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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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1. Renaissance and Reformation. The custom of
producing annalistic notes about the chief events in
Florence has been traced to the early part of the
twelfth century. At this time, lists of officers would
be kept, and, as they served to mark the chronology,
the principal happenings would be recorded under the
successive names. At the same time there emerged the
story that Florence had been founded by Caesar after
Fiesole had rebelled and been destroyed. Florence
could claim to have been “Roman” therefore, while
her rival, Fiesole, had been “anti-Roman.” At a time of


patriotic awakening and emergent political conscious-
ness, the municipality remembered its tradition or
created one for itself. Giovanni Villani (ca. 1273-1348)
produced a chronicle still medieval in many ways and
going back to a legendary epoch but rich in informa-
tion about recent times. It acquired a lasting popularity
and influence.

At the opening of the fifteenth century, the city was
in conflict with the Visconti of Milan, and was begin-
ning to conceive itself as defending democratic liberty
against a tyrant. Its citizens now turned from their
admiration of the Roman Empire, and from their for-
mer interpretation of history, though this latter had
been supported by the authority of Dante. They also
began to look for an origin earlier than the supposed
foundation by Caesar, and they discovered it in the
world of free city-states which had preceded the ex-
pansion of Rome. From this time, they construed their
whole history as a story of liberty and took to them-
selves the eulogies once bestowed on Athens, inter-
preting their political life in terms of the ancient Greek
city-state. Humanist scholars, no longer preferring the
contemplative life, became preachers of civic pride and
civic virtues. Leonardo Bruni, the influential writer,
who has been called “the first modern historian,” was
at the heart of this movement. And the revival of
historiography at the Renaissance is connected with
the development of the modern political consciousness.

The long task of recovering the thought and learning
of antiquity was coming now to a climax, and produc-
ing perhaps a general change in man's attitude to the
past. Its objective transcended that of the historian for
it sought not merely to recapture out of antiquarian
zeal but to reinstate for working purposes in a living
world all the higher aspects of a culture that had been
at its peak in classical times. For the new age, antiquity
was beginning to emerge as a world that had an iden-
tity of its own. A modern lay intelligentsia found in
ancient literature something that answered to its own
secular outlook; and the historical narrator began to
dispense with the more obvious machinery of the su-
pernatural—began, indeed, to envisage his task in
something of the ancient spirit. Under the stimulus of
Leonardo Bruni, and primarily in Florence, there
developed a humanist historiography which went too
far in its subservience to antiquity, breaking up the
continuities of narrative and theme by its “annalistic”
method, encouraging artifice by its restriction of vo-
cabulary, and allowing rhetorical affections to carry
it to a conventional kind of theatricality which pre-
vented either the proper portrayal of men or the gen-
uine interpretation of what had happened. The new
historiography performed a political service, however,
for its function in the first place had been partly to
celebrate the glories of Florence and partly to commu-
nicate the desired image of the city of the outside
world. And all this was a thing that any city-state might
covet, so that other governments in Italy, wishing to
produce the same result, employed humanists as official
historians for the purpose in the fifteenth century.
Indeed, between 1450 and the 1530's, Italian humanists
served as something like court historiographers to an
emperor in Germany and to kings in France, England,
Spain, Poland, and Hungary. One of the significant
features of the new historiography was the closeness
of its identification with the new kind of territorial state
that was emerging; and, since this relationship was to
endure, here was a significant moment in the develop-
ment of modern nationalist historiography. At the same
time there had been awakened an interest in the sheer
pastness of things past, a genuine sentiment for the
remnants that had happened to survive. While the ruins
of Rome were still being plundered to provide material
for builders there emerged a great fervor for “antiqui-
ties” which began to show itself in societies, museums,
and imposing publications. In a tremendous drive to
discover new manuscripts, further ancient historical
writings came to light, e.g., in 1455 the Agricola and
Germania of Tacitus, and in 1506 part of the same
writer's Annals. Better manuscripts were secured,
sometimes from Constantinople; and it became partic-
ularly important to have translations into Latin, a great
part of Polybius, for example, in 1473. The invention
of printing and the wider circulation of both ancient
and modern books meant that history henceforward
was to play a much more important part in the de-
velopment of political consciousness and the shaping
of public opinion. At the same time the greater speed
in intercommunications enabled scholarship to de-
velop on a broader international scale.

The whole movement came to its finest blossoming
in a number of cultivated men who in the early decades
of the sixteenth century talked about politics in
Florence and produced historical work of considerable
quality in the vernacular. The troubles of the city had
led to constitutional speculation and to debate about
both the present and the past, which brought history
and politics into a more intimate relationship with one
another. The French invasion of Italy in 1494, the
political downfall of the peninsula during the subse-
quent conflicts, and the defeat of Florentine republi-
canism in 1512 provoked serious thought about the
ups-and-downs of nations, and historians were stimu-
lated somewhat as Thucydides had been by the
Peloponnesian War. The influence of classical Greece
was now most apparent in the attempt to approach
both history and politics in a semi-scientific manner,
to meditate on the processes that take place in states,


and to produce political maxims for the man of action—
indeed to produce narratives that were tingling with
the practical man's concern for policy problems and
the work of decision-making. Now, more definitely
than before, the case for both reading and writing
history was based on its importance in the education
of a statesman.

Niccolò Machiavelli went further than others in his
belief that laws of political action could be elicited
from history and that, for any given contingency, the
ancient Romans were likely to have discovered the
right policy. Though his History of Florence in 1525
escaped some of the limitations of humanist histori-
ography, and in places showed a real ability to see
things in the large—to grasp connections between
events—it makes clear that his interest was not in
research or the establishment of facts.

Francesco Guicciardini had had a longer and more
successful career in politics, and insisted that Machi-
avelli was not sufficiently flexible in his attempts to
apply to modern situations the lessons drawn from the
past. In the last few years of his life both the tragedy
of Italy and his own disillusionments and disap-
pointments brought Guicciardini to a great confronta-
tion with the whole epoch, and his History of Italy
(from 1492 to 1534) is the most impressive Renaissance
achievement in this kind of literature. It is not limited
to Florence but deals with a complicated general
field—a system of interacting states. It set a standard
for sophisticated narrative in what we call political
history. It can almost be regarded as the beginning of
study of diplomatics. Perhaps it sees events a little too
much as the result of contrivance and intrigue on the
part of unscrupulous men. But Guicciardini has turned
out to be more scholarly, more interesting and authen-
tic in his historical methods, than was realized until
the mid-twentieth century.

In the north of Europe, a tremendous zeal for the
past was awakened, and the humanists had an impor-
tant part to play; but here the development started
from a lower cultural level than in Italy. Those who
were now stirred into some consciousness of history
tended to ask the old, universal “stock questions”—How
did nations begin, how did our own nation acquire its
name?—and there emerged the kind of spirit which
had been significant in Florence, the patriotism which,
as it turns to the past, hunts for things to commemorate.
The various countries liked to claim their origin from
the sons of Noah, and sometimes seemed unwilling to
leave a gap in the subsequent succession of generations.
There was a desire to go one better than the Greeks
and Romans in the matter of antiquity, and show that
one's ancestry could be traced through some leader
of the defeated Trojans. All this was particularly strong
in Germany and was accentuated there by the jeal-
ousies which the brilliant Italians of the Renaissance
had provoked; it was manifested also in the determi-
nation to assert, against the French, the German char-
acter of Alsace. The Germans thought to outdo the
Greeks and Romans, claiming an empire more ancient
still, and a prior cultural supremacy.

The fact that it is easy to exaggerate the modernity
of the sixteenth century is illustrated in the case of
England, where the infatuation for King Arthur
reached unprecedented heights and proved enduring.
The accession of the Tudors, the resulting glorification
of Wales, and the acceptance of Henry VII as being
of King Arthur's line—the naming of a Prince of Wales
after this monarch—helped to multiply the manifesta-
tions of the myth in pageantry, in social life, in
antiquarian speculation and in literature. And this was
a King Arthur who was supposed to have defeated the
Roman Empire, conquered most of Europe, and
acquired Norway, Iceland, and Greenland—the King
Arthur described in the twelfth century by Geoffrey
of Monmouth in a work that had not always been
credited even in the Middle Ages. In England the
antiquarian enthusiasts themselves could not forgive
the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil for his reserva-
tions on this subject; and it is remarkable to see how,
down to the end of the century, the more scholarly
historians (including William Camden) hesitated to
attack the prevailing myths. On the contrary, in the
work of Sir John Price in 1573, the skill and the knowl-
edge of the antiquarian operated powerfully in favor
of the myths which still kept their currency in the
seventeenth century. Eyes were fixed, therefore, on the
ancient Britons, and there were some people who said
that they saw no point in studying the Anglo-Saxons.
Some were prepared to insist that Christianity had
been brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea not
long after the Crucifixion. Before the end of the century
it was coming to be held that the English constitution,
the liberties of Englishmen, and the House of Commons
itself went back to the ancient Britons.

