empiricism), an emphasis on narrative history and
especially international politics (Außenpolitik).
1 Early life
3 Later life
4 Methodology and criticism
5 Selected works
5.1 Works in English translation
6 See also
9 External links
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Ranke was born in Wiehe, then part of the Electorate of Saxony. He
came from a family of Lutheran pastors and lawyers. He was educated
partly at home and partly in the high school at Schulpforta. His early
years engendered a lifelong love of Ancient Greek,
Lutheranism. 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. His teachers included Johann Gottfried Jakob
Hermann. 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 and 1825, Ranke worked as a schoolmaster teaching
classics at the Friedrichs Gymnasium in
Frankfurt an der Oder. During
this time, he 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.
In 1824, he launched his career with his book Geschichten der
romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514 (Histories of
Latin and Teutonic Peoples from 1494 to 1514), in which he 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 that sense, he leaned on the traditions of
philology but emphasized mundane documents instead of old and exotic
In 1825, after the minister of education was impressed with the work
of a historian who did not have access to the nation's great public
libraries, Ranke was given a position in the University of Berlin,
where he was a professor for nearly fifty years. At the university he
used the seminar system, and taught how to check the value of sources.
Ranke became deeply involved in the dispute between the followers of
the legal professor
Friedrich Carl von Savigny
Friedrich Carl von Savigny who emphasized the
varieties of different periods of history and the followers of the
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
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
utilize the forty-seven volumes that comprised the diplomatic archives
Venice from the 16th century and 17th centuries. Since many
archives opened up during this time he sent out his students to these
places to recruit information. In his classrooms he would discuss the
sources that his students would find and would emphasize that history
should be told "the way it happened". Because of this he is often seen
as "the pioneer of a critical historical science". Ranke came to
prefer dealing with primary sources as opposed to secondary sources
during this time.
It was in Vienna where the friendship of
Friedrich von Gentz and the
Klemens von Metternich
Klemens von Metternich opened to him the Venetian
Archives, a fresh source, the value of which he first
discovered; it is still not exhausted. He found time
to write a short book on Die Serbische Revolution (1829) from material
supplied to him by Vuk Karadžić, a Serb who had himself been witness
of the scenes he related during the
First Serbian Uprising
First Serbian Uprising in 1804.
This was afterwards expanded into Serbien und die Turkei im 19
In 1832 to 1836, at the behest of the Prussian government, Ranke
founded and edited the Historische-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 only.
In 1834–36 Ranke published Die römischen Päpste, ihre Kirche und
ihr Staat im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert (The Popes of
Rome, Their Church and State in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries) (3 vols.). As a Protestant, Ranke was barred from viewing
the Vatican archives in Rome, but on the basis of private papers in
Rome and Venice, he 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 colorful portrayals of Pope Paul
Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola and Pope Pius V, and opined "I see the time
approaching when we shall base modern history, no longer on the
reports even of contemporary historians, except insofar 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
The papacy denounced Ranke's book as anti-Catholic, while many
Protestants denounced it as not anti-Catholic enough,[citation
needed], but he has been generally praised by historians for placing
the situation of the Roman Catholic Church in the context of the 16th
century and for his fair treatment of the complex interaction of the
political and religious issues in that century. British Roman Catholic
historian Lord Acton defended Ranke's book as the most fair-minded,
balanced, and objective study ever written on the papacy of the 16th
In 1841, his fame in its ascendancy, Ranke was appointed
Historiographer Royal to the Prussian court. In 1845 he became member
of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In Paris in July 1843, Ranke met an Irish woman, Clarissa Helena
Graves (born 1808), from Dublin. She had been educated in
the continent. They were engaged on 1 October and married in Bowness,
England, in a ceremony officiated by her brother, Robert Perceval
Graves, an Anglican priest.
In 1847–48 he published Neun Bücher preussicher Geschichte
(translated as Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and
Prussia, during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries), in which he
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
In 1852–61 he published French
History Mainly in the 16th and 17th
Centuries (5 vols.), covering Francis I to Louis XIV, gaining him more
praise for his impartiality despite being German.
In 1854 in a series of lectures given before future King
Maximilian II of Bavaria, Ranke argued that "every age is next to
God", by which he 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, by which each period is
considered inferior to the period which follows. Thus, the Middle Ages
were not inferior to the Renaissance, simply 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." For
Ranke, Christianity was morally most superior and could not be
improved upon. Ultimately, "
History is no criminal court."[citation
In 1854–57 Ranke published
History of the Reformation in Germany
(Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation), using the 96
volumes of correspondence from ambassadors to the Imperial Diet he
Frankfurt to explain the Reformation in
Germany as the result
of both politics and religion.
