Historical studies came into their own following the immense political and social upheavals associated with the French Revolution (1789-1815). The French Revolution represented a massive break with the past and, paradoxically, made people much more “history-conscious” than ever before. Thus, it was in the nineteenth century that history became the “Queen of the Sciences” and earned a permanent place in the academy. The man responsible for elevating the study of history to a new plateau was the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886). Ranke’s contribution were threefold: (1) he played a leading role in establishing history as a respected discipline in the universities, (2) he firmly established the notion that all sound history must be based on primary sources and a rigorous methodology, and (3) he reflected the broader nineteenth-century attempt to define the concept of “historical-mindedness”. This essay seeks to analyse Leopold von Ranke’s contribution to the study of history. Syracuse University has long nourished a special memory of the great nineteenth century German historian, Leopold von Ranke, the father of modem history. Ranke is to historians what Darwin is to biologists and Freud to psychologists, the revered author of the discipline's methods and the presiding personality from an age when science promised so much for the betterment of humanity. During the last century earnest American students who hoped to elevate American intellectual life to European standards flocked in particular to Germany so that they might come into contact with the most advanced learning. The German influence, in fact, decidedly altered American education from garten fur kinder (kinder-garten) to post graduate professional training
The German historian Leopold von Ranke was born in Germany in 1795. His first major work, History of the Latin and Teutonic nations, 1494-1535, was published late in 1824. This was based on archival research, viewed by Ranke as the foundation of all historical work, and it established his reputation as a historian. The most influential part of the work was its appendix in which he assessed previous literature on the basis of the critical analysis of sources. For him, this was scholarly history. It was in the preface to his work that he stated his often quoted dictum, that he was writing history as it had actually occurred,’wie es eigentlich gewesen’. He argued that historians should disregard sources such as personal memoirs and texts written after the event they focus on, and base their findings solely on contemporary, or primary sources. These, he advocated, should be scrutinized and criticized so historians are in the best possible position to reconstruct historical events. Due to the success of his work, Ranke was appointed Professor of History at the University of Berlin. Ranke went abroad late in 1827 and remained away for over three years, researching in Vienna, Florence, Rome and Venice. He had personal connections that he put to good use to secure access to previously closed archives. The following years were marked with publications mainly on the history of the Mediterranean countries and Germany. Particularly noteworthy are the conspiracy against Venice (1831), History of the popes (1834-36), History of Germany during the Reformation (1839-47) and the History of Prussia (1847-8). Furthermore, Ranke trained the first generation of ‘modern professional historians’ at Berlin, including Georg Waitz and Jakob Burckhardt. King Maximilian II of Bavaria was inspired by him to establish a Historical Commission within the Bavarian academy of Sciences to which Ranke was appointed as chairman in 1815. During his later years Ranke wrote national histories for each of the major states of Europe, including his History of France (1852-61), History of England (1859-68) and The German powers and the Princes ‘league (1871). As Ranke’s reputation continued to grow, he was awarded many honours: he was...
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