The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Leopold von Ranke

Leopold von Ranke (December 21,1795- May 23,1886) was one of the greatest German historians of the 19th century, and is frequently considered the founder of "scientific" 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 actually was" (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist).

Beginning with his first book, the History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations from 1494 to 1514, Ranke used an unusually wide variety of sources for a historian of the age, including "memoirs, diaries, letters, 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.

At the core of his method, Ranke did not believe general theories could cut across time and space. Instead, he made statements about the time using primary source quotes. 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."

The laws in which history emerged were unknown to him, and he preferred to let the mystery be, instead focusing on what some term "mindless empiricism."

Major works

  • Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514 (1824, translated as History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations from 1494 to 1514)
  • 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, (1834-1836, The Roman Popes in the Last Four Centuries)
  • Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (1845-1847, translated as History of the Reformation in Germany)
  • Neun Bücher preussischer Geschichte (1847-1848, translated as Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg and History of Prussia, During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries)
  • Französische Geschichte, vornehmlich im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert (1852-1861, translated as Civil Wars and Monarchy in France, in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A History of France Principally During That Period)
  • Englische Geschichte, vornehmlich im sechzehnten und siebzehnten Jahrhundert (1859-1869, translated as A History of England Principally in the Seventeenth Century)
  • Die deutschen Mächte und der Fürstenbund (1871-1872, The German Powers and the Fürstenbund (League of Princes))
  • Ursprung und Beginn der Revolutionskriege 1791 und 1792 (1875, Origin and Beginning of the Revolutionary Wars 1791 and 1792)
  • Hardenberg und die Geschichte des preussischen Staates von 1793 bis 1813 (1877, Hardenberg and the History of the Prussian State from 1793 to 1813)

Ranke was also the grand-uncle of British poet Robert Graves.

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 17:58:45
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04