- Ranke, Leopold von
- (1795–1886)One of the most significant figures in the development of the historical profession during the nineteenth century. Born in Wiehe (Saxony) into an old Lutheran family, Ranke studied in Leipzig and initially taught at a grammar school in Frankfurt an der Oder. It was here that he wrote his History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations, 1494–1514, published in 1824. This piece is chiefly significant for Ranke’s expressed intention henceforth to reveal history Wie es eigentlich gewesen, “as it actually was.” Appointed to a chair at the University of Berlin in 1825, where he remained until 1871, Ranke aimed to turn history into an exact science, via the methodical evaluation and use of primary sources, and via the strict avoidance of value judgments. And yet, although history, for Ranke, had replaced philosophy as the “science” that offered insights into the human condition, he retained a belief in a divine plan for humanity. For him, existing political states, insofar as they were results of historical growth, were “moral energies” or “thoughts of God.” For Ranke, aiming to reveal history as it actually was primarily meant revealing the evolution of the existing order of things as God had willed it.Thus Ranke’s influential methodology did not imply objectivity in the contemporary sense. While not all professional historians, particularly later in the century, agreed with Ranke’s belief that what had developed historically was sanctioned by God’s will, many certainly shared his focus on the state as a quasi-mythical category. As Otto von Bismarck used Prussia to transform Germany into a nation-state, historians emerged among the most vocal advocates of the project. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the close links between the German state and the historical profession. Ranke himself was appointed royal historian by Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1841, and ennobled by Wilhelm I in 1865. The quantity of his work is as impressive as the quality, and the German edition of his complete works numbered 54 volumes. Such was his influence that, toward the end of his life, the American Historical Association, formed in 1884, chose Ranke as its first honorary member and pronounced him “the father of historical science.”FURTHER READING:Donovan, S. M., and K. Passmore, eds. Writing National Histories. Western Europe since 1800. London: Routledge, 1999;Iggers, G. Historiography in the Twentieth Century. London: University Press of New England, 1997;Krieger, Leonard. Ranke: The Meaning of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.PAUL LAWRENCE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.