In the meantime, the Reformation had led to the
resurgence of religious preoccupations even in regions
where, during the Renaissance, historiography had
become secularized. The upheaval in the Church was
bound to give a stimulus to the study and writing of
history, and the emphasis now placed on the Bible—the
special importance which the Old Testament came to
have—resuscitated in the modern world some of those
things which historiography owed to the ancient
Hebrews. The challenge presented by Martin Luther
to the papacy and to other branches of ecclesiastical
government—indeed to the whole notion of authority
as hitherto understood in the Church—directed atten-


tion to the opinions held in earlier ages, the contro-
versies of the past, the precedents, the traditions of
fifteen hundred years. Such a debate could only lead
sooner or later to the development of ecclesiastical
history and to a closer analysis of actual official docu-
ments. Apart from this, there emerged also a need for
a history of the Reformation itself and the Protestant,
Johannes Sleidanus (1506-56), produced in Germany
in 1555 a documented study of the religious events
of the reign of the Emperor Charles V. He showed
in both his attitude and method the temperament of
a contemporary historian, not a mere polemical writer.
In 1563 John Foxe, greatly developing previous work,
produced what became famous as The Book of
—a study not merely of Protestant sufferings
(involving the use of bishops' registers), but the en-
globing of this within a framework of Church history
—the whole highly polemical, even dishonest in its
use of the sources.

The ecclesiastical issues of the Reformation were
dealt with in a more imposing manner through a co-
operative work directed by Matthias Flacius between
1559 and 1574—the famous Magdeburg Centuries, a
highly documented production, but crude in its parti-
sanship. The real answer to it from the Catholic side
appeared in twelve volumes of Ecclesiastical Annals
(1588-1607) by Cesare Baronius, a cardinal, who used
documents from the Vatican. Gradually these contro-
versies came to serve the cause of criticism, as each
party answered the arguments of the other, and each
came to realize that a vigilant enemy was ready to
expose its mistakes.

But the Reformation affected wider areas of histori-
ography. In England the “historical revisions” of the
sixteenth century produced a remarkable reaction
against Thomas Becket because he had sided with the
pope against his own country. It led to a still more
remarkable adulation of King John, because he was
held to have been victimized by a pope. On all sides,
Protestants were ready to suspect Catholic perversions
and they made a point of attacking the kind of history
that monkish chroniclers had produced. In England,
again, the desire to find a historical basis for the con-
ception of a national church gave a stimulus to Anglo-
Saxon studies, especially in Elizabeth's reign. The
attachment of Luther (and, still more, of Philipp
Melanchthon) to the general study of the past was to
have significant and enduring ecclesiastical effects in
Germany. Once again, the call for “universal history”
came from the side of religion, and this branch of
study—both stimulated and influenced by the reading
of the Old Testament—gained a firm foothold in the
German universities, ancient history forming an im-
portant part of the program. There was a revival of
the system of periodization according to the four
World-Empires—a system abandoned by the human-
ists, but accepted now by the Catholics, so that in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries men were able to
regard it as having been invented by Melanchthon's
friend, John Carion (1499-1537).

2. Historical Criticism in the Fifteenth and Six-
teenth Centuries.
In the humanist writing of fifteenth-
century Italy there seems to be something like a gen-
eral advance in historical criticism, so that amongst
the Italian cities there is less credulity about implaus-
ible “myths of origin” than one finds in the rest of
Europe. Italian humanists abroad—Polydore Vergil in
England, for example, as we have seen—showed a
certain distrust of such legends in other countries,
though it was no doubt more easy to deprecate the
cherished fables of another nation. While the natives
of the country concerned were inclined to attribute
the criticisms to the jealousy of the foreigner, it would
seem that at this extreme point the Italians had reached
a higher degree of critical awareness. On the other
hand, though there existed a fervor for ancient history,
the scholars of the Renaissance did not attempt to
reconstruct for themselves the narrative that had been
handed down from classical times. They believed—and,
in general they were right, as yet, in believing—that
they could not improve upon what a distant generation
had reported about itself. At this point in the develop-
ment—when, in any case, one tended to compile the
story of the past from previous narrators, whether
ancient historians or medieval chroniclers—there ex-
isted, in a harder form than we should accept, the
assumption that the older source was always the better
authority. Amongst other things, it was normally taken
for granted, and one finds it explicitly stated, that a
medieval source called for criticism while a classical
one did not. The reliability of Herodotus came to be
questioned, but even this was a further example of the
subservience to antiquity; for the doubts about this
writer were taken over from the scholarship of the
ancient Greeks, the resulting controversies becoming
a factor in the development of early modern criticism.

Flavio Biondo completed in 1453 a work chiefly on
Southern Europe since the decline of the Roman
Empire, which, owing to its disregard of the rhetorical
canons, failed to qualify as a piece of humanist litera-
ture, though it could be used as a quarry and was both
important and influential. It drew attention to the
medieval period as a whole and tried to vindicate it
in the face of current prejudices. It set out to present
the best of the source material, and then to produce
from this evidence an account of the period from about
410 to 1442 A.D. Biondo used not only chronicles but
documents—letters for example; and he was able to


keep closer to earth because he based himself on
the evidence that came earliest, though he lost a
point sometimes by dismissing a later tradition. In
other works on Roman topography and antiquities,
he contributed to the development of classical

In fifteenth-century Italy, however, there appeared
a kind of critical endeavor of which there had been
some traces in Ibn Khaldūn—a full-dress affair, exhila-
rating and clever—a case of calling up the troops and
marshalling all the arguments to dispose of a widely-
accepted legend. This kind of work brings us closer
to the genuine technical issues but it suggests—what
many other things confirm—that there is nothing like
violent partisanship for setting criticism alight and
driving it to ingenuity. The case is illustrated by the
famous work of Laurentius Valla who in 1440 set out
to prove that—as some had previously believed—the
Donation of Constantine had been a forgery. The work
appeared at a time when Valla was secretary to a king
who was at war with a pope. It was avowedly part
of a bitter publicistic campaign.

His treatise presents first of all a whole series of
arguments that might be said to rest on common sense
or ordinary experience—that no emperor would disin-
herit his children so shabbily, for example, and the
Roman Senate would never have agreed to the aliena-
tion of the western lands of the empire. Secondly, there
is a wide range of arguments to show that the Donation
cannot be squared with what is otherwise known of
the history of that time. Thirdly, Valla examines the
status of the document itself, the contradictions and
absurdities in the text, the barbarity of its Latin and
the mistakes in terminology. Bernardo Giustiniani,
whose career was spent in public service in Venice,
brought his practical knowledge of affairs to the criti-
cism of source-material even in early Venetian history,
showing, for example, what was militarily impossible,
and doing this in a manner that was remarkable at the
time. Over a century later, and at a date when the
massing of big guns was perhaps no longer necessary
for the purpose in France, L. V. de la Popelinière
produced with great humor and ingenuity a large-scale
attack on the legend that the Franks were descended
from the Trojans. He followed something like the pat-
tern of Valla: firstly, arguments from common sense
and from his own military experience; secondly, objec-
tions arising from the fact that the story could not be
squared with other things that were known about the
history of the relevant periods; and thirdly a destruc-
tive analysis of the supposed evidence for the belief.
More clearly than Valla, however, he dealt with a point
that is of some importance, if the critical task is to
be completed and the argument clinched. Granted that
the Trojan story was untrue, he made a point of en-
quiring how the legend could have arisen.

But, though the humanists did something to alter
the general outlook in Italy for a time, it cannot be
said that either Laurentius Valla or Bernardo Giustin-
iani or La Popelinière established a standard or brought
new methods into general currency. It cannot be
asserted that, now, at last, this much ground had been
gained for scholarship or science. As yet, at least, there
could be no organic story of the development of his-
torical technique, and the battles that had been won
for a moment would have to be fought over again in
the future. Even during the Renaissance, the attempt
of the writers in Northern Europe to answer the ques-
tions that preoccupied them—questions about the ori-
gins of nations, place-names, institutions, arts and
crafts, etc.—was often based on wild inferences from
flimsy evidence or from etymological speculations,
where it was not due to the easy acceptance of forger-
ies. It is perhaps curious that one of the most disastrous
and influential of literary forgeries—a compilation
associated with Annius of Viterbo, which was soon
detected in Italy, but almost dominated German
writing—should have been so closely associated with
the Renaissance.

It is possible that, in spite of the nascent criticism,
the weight of fabulous matter in the world was actually
increased in the sixteenth century. The great exception
in Germany is Beatus Rhenanus (1486-1547), who
travelled widely in search of inscriptions and antiqui-
ties, rejected the Annius forgery, and set himself to
work critically at the sources of early German history.
In this and in his further unfulfilled ambition for an
adequate treatment of German antiquities, he was a
follower of Flavio Biondo.