In 1859–67 he published the 6-volume
in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Englische Geschichte
vornehmlich im XVI and XVII Jahrhundert), followed by an expanded
9-volume edition in 1870-4, extending his huge reach even farther. At
this point he was eighty years old, and had shot his bolt, devoting
the rest of his career to shorter treatises on German history that
supplement his earlier writings.
Ranke in 1877
The honors poured in. In 1865 Ranke was ennobled, in 1882 appointed a
Prussian Privy Councillor, and in 1885 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 6-volume work on World History,
which began with ancient
Egypt and the Israelites. By the time of
Ranke's death in
Berlin in 1886, at the age of 90, he had reached only
the 12th century, though his assistants later used his notes to take
the series up to 1453.
After his wife died in 1871, Ranke became half-blind, depending on
assistants to read to him. A diary entry from January 1877 contains
his mature thoughts about being a historian:
The proverb tells us that poets are born. Not only in the arts, but
even in some scholarly fields, young men develop into full bloom, or
at least display their originality. Musicians and mathematicians have
the expectation of attaining eminence in early years. But a historian
must be old, not only because of the immeasurable extent of his field
of study, but because of the insight into the historical process which
a long life confers, especially under changing conditions. It would
hardly be bearable for him to have only a short span of experience.
For his personal development requires that great events complete their
course before his eyes, that others collapse, that new forms be
Methodology and criticism
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." This lack of emphasis on
unifying theories or themes led some[who?] to denigrate his "mindless
empiricism." In the 19th century, Ranke's work was very popular and
his ideas about historical practice gradually became dominant in
western historiography. However, he had critics among his
contemporaries, including Karl Marx, a former Hegelian, who suggested
that Ranke engaged in some of the practices he criticized in other
Ranke began his first book with the statement in the introduction that
he would show the unity of the experiences of the "Teutonic" nations
Germany and the "Latin" nations of Italy,
France through the great "respirations" of the
Völkerwanderung (great migration), the
Crusades and colonization 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: "To history
has been assigned the office of judging the past, of instructing the
present for the benefit of future ages. To such high offices this work
does not aspire: It wants only to show what actually happened (wie es
eigentlich gewesen)". Ranke's statement that history should
embrace the principle of wie es eigentlich gewesen (meaning "how
things actually were") was subsequently taken by many historians as
their guiding principle. There has been much debate over the precise
meaning of this phrase. Some[who?] have argued that adhering to the
principle of wie es eigentlich gewesen means that the historian should
document facts but not offer any interpretation of these facts.
Following Georg Iggers, Peter Novick has argued that Ranke, who was
more of a romantic and idealist than his American contemporaries
understood, meant instead that the historian should discover the facts
and find the essences behind them. Under this view, the word
eigentlich should be translated as "essentially", the aim then being
to "show what essentially happened". Ranke went on to write that
the historian must seek the "Holy hieroglyph" that is God's hand in
history, keeping an "eye for the universal" whilst taking "pleasure in
While Ranke's methods remain influential in the practice of history,
his broader ideas of historiography and empiricism are now regarded by
some as outdated and no longer credible. They held sway among
historians until the mid-20th century, when they were challenged by E.
H. Carr and Fernand Braudel. Carr opposed Ranke's ideas of empiricism
as naive, boring and outmoded, saying that historians did not merely
report facts, they choose which facts they use. Braudel's approach was
based on the histoire problème. Remarking on the
legacy of Ranke's dictum that historians should represent the past
"wie es eigentlich gewesen" (as it actually happened), Walter
Benjamin scathingly wrote that it represented "the strongest narcotic
of the [nineteenth] century".
Geschichten der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514
("Histories of the Romanic and Germanic Peoples from 1494 to 1514",
Serbische Revolution ("Serbian Revolution", 1829)
Fürsten und Völker von Süd-Europa im sechzehnten und siebzehnten
Jahrhundert ("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
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
France Principally During That
Die deutschen Mächte und der Fürstenbund ("The German Powers and the
Princes' League", 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
Weltgeschichte - Die Römische Republik und ihre Weltherrschaft (World
history: The Roman Republic and Its World Rule, 2 volumes, 1886)
Works in English translation
The Ottoman and the Spanish Empires, in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, Whittaker & Co., 1943.
Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and
History of Prussia During the
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, John Murray,
Civil Wars and Monarchy in France, in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, Richard Bentley, 1852.
History of Servia and the Servian Revolution, Henry G. Bohn, 1853.
England Principally in the Seventeenth Century, Volume Two,
Volume Three, Volume Four, Volume Five, Volume Six, Oxford: At the
Clarendon Press, 1875.
Universal History: The Oldest Historical Group of Nations and the
Greeks, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1884.
History of the Popes: Their Church and State, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, P. F.
Collier & Son, 1901.
History of the Reformation in Germany, George Routledge & Sons,
History of the
Latin and Teutonic Nations, 1494-1514, George Bell
& Sons, 1909.
The Secret of World History: Selected Writings on the Art and Science
of History, Roger Wines, ed., Fordham University Press, 1981.
Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher, historian and Ranke's student
^ "Ranke". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ Frederick C. Beiser (2011) The German Historicist Tradition, p.254
^ Janelle G. Reinelt, Joseph Roach (2007), Critical Theory and
Performance, p. 193
^ Stern (ed.), The Varieties of History, p. 54: "Leopold von Ranke
(1795-1886) is the father as well as the master of modern historical
^ Green and Troup (eds.), The Houses of History, p. 2: "Leopold von
Ranke was instrumental in establishing professional standards for
historical training at the University of
Berlin between 1824 and
^ Hoefferle, Caroline (2011). The Essential
Boston, MA: Pearson. p. 68.
^ Iggers, Georg (1 November 2010). The Theory and Practice of History:
Edited with an Introduction by Georg G. Iggers. Routledge.
pp. 19–. ISBN 978-1-136-88292-0.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-05-09. Retrieved
^ Andreas D. Boldt, The Life and Work of the German
von Ranke (1795–1886): An Assessment of His Achievements. (2015)
^ Ranke, "Preface to the First Edition of Histories of the
German Nations" in "The Modern
Historiography Reader, Western
^ Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Third
Edition (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2007).233.
^ Ranke, Leopold von (1905).
History of the Reformation in Germany.
New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. pp. xi.
^ Boldt, The Life and Work of the German
Historian Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke (1795 - 1886)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts
and Sciences. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
^ Andreas Boldt, "Life and Work of Clarissa von Ranke, nee Graves, and
her role in the shadow of the German historian Leopold von Ranke"
^ "Prince Hardenberg's Memoirs," The Edinburgh Review, Vol. CXLVI,
^ Ranke (1973), p. 27
^ Ranke, "Preface: Histories of the
Latin and Germanic Nations from
1494-1514", in Stern, The Varieties of History, p.57.
^ Novick, That Noble Dream, pp. 21-31; Iggers, "Introduction" to
Ranke, Theory and Practice, pp. xix-xx; Evans, In Defence of History,
p. 17: "The German phrase which Ranke used- 'Wie es eigentlich
gewesen'-is better translated as 'how it essentially was', for Ranke
meant not that he just wanted to collect facts, but that he sought to
understand the inner being of the past."
^ Ranke, Leopold Von. (1973.) "A Fragment from the 1830s", pp. 58–62
in Fritz Stern, The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the
Present. New York: Vintage Books. p. 59: "Two qualities, I think, are
required for the making of the true historian: first he must feel a
participation and pleasure in the particular for itself ...
Still, this does not suffice; the historian must keep his eye on the
universal aspect of things."
^ Stephen Houlgate, Michael Baur (2011), A Companion to Hegel, p. 334
^ "What a synoptic and artificial view reveals: extreme history and
the modernism of W. G. Sebald's realism". Criticism. 2004.
^ "Turkey," The North American Review, Vol. XXXI, 1830.
^ "Von Ranke, Pattison, Spedding, Gardiner," The Quarterly Review,
Vol. CXXXIX, July/October 1875.
^ Schirrmacher, Thomas. "
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke regarding my Grandfather
Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher". Thomas Schirrmacher. Archived from
the original on 3 January 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
Boldt, Andreas D. The Life and Work of the German
von Ranke (1795–1886): An Assessment of His Achievements (Edwin
Mellen Press, 2015). 372pp
Bourne, Edward Gaylord (1896). "Leopold Von Ranke." The Sewanee
Review, Vol. 4, No. 4, pp. 385–401.
