Leopold von Ranke

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The ultimate aim of historical writing is the bringing before us the whole truth.

Leopold von Ranke (21 December 1795 – 23 May 1886) was a German historian and a founder of modern source-based history. He was able to implement the seminar teaching method in his classroom and focused on archival research and analysis of historical documents.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).

Quotes[edit]

  • To history has been attributed the function to judge the past, to instruct ourselves for the advantage of the future. Such a lofty function the present work does not attempt. It aims merely to show how it actually took place.
    • ‘Gesch. der Röm. und Germ. Völker’, p. vii, quoted in Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘Leopold Von Ranke’, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Aug., 1896), p. 390
  • Rigorous presentation of the facts, however conditional and lacking in beauty they may be, is without question the supreme law.
    • ‘Gesch. der Röm. und Germ. Völker’, p. vii, quoted in Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘Leopold Von Ranke’, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Aug., 1896), p. 390
  • The ultimate aim of historical writing is the bringing before us the whole truth.
    • Statement quoted in Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘Leopold Von Ranke’, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Aug., 1896), p. 392
  • You are in the first place a Christian: I am in the first place a historian. There is a gulf between us.
    • Quoted in Acton : Study of history , quoted from Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(43)

Quotes about Ranke[edit]

  • What one hears in Ranke. The whisper of statecraft. Not the tramp of democracy's earthquake feet. Not the dull roar of surging opinion.
    • Lord Acton, private notes, quoted in Herbert Butterfield, ‘Acton: His Training, Methods and Intellectual System’, in A. O. Sarkissian (ed.), Studies in Diplomatic History and Historiography in honour of G. P. Gooch, C.H. (1961), p. 192
  • Sagacity in judging the value of testimony is his only supreme quality.
    • Lord Acton, private notes, quoted in Herbert Butterfield, ‘Acton: His Training, Methods and Intellectual System’, in A. O. Sarkissian (ed.), Studies in Diplomatic History and Historiography in honour of G. P. Gooch, C.H. (1961), p. 192
  • While an admirable critic of sources, Niebuhr read into his version of Roman history a variety of moral and philosophical views unwarranted by the existing evidence ... Ranke, on the other hand, determined to hold strictly to the facts of history, to preach no sermon, to point no moral, to adorn no tale, but to tell the simple historic truth. His sole ambition was to narrate things as they really were "wie es eigentlich gewesen". Truth and objectivity were Ranke's highest aims. In his view, history is not for entertainment or edification, but for instruction. ... He did not believe in the historian's province to point out divine providence in human history.
    • H. B. Adams, ‘Leopold von Ranke’, Papers Of The American Historical Association: Volume III (1889), pp. 104–105
  • That history became "scientific" in the third quarter of the nineteenth century was probably due as much to the influence of Ranke as to the influence of natural science.
    • Carl Becker, ‘Some Aspects of the Influence of Social Problems and Ideas Upon the Study and Writing of History’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 18, No. 5 (Mar., 1913), p. 657
  • [T]he history of German historical thought since Ranke's time has to a large extent been nothing but the spiritual and philosophical (weltanschauliche) debate about his legacy.
    • Walther Hofer, Geschichte zwischen Philosophie und Politik. Studien zur Problematik des modernen Geschichtsdenkens (1956), p. 47, quoted in Georg G. Iggers, ‘The Image of Ranke in American and German Historical Thought’, History and Theory, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1962), p. 37
  • Beyond question even Von Ranke, the leading exponent of colorless history, did not succeed in being wholly objective; much of his work was unconsciously written from the standpoint of the conservative reaction of his time in Prussia.
  • Ranke developed no further the implications of his theory than to ensure a reproduction of a living past, as perfect as with the sources at his disposal and the political instincts of his time it was possible to secure. ... [Ranke was] concrete, definite, searching for minute details, maintaining his own objectivity by insisting upon the subjectivity of the materials he handles.
    • J. T. Shotwell, ‘The Interpretation of History’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Jul., 1913), p. 703
  • Ranke did not stop at concrete description but attempted to pierce the deepest and most mysterious movements of life.
    • Heinrich von Sybel, ‘Gedachtnisrede auf Leopold von Ranke’, Historische Zeitschrift, LVI (1886), p. 463, quoted in Georg G. Iggers, ‘The Image of Ranke in American and German Historical Thought’, History and Theory, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1962), p. 29
  • [T]he chief criticism against Ranke and the Ranke school of “objective” and “scientific” history is its total unphilosophicalness. Far from being scientific, Ranke was profoundly biassed; we have seen that he observed God’s handiwork in all history; he made no attempt at formulating a genuine philosophy or psychology.
  • The lectures of Ranke, the most eminent of German historians, I could not follow. He had a habit of becoming so absorbed in his subject, as to slide down in his chair, hold his finger up toward the ceiling, and then, with his eye fastened on the tip of it, to go mumbling through a kind of rhapsody, which most of my German fellow-students confessed they could not understand. It was a comical sight: half a dozen students crowding around his desk, listening as priests might listen to the sibyl on her tripod, the other students being scattered through the room, in various stages of discouragement.

External links[edit]

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