Amongst those who wrote “contemporary history”
Guicciardini has come to have a special interest be-
cause of what came to be learned later about his
sources and method. His working papers have shown
the wide range of his primary materials, and particu-
larly of the official documents, including archives of
the Council of Ten which he had taken into his posses-
sion a few years before. It has also been possible to
see how he worked over these papers, abridging and
copying, and then redrafting, until he had turned them
into narrative. It transpires that even a Ranke had been
unable to detect how much was behind this History
of Italy,
for sources have been found for one or two
speeches, as well as for statements and events, which
Ranke had accused Guicciardini of inventing. A proper
system of footnoting would have made the position
clear from the first.

A significant impulse was given to history on the
technical side by the work on Roman Law conducted


on the part of humanist writers, particularly in France.
The law that they studied threw light on the institu-
tions and conditions of the ancient world, and in order
to recover the exact meaning of the texts it was neces-
sary to examine many aspects of Roman life and activ-
ity, interpreting the legal terminology in the light of
the social arrangements that then existed. This led—as
in the case of Guillaume Budé—not merely to an
attempt to recover the realities of ordinary life in
ancient times but also to a study of the transition to
feudal times, an enquiry and then a controversy as to
the role of Roman Law in the transition to the medieval
order of things. At a much later date, as will be seen,
this interest in the feudal order of society passed to
England, where it had an important influence on his-

John Bodin produced in 1566 his Method for the Easy
Comprehension of History.
His ideas on criticism were
vague. He ratified Aristotle's view that authorities were
likely to be unreliable if they were either too ancient
or too recent; yet, when they clashed with one another,
he preferred the more recent, provided it supplied
effective proofs of its assertions. He thought it better,
where possible, to follow a writer who was interme-
diate, i.e., neither a hostile nor a friendly witness. He
considered geographical factors in history and said that
people who lived under extreme climates were prone
to vice; but he allowed also for the influence of the
heavenly bodies. In his chapter on chronology he gave
a lengthy proof that the world had had a beginning.
One of his ideas was to study the beginnings, the
flourishing, and the downfall of empires—comparing
the ancient with the modern and confronting the views
of philosophers with those of historians in order to get
a better grasp of universal history. Here we see that
modernism of the sixteenth century which is so often
still mixed with medievalism.

3. Scholarship, 1600-1750. In the seventeenth cen-
tury, historiography comes to be more scholarly, more
technical, and this is due not only to the ecclesiastics
but also to the lawyers who deal with constitutional
rights and historical precedents, with charters, laws,
and other documents. In England the common lawyers,
with their theory of the “immemorial constitution” and
their interpretation of Magna Carta, provided an his-
torical basis for the previous hit ideology next hit of the antiroyalists, and
the controversy brought out great masses of documen-
tary material. Sir Henry Spelman, however, (under the
influence of continental scholarship) called attention
to the feudal system and the danger of arguing from
a past that was assumed to have been like the present;
and his ideas helped to produce after 1660 an impor-
tant reaction against lawyers' history. Particular em-
phasis was now placed on the fact that words still in
currency might, when used in a medieval text, carry
a different meaning, and that a document like Magna
Carta must be interpreted with reference to the kind
of society from which it had emanated. The revolution
of 1688, however, swept away for a century these ideas
which were tending to a more historical view. They
were the kind of ideas that emerge but drop out again,
so that in the history of historiography they have to
be repeatedly rediscovered, as well as being repeatedly
brought home at different levels.

The Reformation controversy, which in the Mag-
deburg Centuries
and in Baronius had covered vast
ranges of Church history, produced more permanently
interesting results when in 1619 there appeared the
famous history of the Council of Trent by Paolo Sarpi.
Working as a pioneer in a fairly contemporary field,
Sarpi could use knowledge that he had acquired from
men who had been present at the Council, as well as
archival sources, private correspondence, etc. His
antipapal narrative was answered in 1656 by Sforza
Pallavicino who had secured access to great quantities
of material in Rome. The transition to a more scholarly
type of historiography, however, goes back to a co-
operative endeavor, particularly amongst the Jesuits—
the Acta Sanctorum (the first volumes appeared in
1643) associated with John Bolland and then with the
famous Daniel Papebroch. Almost contemporary with
this was the attempt of the Congregation of Saint Maur
to recover for the Benedictine order the distinction that
it had had in medieval historiography. From 1668 the
Acts of the Saints of the Benedictine Order began to
appear, and from 1703 the Annals of the Benedictine
—works in which Jean Mabillon played a leading
part. It was to be of the greatest importance for schol-
arship that the men concerned in these enterprises had
no doubts about their religion—they believed that they
could pursue their enquiries and criticisms without any
fear that the result would be detrimental to the faith.

Daniel Papebrochin found himself in the position
of having to assert the important truth that the oldest
authority might not necessarily be the best—that the
quality of the source had to be considered. On the other
hand, an error of his provoked Dom Jean Mabillon
to defend his order in a treatise of 1681—itself a mo-
mentous demonstration of the fact that matters relating
to distant centuries could be established with some-
thing like moral certainty—without dependence on
mere “reporting.” He dealt with old charters which
might still be essential as evidence for proprietary
rights or constitutional claims or monastic privileges,
but were easy to forge, so that the lawyers had long
been interested in discovering how to test their
authenticity. He showed how these documents could
be properly assessed through detective work on the


parchment, the writing materials, the form of the seals,
the technical terms employed, the kind of Latin used;
he investigated also the way of describing dignitaries,
of stating dates, of introducing and concluding the
main text. In other words, he is the real founder of
the auxiliary science of diplomacy. Many of his criteria
would not have been feasible if a great deal of knowl-
edge had not been accumulated about the history and
geographical distribution of materials, formulas, lan-
guage peculiarities, and so forth. In this sense there
was a certain analogy with the work of the archaeolo-
gists on nonliterary material, and Mabillon's technique
could have been established only after many other
matters had been settled.

The period from 1660 to 1720 has been described
as the grand age of scholarly research, and the “second
Alexandrian period of scholarship.” At a time when
there was also great interest in the assembly of speci-
mens in the natural sciences, the collection and study
of the actual remains of the past—archaeological sur-
vivals, inscriptions, coins, etc.—had become large-
scale. The general study of these “antiquities” led to
important developments in what historians call the
“auxiliary sciences,” but it still stood apart from the
work of the ordinary writers and narrators. In a similar
way, and partly through cooperative enterprise, there
occurred in this period massive publications of docu-
ments—more than could be properly digested as yet
into the narrative-writing, though sometimes vast
quantities would be shovelled into the rambling texts
that were now being produced.

In the realm of ancient history an important crisis
had arisen. Laurentius Valla had expressed doubts about
Livy, and in 1685 Jakob Perizonius challenged the
reliability of the sources of early Roman history. There
followed a period that is associated with “historical
Pyrrhonism,” that is to say, with skepticism about the
very possibility of history. These doubts were not re-
moved and Levesque de Pouilly made a more trenchant
attack in 1722, while Louis de Beaufort, in his Disser-
tation sur l'incertitude des cinq premiers siècles de
l'histoire romaine
(1733 and 1750), declared that, down
to the third century B.C., the history of Rome had been
built up out of material that was really legendary. The
controversies over this issue reveal the fact that, in this
field, Western Europe did not yet greatly differ from
China in its criteria. It relied on previous historians
who had been contemporary or nearly contemporary,
unless there seemed special cause for distrust; and men
argued that a Livy would not have survived if he had
not secured acceptance in his own day, when people
were better equipped to judge him (and he better
equipped to judge his own sources) than modern
scholars could be. One even meets the assertion that
if two ancient historians provided different versions of
a story, it was preferable to construct a narrative which
would embrace both; also, that for a great simple event
like the Flood, a mere tradition might be a sufficient
authority, provided it were old enough, and not
contradicted by known facts, and not the kind of
thing that somebody might have had an interest in in-

Owing to the limitations of existing resources, the
insistence on criteria more strict than these would have
left no alternative but skepticism and would have
led—indeed, sometimes did actually lead—to the feel-
ing that history was impossible. The disciples of the
natural sciences, led by Descartes, sometimes doubted
the bases of historical knowledge. Some of the students
of “antiquities” declared on the other hand that it was
only the nonliterary sources that could be trusted.