Bourne, Edward Gaylord (1901). "Ranke and the Beginning of the
Seminary Method in Teaching History." In: Essays in Historical
Criticism. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 265–274.
Dalberg-Acton, John Emerich Edward (1907). "German Schools of
History." In: Historical Essays and Studies. London: Macmillan &
Evans, Richard (2000). In Defence of
History (Revised ed.). London:
Granta Books. p. 256. ISBN 978-1-86207-395-1.
Farrenkopf, John (1991). "The Challenge of Spenglerian Pessimism to
Ranke and Political Realism," Review of International Studies, Vol.
17, No. 3, pp. 267–284.
Fitzsimons, M. A. (1980). "Ranke:
History as Worship," The Review of
Politics, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 533–555.
Gay, Peter (1974). Style In History. New York: McGraw-Hall.
p. 256. ISBN 0-393-30558-9.
Geyl, Pieter (1958). Debates with Historians. New York: Meridian.
Gilbert, Felix (1986). "
Leopold von Ranke
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leopold Von Ranke.
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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 Rare Books department.
Williams, H. S. (1907). The historians' history of the world. Volume
XV. (ed., this volume covers
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke on Page 633.)
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
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Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ranke, Leopold von". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke at the Internet Archive
Biography of Ranke, 1901 by William Robinson Clark
Logical positivism / analytic philosophy
Machian positivism (empiriocriticism)
Rankean historical positivism
Russian positivism (empiriomonism)
Critique of metaphysics
Unity of science
Problem of induction
Related paradigm shifts
in the history of science
Non-Euclidean geometry (1830s)
Heisenberg uncertainty principle (1927)
Criticism of science
Holism in anthropology
Naturalism in literature
Objectivity in science
Philosophy of science
Relationship between religion and science
Social science (Philosophy)
1980s Fourth Great Debate in international relations
1990s Science Wars
1830 The Course in Positive Philosophy
1848 A General View of Positivism
History of Philosophy
1879 Idealism and Positivism
1886 The Analysis of Sensations
1927 The Logic of Modern Physics
1936 Language, Truth, and Logic
1959 The Two Cultures
2001 The Universe in a Nutshell
A. J. Ayer
1909 Materialism and Empirio-criticism
History and Class Consciousness
1934 The Logic of Scientific Discovery
1936 The Poverty of Historicism
1942 World Hypotheses
1951 Two Dogmas of Empiricism
Truth and Method
1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
1963 Conjectures and Refutations
1964 One-Dimensional Man
Knowledge and Human Interests
1978 The Poverty of Theory
1980 The Scientific Image
1986 The Rhetoric of Economics
Theodor W. Adorno
Willard Van Orman Quine
Concepts in contention
I, Claudius (1934)
Count Belisarius (1938)
Sergeant Lamb novels (1940, 1941)
The Story of Marie Powell: Wife to Mr. Milton (1943)
King Jesus (1946)
The Islands of Unwisdom
The Islands of Unwisdom (1949)
Seven Days in New Crete
Seven Days in New Crete (1949)
Homer's Daughter (1955)
Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (1929)
The Long Week-End (1940)
The White Goddess
The White Goddess (1948)
The Greek Myths
The Greek Myths (1955)
John Cheyne (great-grandfather)
Leopold von Ranke
Leopold von Ranke (great-great-uncle)
Charles Graves (grandfather)
William Newzam Nicholson
William Newzam Nicholson (grandfather-in-law)
Alfred Perceval Graves
Alfred Perceval Graves (father)
William Nicholson (father-in-law)
Mabel Pryde (mother-in-law)
Charles Patrick Graves (brother)
Philip Graves (half-brother)
Alan Hodge (wife's ex)
Ben Nicholson (brother-in-law)
Christopher Nicholson (brother-in-law)
Nancy Nicholson (wife)
Sally Chilver (niece)
Alexander Clifford (son-in-law)
Clifford Dalton (son-in-law)
Lucia Graves (daughter)
Tomás Graves (son)
Richard Perceval Graves (nephew)
Economists of the Historical School
Johann Gustav Droysen
Georg Friedrich Knapp
Leopold von Ranke
Gustav von Schmoller
Heinrich von Treitschke
Laspeyres price index
Monopoly on violence
National innovation system
Philosophy of identity
Protestant work ethic
Theory of Bureaucracy
Theory of business cycles
Three-component theory of stratification
Tripartite classification of authority
ISNI: 0000 0001 2095 6729
BNF: cb12378016q (data)