Skip to main content

Historiography Seminar 2: Ranke and 'Rankean' History

SEMINAR TWO: RANKE AND `RANKEAN’ HISTORY (after a lecture on `Ranke and the Idea of Empiricist History’)

The seminar has a dual focus, considering both Ranke’s relationship to his predecessors and some of the ways in which he was made into `the father of modern empirical history’ after his death. The further reading lists demonstrate several other approaches to Ranke, which your seminar group may choose to explore. These topics could also be explored in a short essay.


Selections from Ranke's more programmatic writings can be found in:

Von Ranke, L., The Secret of World History (ed. R. Wines, London, 1981)
Von Ranke, L., Theory and Practice of History (ed. G. G. Iggers & K. von Moltke, London, 1973)

Read particularly the sections on the distinction between history and philosophy and on history and politics; the Prefaces to the major works; the article on the Great Powers; and the critique of Guicciardini.

In addition there are multiple copies of Ranke's most important statements of approach in the Photocopy Collection in SLC. (Find these shelved under V for von Ranke - not under R.)

Brief extracts of Ranke’s writings are available online. The complete text of the six volumes of Ranke’s History of England, Principally in the Seventeenth Century is also available online at:

All of this will give you a sense of the scope, detail, and style of the Rankean approach.

Background Seminar Reading:

Bann, S., Romanticism and the Rise of History (New York, 1995), 3-29

Braw, J. D., `Vision as Revision: Ranke and the Beginning of Modern History’, History and Theory, 46:4 (2007), 45–60

Burke, P., `Ranke the Reactionary’, in G. G. Iggers & J. M. Powell (eds), Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse, 1990), 36-44 Fritzsche, P. Stranded in the Present (Cambridge MASS, 2004), ch. 2.

Green, A. & Troup, K. (eds), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-century History and Theory (Manchester, 1999), 1-11 (‘The Empiricists’)

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers in History (London, 2000), 256-263

Iggers, G. and Wang, Q. E., A Global History of Modern Historiography (Harlow, 2008), 69-82 History Writing’, Clio 36:1 (2006), 1-21

Smith, B., The Gender of History. Men, Women and Historical Practice (Cambridge MASS, 1998), ch.4

Warren, J., ‘The Rankean Tradition in British Historiography, 1840-1950’, in S. Berger, H. Feldner and K. Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice (London, 2003), 23-41

Questions for Seminar Preparation (may also be used as essay titles):

  1. Why did Ranke reject ‘philosophical’ history?
  2. How important is a historian’s background to understanding his/her work?
  3. Assess the view that `for Ranke the writing of history was an act of worship’.
  4. How significant was historicism to Ranke’s historical practice?

Further Reading on Ranke, his Work, and his Legacies:

Iggers, G. G., New Directions in European Historiography (London, 1985)

Kelley, D. R. (ed.), Versions of History from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (New Haven, 1991)

Krieger, L., ‘Elements of Early Historicism: Experience, Theory and History in Ranke’, History & Theory: Beiheift 14: Essays on Historicism (1976), 1-14

Krieger. L., Ranke: The Meaning of History (Chicago, 1977)

Lambert, P., ‘The Professionalization and Institutionalization of History’, in S. Berger, H. Feldner and K. Passmore (eds), Writing History: Theory and Practice (London, 2003), 42-60

Von Laue, T. H., Ranke: The Formative Years (Princeton, 1950) [contains Ranke’s ‘Dialogue on Politics’ and ‘The Great Powers’]

On Ranke’s Relationship to his Predecessors:

Gardiner, P. (ed.), Theories of History: Readings from Classical and Contemporary Sources (New York, 1959), pp 34-48, 58-73 (extracts from Hegel & Herder)

Iggers, G. G., ‘The Theoretical Foundations of German Historicism II: Leopold von Ranke’, in Iggers, The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present (Middleton, Conn., 1968)

Kelley, D. R., Faces of History: Historical Enquiry from Herodotus to Herder (New Haven, 1998), chs.9-10

Reill, P., The German Enlightenment and the Rise of Historicism (Berkeley, 1975)

Stern, F., The Varieties of History from Voltaire to the Present (New York, 1973), ch.3 (Ranke extracts at 55-62: ‘The Ideal of Universal History: Ranke’)

On Ranke’s Relationship to Sir Walter Scott’s History-writing:

Brown, D. D., Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination (London ,1979)

Curthoys, A. & Docker, J., Is History Fiction? (Sydney, 2005), ch. 3

Pittock, M., The Reception of Walter Scott in Europe (London, 2006)

Robertson, F., Legitimate Histories : Scott, Gothic, and the Authorities of Fiction (Oxford, 1994)

Scott, W., `Advertisement’ [Preface] to The Antiquary (in the Waverley Novels), (Edinburgh 1815) LION

Scott, W., Quentin Durward (Edinburgh, 1823) (Many copies in Library; full-text available in LION)

Chapter or article (and three book-) length studies of different aspects of Ranke’s work:

Ankersmit, F. R., ‘Historicism: An Attempt at Synthesis’, History and Theory 34:3 (October 1995), 143-61.

Bahners, P., ‘“A Place Among the English Classics”: Ranke's History of the Popes and its British Readers’, in B. Stuchtey & P. Wende (eds), British and German Historiography, 1750-1850: Traditions, Perceptions and Transfers (Oxford, 2000), 123-58

Fitzsimmons, M. A., ‘Ranke: History as Worship’, Review of Politics 42 (1980), 533-55

Gay, P., Style in History (London, 1975)

Geyl, P., ‘Ranke in the Light of the Catastrophe’, in Geyl, Debates with Historians (Groningen, 1955), 9-29

Gilbert, F., ‘Ranke as the Teacher of Jacob Burckhardt’, in G. G. Iggers & J. M. Powell (eds), Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse, 1990), 82-88

Gilbert, F., History: Politics or Culture? Reflections on Ranke and Burckhardt (Princeton, 1991), ch.2 (‘Ranke’s View of the task of Historical Scholarship’) & 3 (‘Ranke and the Meaning of History’)

Grafton, A., 'The Footnote from de Thou to Ranke', History & Theory 33 (1994), 53-76

Grafton, A., The Footnote: A Curious History (London, 1997)

Herkless, J. L., ‘Meinecke and the Ranke-Burckhardt Problem’, History and Theory, 9:3 (1970), 290-321

Iggers, G. G., 'The Image of Ranke in American and German Historical Thought’, History & Theory 2 (1962), 17-40

Liebeschutz, H., Ranke (Historical Association, London, 1954)

McClelland, C., ‘England as First Cousin: Ranke and Protestant-Germanic Conservatism’, in C. McClelland, The German Historians and England: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Views (Cambridge, 1971), 91-107

Meinecke, F., ‘Ranke and Burckhardt’, in H. Kohn (ed.), German History: Some New German Views (London, 1954), 141-56

Ramm, A., ‘Leopold von Ranke’, in J. Cannon (ed.), The Historian at Work (London, 1980), 36-54

Schulin, E., ‘Universal History and National History, Mainly in the Lectures of Leopold von Ranke’, in G. G. Iggers & J. M. Powell (eds), Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse, 1990), 70-81

Smith, B. G., `Gender and the Practices of Scientific History’, American Historical Review 100:4 (1995), 1150-1176

Vierhaus, R., ‘Historiography Between Science and Art’, in G. G. Iggers & J. M. Powell (eds), Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse, 1990), 61-69

White, H., ‘Ranke: Historical Realism as Comedy’, in White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, 1973), ch.4