For the rest, religious and political partisanship was
often the powerful motor behind a new critical en-
deavor. In the early eighteenth century a circle of
scholars in England made an interesting and significant
attempt to rescue ecclesiastical history from the
Protestant and nationalistic prejudices which had con-
stricted it down to the time of Bishop Burnet's His-
tory of the Reformation
which began to appear in
1679. This movement was connected, however, with
a High Church and nonjuring party, that was unable
to reconcile itself with the Revolution of 1688. Voltaire
and his successors did some service by raising the
issue—by talking about criticism—but their own con-
stricted outlook would have prevented their solving
the problem even if they had had the patience to carry
out the detailed work that was required. Like the
Protestants of the sixteenth century they thought that
the proper target for the critic was ecclesiastical tradi-
tion and that it was sufficient to reverse what the
Catholics had said. And, as in the case of the Protes-
tants, the procedure was sometimes right, but it was
capable of carrying them further than ever from the
truth. Their determination to see history as the transi-
tion from savagery to culture and to condemn the past
in the light of the present, makes it not improper to
describe them as in a certain sense “unhistorical.” Yet
they did a great service to historiography by the kind
of questions they asked, by their determination to give
the past a kind of structure, and by their attempts to
draw laws from historical data. Voltaire in his Age of
Louis XIV
(1751) introduced a wider conception of
general history, to include art, learning, science, and
many varied aspects of life. In his Essai sur les moeurs
(1754) he rose above the older kind of compiling and
used reasoning and thought to give meaning to a uni-
versal history that was conceived in the same generous
manner. The elimination of the supernatural factor was


used to clear the way for deeper mundane reflections
about the processes of time.

4. The Impact of New Ideas. In the sixteenth cen-
tury, the upholders of the “moderns” against the “an-
cients” claimed for the benefit of their side the com-
pass, gunpowder, and printing, as though these were
recent Western achievements. Giordano Bruno saw the
“moderns” enjoying the advantage of the astronomical
observations of ancient Greece, together with all that
had been recorded since, and concluded that the
Greeks really had belonged to the childhood of the
world. When towards the end of the seventeenth cen-
tury, the feud of “ancients” and “moderns” broke out
again, those who argued that the literature of Louis
XIV's reign excelled that of antiquity, still did not
necessarily believe in the idea of progress, for some
of them thought it possible that a relapse would take
place sooner or later.

It was perhaps more important that the victory of
the “scientific revolution,” the achievement of Sir Isaac
Newton and the overthrow of Aristotelian physics
destroyed the authority of both the Middle Ages and
classical antiquity. Technical advances and the per-
ception that society was ceasing to be static—also the
reports of travellers about men in a more primitive
state—tended to supersede the picture of an ideal
world long ago, and the belief that in society there
was a natural tendency to decline. Gradually men
carried their conclusions beyond their observations, and
swallowed some of the misgivings that they had at
times; and, as theorists and manufacturers of broad
historical surveys, they would advance ideas of general
and indefinite progress. In a sense just as the notion
that the Jews were God's “chosen people” became
transmuted, and the English themselves claimed the
benefit of it, so the Jewish belief that history was based
on “the Promise” became in a certain sense secularized.
In other words, the transition to the idea of progress
was assisted by faith and a forward-looking spirit. The
Greeks had been able to conceive of progress from
primitive conditions up to a certain point. The early
Christians had come near it when they saw both the
Old Testament and Greek philosophy as a “prepara-
tion” for the Gospel. Henceforward the idea helped
to provide the structure for a new world view.

History was bound in the long run to be greatly in-
fluenced by this idea of progress; for it was no longer a
case of one generation succeeding another on the same
virtually unchanging stage, countries merely having
their ups-and-downs—all the centuries still form-
ing only a rope of sand. Here was something which
made it possible to give shape and structure to the
course of ages. In a way it contributed a meaning to
history, and gave point to the temporal succession,
making change more than kaleidoscopic, and turning
time itself into a generative thing. In spite of a certain
pessimism about human beings in the eighteenth cen-
tury, it gradually came to appear that world-history
had something like an objective—one which lay within
history itself. Paradoxically, a world that now began
to turn its eyes to the future rather than the past did
not desert the study of what had gone before, but
became more interested in history than ever, as though
the subject had acquired a new relevance. Men became
exceptionally interested in lengthy surveys—in study-
ing the way in which mankind, from a primitive be-
ginning had come to its present civilized state.

In 1681 Bishop Bossuet had produced his Discourse
on Universal History,
which followed Saint Augustine
rather than the cruder views of Eusebius and Orosius,
while avoiding the danger that the conflict between
good and evil might be interpreted as a conflict be-
tween religious and secular organizations in the world.
He saw the divine ends often achieved through identi-
fiable secondary causes, the turns of the story being
repeatedly decided by the fact that men and nations
are what they are. God achieves his objects often by
the control of the human heart or by just leaving men
to their passions; the key to human history is L'esprit
des hommes,
though God has something to do with
the character of this esprit. It was easy to eliminate
the last stage of this argument, to get rid of the super-
natural and move to the Voltairean view that history
depends on the spirit of men.

The universal histories of the eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries followed the pattern of the Chris-
tian ones in the sense that they were intended to ex-
plain the meaning of things and to show an analogy
to the Providential plan, a purposeful history-making
that goes on over men's heads. Even the pattern of
the book of Genesis leaves its mark on these works,
though the chapter on the Creation comes now to be
replaced by a scientific account of the globe itself.
Instead of theologies of history, we now have works
which, from the time of Voltaire, call themselves
“philosophies of history.” They brought into their sur-
vey the whole social and cultural history of the world,
not concentrating on politics, not confining themselves
to courts and kings. They extended the horizon of the
historians, including India and China in their survey
of world-history, and thinking it a feather in their cap
when they could add Tibet. They begin with Voltaire
and then, through Herder, Condorcet, et al., run in
a series which culminates in Hegel. When “academic
history” emerged, it took up arms against such philos-
ophers of history, at least until the time of Ranke,
because they inferred so much of their generalizing
from their theories about life, instead of allowing it


to emerge more slowly from careful researches. Yet
even Ranke said repeatedly that his ultimate object
was “universal history.”

In 1725, however, Giambattista Vico published his
Scienza nuova, and in certain respects he represents
a reaction against the tendencies of his age. He set
out to vindicate historical knowledge, in a world that
had doubts about it; and he asserted that man can know
history—events and institutions or mental achieve-
ments—for the simple reason that one can know the
things that one actually makes. Only God (not the
scientist) can know Nature with equal intimacy—know
it as the creator of it. While believing in Providence,
he identified its influence with the workings of history,
and regarded it as securing its objects through human
beings, using even their passions to serve its purposes.
Contemplating the whole development of civilization,
he divided the story into three stages, representing
respectively the ages of gods, heroes, and men—
themselves corresponding to the mental development
of the human race, from feeling to imagination, and
then to thought. He differed from the eighteenth cen-
tury in general in that he was so sympathetically pre-
occupied to recover the mood, the notions, and the
animating forces of primitive man, in whom he saw
wisdom of a poetic kind. Early myths and legends were
not merely fictions to him, but embodiments of a kind
of truth. He traced Homer back to folk-poetry and
regarded the leading “Legislators” of early history as
mythical, for he conceived of law as having rather a
spontaneous origin, emerging out of society as a whole.
He is a precursor of modern historicism, yet he does
not seem to have influenced the eighteenth century,
and, though he was rediscovered in the nineteenth, the
influence attributed to him during the romantic period
may rather have been due to Herder. In fact, the
twentieth century may have found more in him than
did any preceding age.

Montesquieu influenced historians, though he never
came to grips with primary sources except when he
studied Merovingian Gaul. In his Considérations sur
les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur
(1738) he broached the questions which have
most engaged the minds of historians for nearly two
thousand years, but he intended only to ponder on the
knowledge that had long been current, and behind all
other factors he imputed the real cause to the fact that
Rome had extended too rapidly and too much, while
he assigned great importance in history to L'esprit gén
In his L'esprit des lois (1748) he became interest-
ing to historians because he applied the comparative
method, and sought to explain causation in the histori-
cal realm, showing the influence of climate and other
physical conditions, as well as the importance of the
economic factor. For the rest, his influence also rein-
forced that of Voltaire (see above) whose main histori-
cal contribution takes place in the 1750's.

Two writers of history were important for the influ-
ence that they had in the development of a more
organic conception of the whole subject. Johann
Joachim Winckelmann, in his Geschichte der Kunst des
(1764, History of Ancient Art), was unhis-
torical in that he treated one Greek standard of beauty
as absolute, and saw development too schematically;
but he broke away from the practice of treating litera-
ture and the arts by the study of individuals or separate
schools, and set out to achieve a genuine history—
including the things which happen over the heads of
individuals and are not consciously willed—the whole
being related to the entire life and culture of the
Greeks, to the spirit of a people, and even to climatic
and economic conditions. Justin Möser, in his
Osnabrückische Geschichte (History of Osnabrück), in
1768 was concerned with a small territorial unit, but
was distinguished in the period of the Aufklärung by
his attitude to the Middle Ages—an admiration without
romantic sentiment. He used original sources and
brought an intensely practical mind to the analysis of
them. Above all, in a constitutional and administrative
history, he found a place for all the needs of a people,
including geographical, economic and social factors,
working these into connection with one another.

Johann Gottfried von Herder, the effective founder
of the philosophy of history in Germany, is in some
respects analogous to Vico, and stands as partly the
product of eighteenth-century rationalism, partly a
pioneer in the reaction against it. He had an undoubted
influence on practicing historians and is one of the
people who, through their interest in the Bible, in
Homer, and in earlier states of society as presented
in Ossian, learned to understand a little more about
the “historical sense”—the gift of “feeling” oneself into
the past—the thing the philosophes had lacked. He saw
nations and ages as organic unities, in which all things
were fused into something like a unique “personality”
by the governing influence of a spirit—morals, laws,
and artistic production so interrelated in a given cul-
ture that they could not be transplanted from one
nation to another. They all sprang from their own
central spiritual source, which was unlike anything else
in the world, and all required to be judged in their
own context. To a great degree it was through Herder
that the romantic movement became so influential
amongst historians.

In many respects the influence of the romantic
movement in Europe in the late eighteenth century
and the first half of the nineteenth came to be regarded
as unfortunate. This is illustrated in some of the extrav-


agances of “romantic nationalism,” including the ex-
cessive adoration of the primitive culture of one's own
people. In some respects the ideas of the romantic
movement were beneficial, however, and this has re-
mained as a final deposit, becoming a constituent part
of the historical outlook. This was the case with that
particular aspect of the revolt against the philosophes
which involved the rejection of the policy of treating
previous generations as though they were only links
in a chain leading to the present day. History was only
too easy if one seized on what a bygone age had
contributed to one's own time, and assessed its ideas
by their analogy with those of the present, or judged
personalities by the standards of a later period. The
romantic movement showed the importance of being
interested in the past for its own sake, seeing things
or people or ideas in their own context, and even
judging men in terms of their own age. Realizing that
for each generation life has its aspect as an end in itself,
exactly in the way that it has for those living today,
the historian contributes something of himself to
achieve understanding—the past having one claim on
us, and one only: namely the right to be understood.
The sympathetic imagination plays its part in the effort
of understanding; and, in a sense, this means that the
historian should really be drawn to the past and deeply
interested in it—not simply anxious to use it, not
merely concerned with it as it throws light on the
present day. Something of all this was brought to its
climax in Leopold von Ranke's famous dictum: that
all generations are immediate to God. Even this had
its dangers, for the romantic historians sometimes ex-
cused too many things on the ground that they had
been tolerated in a given period; and it would have
been better if they had learned that history (particu-
larly their kind of history) had the function of explain-
ing rather than either judging or exonerating. Also,
though the romantic historian loved detail and sought
a concrete visualization of the past, something in his
sentimental equipment seems to have made him soft,
where he ought to have been hard, in historical criti-

5. New Developments in Criticism. Even in the
eighteenth century the effects of criticism might be
limited if the work was governed by the concealed
assumption that only the evidence of the “other
party”—now, perhaps, the Catholic, now the Tory,
now the foreigner—called for the critical endeavor.
And this limitation could be overcome only as the
passion for historical understanding became all-
consuming—a thing which was happening in the
eighteenth century, and still more in the nineteenth,
as this branch of scholarship became more autonomous.
Even today it is always possible for a man's view of
the past to be distorted through his prejudices in re-
spect of the present. On the other hand, in the middle
of the eighteenth century the world still needed in any
case a form of criticism that went further than a blind
dependence on a witness or an early historian who was
deemed reliable, or an equally blind rejection of one
who was regarded as unsafe. This would be a “positive”
form of criticism, constructive (and not merely de-
structive) in its results, like the kind which had enabled
Mabillon to show that certain things can in fact be
established with moral certainty. It might also be a
creative kind of criticism, bringing the historian to
something new, something not contained in the sources
themselves. In this respect historiography made a great
stride in the eighteenth century.

At this point, the study of the ancient world and
even biblical scholarship made a remarkable contri-
bution to the development of history; for, owing to
the priority of these branches of study since the
Renaissance, owing to the amount of ingenuity which
they devoted to a limited number of sources, and owing
to the importance attached to the results, these fields
had made the greatest technical advances. A point of
particular importance in modern historiography can
be best illustrated perhaps by work that was done on
the earliest books of the Bible. In 1685 a French writer,
Richard Simon, picked up the problem, saying that he
was only continuing a work of criticism already begun
by the Fathers of the Church. He held that Moses—still
regarded as the author of the Pentateuch—must have
used detailed chronicles of an earlier date. In the mid-
dle of the eighteenth century, Jean Astruc claimed that
one could identify some of these sources, particularly
the main two which were distinguished by their differ-
ent ways of naming the deity. He showed further that
when these were disentangled—the patches and frag-
ments of each extracted from the present text and
properly arranged—they formed a better narrative
than Genesis, where the interweavings have produced
repetitions, contradictions and passages that appear in
the wrong order. The result was a pattern of what
could be achieved by getting behind a piece of histori-
cal writing, detecting the earlier sources that had been
used, and then even reconstituting them after they had
been lost. It was to become an important matter that
the historian should discover “the source of the source.”

In Göttingen, where a similar analysis of Genesis was
produced, a great development was made in historical
study in the later decades of the eighteenth century,
so that the University acquired a reputation in this field
which lasted through the early decades of the nine-
teenth century. Here were created the first seminar
and the first learned journal in the subject, and much
attention was given to the auxiliary sciences, such as


diplomatics and numismatics. Here Professor August
L. von Schlözer transported the various techniques of
the classical and biblical scholars into the medieval
field in his edition of the Russian “Chronicle of Nestor,”
for which he, too, reconstituted a lost source. And here
men first dreamed of what was to be the Monumenta
Germaniae historica
(a vast critical edition of sources,
discussed below), besides carrying the development of
historiography to the point from which Ranke began.
It was virtually the birth of “academic history,” for
the University was able to improve its standards, and
hand them down in a teaching tradition, so that hence-
forward there could be a continuity of development.
Rejecting some things from the philosophes but ac-
cepting others, choosing sometimes rather the princi-
ples that were associated with the romantic movement,
but insisting at the same time on scholarship, they
brought the “antiquarians” and the narrators or gener-
alizers closer together for the final synthesis, a synthesis
more adequately achieved for the time being, however,
in the work of Edward Gibbon.

Gibbon found a magnificent theme in The Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire
(6 vols., 1766-88) and
his work is the greatest monument of eighteenth-
century historiography. He showed great enterprise in
dealing with a thousand years of Byzantine history after
the downfall of the empire in the West, though this
later section of the work, running to 1453, shows his
hand less sure and his command of the sources less firm.
He distinguished himself by combining some of the
virtues of the Enlightenment with the assiduity of the
érudits; and he mastered the original historians and
primary sources of the classical period, though it was
noted at the time in Germany that he was not quite
up to the stricter standards of criticism which were
becoming current. Otherwise the work made maximum
use of the resources then available, and it provided
(perhaps in a more provocative manner than its author
really intended) an interesting attempt to deal on a
considerable scale with the rise of Christianity from
the point of view of the profane historian. Standing
as an end in itself it ranks as a masterpiece, but it lacks
that sense of the importance of, e.g., economic factors,
which some writers were beginning to have, and it was
not calculated to influence the course of things so much
as were certain Scottish historians of the time, who
were moving to the wider view.

A further achievement, stimulated this time by clas-
sical scholarship, is illustrated by the “Prolegomena ad
Homerum” in an edition of the Iliad published in
1794-95 by Friedrich August Wolf, who was himself
not without antecedents and was even accused of
plagiarism. He traced the development of the Homeric
poem back to sources no longer extant, and declared
that the epics were a later construction, compounded
out of heroic songs and primitive folk-poetry. This field
of scholarship became particularly relevant because the
historian learned how light could be extracted even
from legendary material, even from scraps and sur-
vivals once rejected as simply untrue.

Barthold Georg Niebuhr, in his Römische Geschichte
(which first appeared in 1811) was responsible for the
transmission of these techniques to the ordinary field
of history; he applied the method to the early part
of Livy's History of Rome, the unreliability of which
had created so much uneasiness at the beginning of
the century. Niebuhr began with the assumption that
the early part of Livy had ultimately arisen out of
primitive nationalist poetry. As a romanticist, he was
interested in origins, myths, and folk-art—anxious not
to wipe out this material as merely untruthful, but to
do detective-work on it and use it as evidence. He
knew how to distinguish the different kinds of source—
the original from the secondhand, the newer from the
older—but also how to compare societies that were
similar in pattern though distant from one another in
time and place. He used his romantic sympathy to give
him a grasp of the relations between early Roman
society and the North Friesland agrarian life which he
knew at firsthand. Neither his results nor Wolf's would
be accepted today, and the former himself revised so
many of his conclusions that his second edition was
almost a different book. Niebuhr is important because
he transplanted into historiography a dynamic contri-
bution to the “positive” type of criticism.

In Germany the awakened spirit of nationality, the
pride in an imperial tradition and the romantic love
of the Middle Ages reinforced the demand of various
Göttingen professors for a critical edition of the sources
of German medieval history. In 1819 there was founded
the society which inaugurated the Monumenta
Germaniae historica;
all the auxiliary sciences were
invoked to locate the original texts, to discover the
best traditions, to follow the fate of the various manu-
scripts, to test the genuineness and value of the sources,
to examine their relationship with other sources, to
trace earlier documents that had been embodied in
later ones, and to discover where a writer had contrib-
uted original matter. Until this time the French and
Italians had been ahead of the Germans in producing
these critical editions of their national sources. Gibbon
had called for the publication of the chroniclers of
medieval England, but it was not until 1863 that
William Stubbs began his great work on the Rolls

In 1824, Ranke produced his first book—the
Geschichten der Romantischen und Germanischen
Volkes von 1494 bis 1535,
and appended to it an essay


which was later regarded as a landmark in the history
of criticism. He was anxious that the new methods in
ancient history—translated into the medieval realm by
one of his teachers, G. A. H. Stenzel—should be intro-
duced into the modern field, and he exposed the uncer-
tainty of the ground on which modern history had
hitherto been largely based. Of late modern history had
been in the hands of men like Robertson and Roscoe,
Coxe and Sismondi, good easy men whose merit con-
sisted chiefly in making things more accessible which
were quite well known already. In a criticism of
Guicciardini which in some respects later proved to
have been unfair, Ranke at least insisted that the
writers of “histories of their own times” could no
longer be regarded as first-class sources. The insuffi-
ciencies of “memoirs” in particular were now widely

4. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. In the
long previous history of the subject, nothing had
equalled the surge of historiography in the nineteenth
century, and the accompanying leap of Western
Europe into historical consciousness. This has some-
times been attributed to the reaction against the
French Revolution, which had represented an un-
usually defiant break with the past. In the period after
1800 the world was in a position to remember chiefly
the atrocities and failures of the Revolution, and its
culmination in dictatorship and war. It was as though
the human race had gone through a tremendous new
experience, and even in the political realm one had
learned the danger of flying in the face of history.
Edmund Burke had been the chief representative of
this point of view. It is clear that his particular fusion
of politics and history and his views about tradition—
about maintaining the continuity between past and
present—had existed before 1789, but it was through
his opposition to the French Revolution that he became
an important European influence.

But, visible also before 1789, the romantic movement
in general literature had its part in the story—particu-
larly that side of the movement which hankered after
the past and ran something of man's emotional life into
the sympathetic appreciation of bygone ages, now
studied for their own sake. Furthermore, if the philoso-
movement had been unhistorical, particularly in
its way of judging early periods by the standards of
the present and seeing them only as the stepping-stones
to the present, it had made a great contribution to the
understanding and analysis of the whole course of
general history, including man's cultural development.
In spite of a certain reaction against the thought of
Enlightenment, which was regarded as responsible for
the evils of the French Revolution, it proved possible
for students to combine the best of the romantic move
ment with the best of the philosophes; and, as the
nineteenth century proceeded, more of the thought of
these latter re-entered historiography. It was as though
the philosophes had been right in many of their
hunches, but had been deficient in the researches nec-
essary for working them out.

Amongst the factors which came together and gave
a tremendous impetus to historiography, was that
course of technical development in scholarship which
had led to the emergence of “academic history” in
Göttingen. In the 1820's this achieves more definite
self-consciousness as Ranke emerges, and the Monu-
menta Germaniae historica
is inaugurated. Great im-
portance must be attached also to the fact that, in a
number of countries, a wide range of population had
come to be concerned with politics, and therefore with
issues of a historical nature.

It might almost be said that, if the present day is
under the dominion of science and technology, it was
really history that held the presidency in the nineteenth
century. This was a period of remarkable progress in
the subject itself; the world has still to learn whether
the tendencies of the twentieth century will turn out
to have been equally beneficial to history, regarded
as a sheer study of the past—a study very much at
the mercy of the winds that play upon it. In the early
decades of the nineteenth century, Hegel is a demon-
stration of the way in which philosophy itself had come
to crown its endeavor with a survey of the universe
in its historical dimension. The theologians now be-
came engrossed in history, and a great feature of their
work was to be “the quest for the historical Jesus.”

Already in the eighteenth century the natural scien-
tists had become interested in the history of animal
species, of the earth itself and of the solar system. Now,
however, the interest in the time-process is heightened
—the great scientific idea of the nineteenth century is
that of evolution; and even before Charles Darwin had
produced the Origin of Species, the notion of develop-
ment was coming to be important in various fields of
thought and scholarship. It may have seemed natural
that history should provide an intellectual basis for a
new kind of conservatism in politics after the French
Revolutionary period, but in the 1830's a new kind
of liberalism emerged in Mazzini against a background
of schematized general history. In the 1840's, Karl
Marx was developing a doctrine of revolution and a
general outlook on life which were based on a study
and interpretation of history. Henceforward, we meet
the paradoxical truth that, in the world of politics, it
was the revolutionaries who most had the mania for
history, and the determination to make use of history.

The development in historiography, and the wider
emergence of the historical consciousness, were most


remarkable of all in Germany, which led the technical
advance in scholarship, as well as the development in
the theory of the subject. Largely through its historical
achievements, that country marched forward to a gen-
eral cultural leadership. In the early decades of the
century Göttingen enjoyed international distinction as
a school for historians, where George Bancroft and
John L. Motley, for example, went for training. Initially
through the work of Protestant writers, the German
Middle Ages were rediscovered and the epic of the
Holy Roman Empire—the reminder that the country
had had its glories in the past—assisted that awakening
of national feeling which had been produced in the
War of Liberation against Napoleon. But a better un-
derstanding of the work of the medieval Church stim-
ulated the German Catholics in their turn, and helped
to produce an intellectual Renaissance amongst them.
In Europe as a whole, from this time, the interest in
history played an important part in the development
of the idea of nationality. Countries acquired a pride
in the past, an affection for the primitive stages of their
own culture, a veneration for their traditional lan-
guages, and a better awareness of the territory which
had once been theirs but had been lost at one time
or another. Perhaps to an unreasonable degree, history—
now more closely connected with the life of men and
states—was used to provide the basis for political

But Germany also had Ranke, whose stature and
influence would in any case have given her the primacy
in the historical field. He developed along with the
nineteenth century itself, but at the same time he was
the pioneer who planned and led much of the develop-
ment. An important stage in the evolution of his man-
uscript work was his use of the famous relazioni—the
long descriptive accounts produced by Venetian am-
bassadors after their period of residence abroad. This
procedure still had its limitations, and it was still a
case of using the finished pieces produced by what were
almost “contemporary historians.” Also it involved the
employment of diplomatic documents for the recovery
of the internal history of various countries. Soon Ranke
came to the conclusion that the whole of modern
history needed to be torn to pieces and reassembled
with the help of all available manuscript sources. He
held a privileged position and was able to secure early
access to archival sources at a time when the scholar
who had the first glimpse of the official documents
could be certain of rich returns. His famous seminar
helped the development of research on the new
methods and the establishment of recognized standards
and techniques.

The opening of government archives to scholars, first
partially in the 1830's, and then on a more generous
scale in the 1860's, came as the crown of the whole
development, providing it with its most essential in-
strument, and enabling men to feel that history had
now come into its own. Its importance lay not merely
in the fact that things were now revealed which gov-
ernments had hitherto kept hidden, or even the fact
that vast ranges of documents now available had been
produced by men who could not have dreamed that
their productions would ever be exposed to the outside
world. Most significant of all was the fact that, now,
more than ever before, the historian could base himself
on something that was not mere “reporting,” whether
on the part of contemporary historians or memoir-
writers, or Venetian ambassadors in their relazioni.
Henceforward he could study the papers in which (and
by means of which) the business of government had
actually been transacted. To a great degree he could
study official papers in their continuity and, following
events day by day, could reconstruct the framework
of an entire narrative.

The new history, arising from the archives in various
European capitals, concentrated itself largely on the
work of government and tended to see events from
the point of view of government. Political history was
now triumphant, and, possibly because diplomatic
documents were so accessible, so nicely arranged and
so easy to use—so capable moreover of presenting the
reader with their own story, in all its continuity—there
was an emphasis on the external relations of states, and
on that states-system which had already been a great
subject of study at Göttingen. Ranke himself has some-
times been held to have been responsible for this, but,
insofar as a certain bias of the mind was involved,
something is due to his predecessors; his own outlook
was so broad that the “cultural historians” were nearer
the truth when, later in the century, they claimed his
support in their criticism of the prevailing system. For
a very short period in his younger days Ranke had a
connection with a conservative political journal, but
quickly found the situation unsatisfactory. For the rest,
he held that the historian should be primarily a scholar,
aloof from the movements of his time. He received
moral reprobation for this, and even his pupils (who
tended to grasp only parts of his teaching) proved
unwilling to follow his austere example.

The historical movement of the nineteenth century
came into alliance therefore with the powerful German
national movement that culminated in 1870-71; the
result was shown in what came to be the classical
school of German historiography, which from 1861 was
dominated by supporters of Prussia and entrenched
itself in the universities, putting history at the service
of the national cause, and even insisting on this as a
point of ethics. As the work of Frederick the Great


and Bismarck acquired such a central place in the story
of modern Germany, it became easy for any student
to draw conclusions about the nature of history and
politics very different from those which would be
drawn by Germans taking their bearings at the present
day. Even in 1870 Gervinus vainly tried to point out
that a wider view of Germany's past would have pro-
duced a better understanding of the real tradition of
the country, enabling historiography to do greater
service in its role as the discoverer or creator of a
nation's tradition about itself.

In the middle of the century the great works were
appearing which showed that, over a wide area, his-
toriography had been carried to a new stage. Ranke
himself had completed between 1839 and 1847 his
massive treatise on German History in the Age of the
and, after dealing with Prussia, he moved
in the 1850's to large-scale work first on French history
in the early modern period, and then on England in
the seventeenth century. The most formidable scholar
amongst his pupils, Georg Waitz (1813-86), was pub-
lishing from 1844 a tremendous work on deutsche
which went back to the customs
and institutions of the early tribes and showed his
mastery of medieval sources. After Waitz moved to
Göttingen in 1849 he made that University the most
distinguished school of medieval history in Europe.
Macaulay published the four completed volumes of his
History of England between 1848 and 1856; and,
though limited by the excessive positivism of his judg-
ments, by the smallness of the area of history that he
really mastered, and by the extraordinary insularity of
his whole outlook, he took some pains in the collection
of his materials; nor was his Whiggism more preju-
diced—more detrimental to his work—than the parti-
sanship of some of the Prussian giants of the period.

A powerful pupil of Ranke who came to diverge
from his master because he so strongly believed that
history should be put at the service of what was re-
garded as a great public cause, was Heinrich von Sybel.
From 1853 he was producing his most imposing work,
his History of the Revolutionary Period, which, in its
use of sources, represented a significant advance in its
own field. It had been intended from the start to show
up the evils of political radicalism, though in the course
of execution it came to be still more dominated by
the idea of demonstrating the effect of external rela-
tions on internal development, the primacy of foreign
policy, and the influence of the French Revolution on
other countries. Johann Gustav Droysen was not a
pupil of Ranke and was influenced rather by Hegel,
but must be regarded as perhaps the chief of the foun-
ders of the Prussian school. In the thirty years or so
from 1855 there appeared the successive volumes of
his History of Prussian Policy, a work based to an
almost unprecedented degree on manuscript sources,
and packed with new material. It has been described
as one of the most important of the achievements of
the new historiography and, by G. P. Gooch, as “the
most exhaustive study of the foreign policy of a great
power ever written”; yet, by the constant anachronistic
attribution to Prussia of a national German policy, it
showed how tremendous learning can be piloted to
produce a false result. The work was dominated by
Droysen's view of the state as a vast power-organiza-

One of the most distinguished of the pupils of Ranke
was Wilhelm von Giesebrecht, and his great work, the
History of the Period of the Empire began to appear
in 1855. It was inspired by the idea of awakening the
Germans to the glory of their medieval history—the
romanticism and the achievements of their famous
emperors—and Giesebrecht proved to be a wonderful
narrator, the evidence of his immense scholarship being
relegated to the footnotes. Giesebrecht had the dis-
tinction of reconstructing an old chronicler from later
writers who had made use of him, and then having
his scholarship confirmed when the work itself came
to light a generation later. It was his history of the
Kaiserzeit which provoked the great controversy over
the effects of medieval imperialism on the cause of
German nationalism.

In 1856 Alexis de Tocqueville published L'ancien
régime et la révolution,
a treatise based on the study
of provincial and other local archives, and devoted to
an examination of the roots of the Revolution—the
effective opening of analytical work on the character
and structure of ancient France.

Other forms of history were developing, however,
principally in Germany itself; their challenge to the
prevailing system built up the pressures which in the
1890's produced controversies on the very nature of
a history—controversies that mark another stage in the
story, since the position and state of the whole subject
could never be quite the same again (though the classi-
cal school maintained its hold through the universities).

In various countries there had long been antecedents
of what we should call economic history; in the eight-
eenth century these are to be found in Adam Smith's
Wealth of Nations and in histories of commerce, some
of which covered a considerable area of economic life.
Descriptive works—regional studies and accounts of
particular industries, for example—went on appearing
in the nineteenth century; and, partly perhaps through
the influence of Montesquieu, possibly also as a result
of influences from the Scottish Enlightenment, exam-
ples were to be found in Göttingen at the very be-
ginning of the century, particularly in the work of


A. H. L. Heeren. The main nineteenth-century move-
ment owes its rise, however, to Wilhelm Roscher, who
had been influenced by Heeren; and, for some decades,
the real purpose of the movement—a purpose already
made clear in Roscher's famous “manifesto” of
1843—was to establish a new kind of economics, which
should attain a wider kind of generalization based on
the study of the past as well as the present, and partic-
ularly a comparative study of the development of the
various nations. William Ashley, who held at Harvard
the first chair of economic history ever created, took
his start from this position, and it was only in his
Inaugural Lecture in 1893 that he began to depart from
it. By the late 1870's books had begun to appear in
Germany which claimed to be “economic histories,”
and some were proposing to cover the whole economic
history of the country, for, here as elsewhere, what
was particularly required was the full-length account
of a nation's development. By the late 1870's, however,
Gustav Schmoller, who became the dominating figure
in Germany (and greatly influenced Ashley, for exam-
ple) was concentrating on the economic policy of
Frederick the Great; and, whether because of the
analogy with political history or because of the exist-
ence of etatist views, or because the sources were
governmental, or because economists hoped that they
might be advisers on policy, economic history at this
stage in its development tended to be preoccupied with
the work of government, or to see events from the
point of view of government. It was in the nature of
the subject to envisage, however, a life and activity
that sprang from society in all its length and breadth,
and the transition to this wider survey of a nation's
material development was continually assisted by the
appearance of regional studies and descriptive accounts
of particular industries. The depiction of an economic
life which rises autonomously out of the whole land-
scape would seem to have depended somewhat, also,
on the availability of a larger range of nongovern-
mental sources.

In the meantime, Jakob Burckhardt's Civilisation of
the Renaissance in Italy,
published in 1860, had given
a fresh stimulus to that cultural history which had been
quickened by the work of Voltaire and the interest of
the eighteenth century in the history of the arts and
sciences. In the late 1880's there was a foretaste of
the larger controversy that was due to appear shortly
afterwards. Dietrich Shäfer's insistence that the state
must be the central point in historical reconstruction
was answered by Eberhard Gothein, who held that
Kulturgeschichte was necessary for the achievement of
the essential synthesis. In various countries the kind
of history which concerned itself with the processes
of society rather than the narrative of political events
had already begun to raise important issues. The influ-
ence of Auguste Comte had encouraged a tendency
to believe that the study of the past could be regarded
as analogous to the natural sciences, aspiring to achieve
generalizations and laws. This had shown itself in
H. T. Buckle's History of Civilisation in England, which
had appeared in 1857 and was receiving renewed
attention in the 1890's; and a brilliant and imposing
illustration of it was Hippolyte Taine's Origines de la
France contemporaine,
published between 1876 and
1894. By the end of the 1870's, furthermore, some
economic historians were insisting that, in any com-
prehensive history of culture and society, the economic
factor must have the determining role and in reality
provides the clue to the processes of historical change.
It is not clear that this view owed anything to the
influence of Marx in academic circles, though the first
volume of Das Kapital had been published in 1867.
At the same time the system that Marx produced—
however much it owed to antecedent writers—must
be regarded as one of the most remarkable and power-
ful contributions ever made to the interpretation of
the past, and in the period after 1917 it came to have
an important influence even on historians who were
not themselves Marxists.

It was the publication (from 1891 to 1913) of Karl
Lamprecht's large-scale German History which, by
provoking a considerable controversy, led to the dis-
cussion of some of these larger issues, and to heated
debates amongst historians themselves on the subject:
“What is history?” Lamprecht's conception of his work
as a comprehensive study of society and culture, his
views about the importance of the economic factor in
the synthesis, his insistence that history should be re-
garded as a science—and the interest which he also
had in social psychology—made him militant against
the prevailing school in Germany. And ideas which,
though not necessarily new, were thrown out in this
controversy—and so gained a general hearing—have
remained in currency during the controversies of the
twentieth century. The battle in the 1890's was a very
bitter one and Lamprecht attempted on one occasion
to gain control of the historische Zeitschrift, which was
the chief instrument of his opponents. Lamprecht was
vulnerable himself in many ways, but, though he failed
to dislodge his opponents, he could not be repressed
and he preached his doctrines in the United States. For
historiography, a new period had in fact opened.

In the meantime the development of historiography
had produced problems still more profound—problems
that were calculated to tax the mind of the philoso-
pher—and the discussion of these reached great in-
tensity in the 1890's, though its influence amongst
practicing historians tended to come later. Funda-


mental issues affecting the emergence of “historicism”
had been raised by the writings of Friedrich Karl von
Savigny from the year 1814. He had taught that law
was not to be manufactured rationalistically from a
blueprint, but grew naturally out of the Volksgeist, like
a country's language or its manners or its consti-
tution—an attitude that tended to lead to historical
relativism. Later still, what had begun as a conflict with
positivism became in Dilthey, Wilhelm Windelband,
and Heinrich Rickert an enquiry as to the basis (and
the very possibility) of historical knowledge—a discus-
sion which, this time, stressed the differences between
history and the natural sciences, probed into the prob-
lem of the historical consciousness itself, and posed the
question whether the universe has any ethical meaning.
Instead of the old “philosophy of history” there now
emerged a primary concern with methodological and
epistemological issues in the historical realm; and
(through Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch and Friedrich
Meinecke, for example) these discussions carried
their influence into the realm of the actual historian,
particularly in the twentieth century. In the 1890's,
furthermore, there emerged some imposing criticisms
of Marx.

By the last two decades of the nineteenth century,
academic history had come to have an imposing char-
acter in books both massive in form and intricate in
texture. The intensity of research, the accumulated
results of government support in the publication of
great amounts of archival sources in various countries,
and the vast range of manuscript material to which
historians had now found their way, were transforming
the whole landscape and giving scholarship its modern
appearance. The adoption of the new methods and the
new standards by universities—the palpable effects of
all this during the last two decades of the century in
the United States and at Oxford and Cambridge—
secured that a regular progress should take place on
all sides; and the fruits of the movement were apparent
even in Russia.

The establishment of learned journals in one country
after another encouraged the natural tendency of re-
search to become more microscopic, and, in 1900, the
inauguration of the International Congress of the His-
torical Sciences turned historians into a cosmopolitan
fraternity, though it failed to eliminate the constrictive
effects of nationalism. The whole study made solid
advances irrespective of the theoretical controversies
that seemed in the 1890's to be shaking its very basis.
There were interesting developments in historical
thinking, characterized in the case of Great Britain by
the revision of anachronistic and excessively Whiggish
interpretations in the writings of William Stubbs and
in the modern history field. Still more important were
the problems raised in Germany by writers like Max
Weber and Ernst Troeltsch. As a result of many decades
of work and a long accumulation of documentary
materials, certain fields of sixteenth-century history—
particularly the Revolt of the Netherlands, the French
Wars of Religion and the period of Philip II of Spain
—were due for a considerable reshaping by the end
of the century; French Revolutionary studies had
achieved a great development, the emergence of
François V. A. Aulard marking a new era; and similarly
the intensified researches into Frederick the Great and
Napoleon now brought scholarship to a new stage.

From the time of the ancient campaign annals, his-
torical writing repeatedly had a curious relationship
with war. The historical consciousness was sometimes
awakened (or spread more widely) as the result of a
conflict that had come as a great human experience.
War would also seem to have been the point at which
men of all classes were compelled to feel the impact
of historical events. All this has been illustrated afresh
in the twentieth century, when two world wars (and
the revolutions more or less connected with them) have
greatly altered the position of history. Immediately
after 1919 the consequences came in a flood—the host
of memoirs from political and military leaders, the
controversies over the question of “war-guilt,” and the
interest of governments in the production of the record.

The flood itself went on mounting in every subse-
quent decade. Massive selections, particularly of
diplomatic documents, were published. Archives were
opened to a more recent date, especially in the case
of defeated or revolutionized governments. There
emerged avowedly “official histories” and sometimes
the most recent documents would be made available
to such scholars as were deemed reliable. The special
concern which the general public had for issues that
were still in a sense alive brought a revival of the
tremendous importance which had so often been at-
tached to the writing of “contemporary history.” In
a world in which democracies have a special claim
to information and the journalists have a special skill
in exposing the underside of events, the production of
“instant” history, and the attempt to achieve scholarly
accounts of episodes still very recent, have altered the
center of gravity in historiography.

The situation has its dangers, especially where a
wider general public can act as the arbiter, and its
voice may have an effect on scholarship itself. Men
are more completely locked within the framework of
their age than they ever realize, and history can easily
lose what Lord Acton once specified as its important
function: to release men from the tyranny of the pres-
ent. Even for the purpose of writing “contemporary
history,” it may be best that a student should have


received his training in a past sufficiently remote to
allow of a certain degree of detachment, and should
have had exercise in the mental transpositions which
are required for an understanding of more distant
ages—an understanding of men not like-minded with

The pursuit of immediately “utilitarian” objects, and
the assumption that the past is interesting only as the
preparation for the present can be unfortunate for both
students and writers, who may never learn that further
dimension which historical thinking acquires when its
roots go back to more distant times. Even the European
(and still more the global) scene is altered by the fact
that young democracies, young nationalities, find it so
difficult to combine their necessary sympathies with
the due degree of detachment in respect of their own
history. The powerful position of communism has
made it hard for men of both Left and Right to be
judicious about Marxist history, though, particularly in
the economic history field, a genuine dialogue between
the West and Russia has been more possible in recent
years. It would be unfortunate if historians, anxious to
secure special privileges (special access to documents,
for example) should compete with one another for the
favor of government.

On the other hand, the “contemporary historian” has
an advantage, for the passage of time, which in some
respects makes it possible to produce a fairer record,
is attended by losses as well as gains. So much of the
atmosphere of a period—or of a given circle, a given
episode—may disappear; and the future may fail to
recover that host of thoughts and assumptions which
never needed to be expressed because they were part
of the atmosphere—the future may even forget the
delicate connotations of words. It has become evident
that those sensitive aspects of an age which disappear
from sight once direct contact with that age has been
lost are the ones that require for their ultimate resur-
rection the most penetrating and laborious kind of
research. The “contemporary historian” may fail to
realize that, by “taking sides,” even perhaps uncon-
sciously, or by otherwise accepting a framework of a
story already current, he has made the task of mounting
and organizing the narrative too easy for himself. But
if he possesses judgment and training he may pass down
to the future a record of permanent and unique impor-

Another important feature of twentieth-century
historiography is the relationship with the social sci-
ences, which themselves had reached a new stage (and
had come into closer contact with history) in the work
of men like Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. That
work arose out of lively intellectual movements of the
1890's, and was paralleled in the United States, where
Frederick Jackson Turner's paper on “The Significance
of the Frontier in American History” appeared in 1894.
Turner's “frontier” hypothesis and his insistence on the
importance of sectionalism in American life sprang
from a more comprehensive view of the whole past
and had great influence on historical study in the
United States. After a period of intense discussion and
rapid progress, his paper on “Social Forces in American
History” appeared in 1910 and along with it, James
Harvey Robinson, writing on “The Relation of History
to the Newer Sciences of Man,” prepared the way for
his volume, The New History, which came out two
years later and launched a further controversy.

So far as historical scholarship is concerned, it is
particularly since the Second World War that the
whole landscape has been transformed as a result of
the developments in the social sciences. The appli-
cation of social science procedures to various problems
and periods of the past has tended to change the direc-
tion of historical enquiry itself, and to alter the notion
of what might be needed to achieve satisfactory forms
of historical explanation. The historian himself now has
a different view of what must be done to produce, for
example, a “reconstruction of the ordinary working
world of the politician” in a bygone period. At the
same time, he enters upon forms of analysis which
would hardly have been possible if masses of further
source material had not become available and research-
work had not been organized so as to make a coopera-
tive endeavor more feasible.

The historian, also, is now more ready to envisage
society as a whole and movements in the mass, and
to turn his mind to population problems, the sociology
of religion, and so forth. For a long time, even during
the twentieth century, the historian and the social
scientist were in conflict with one another, and seemed
unable to agree about their respective roles in the
recovery or the explanation of the human story. Today
when the historians (though so many of them continue
to work as before) are more prepared to use the results
and the methods of the social scientists, and even to
move further afield, to psychology, for example, the
controversy has not been brought to an end. The claim
has arisen that history should itself be regarded as a
social science—no more and no less—and this is con-
strued as though it meant relegating into the realm
of mere useless antiquarianism that work which his-
torians throughout the ages (and still largely even at
the present day) have been accustomed to producing:
namely, the sheer recovery of the past and the narra-
tion of what actually happened.

History is enriched by the developments that have
taken place, but those who build up their outlook only
from the social sciences will have only a sectionalized


view of the overall process of historical change, a
process in which the genius of a single leader who sees
and uses existing conditions can secure an enormous
leverage, and a handful of men who have faith can
move mountains, as the twentieth century itself has
shown. It is possible that democracy will also radically
turn its back on what was for so long a main objective
of historical writing—the communication of what the
art of statesmanship requires. When help has been
recruited from all available sciences, there is something
left for the mind of the historian who, surveying the
whole, can make the presidential contribution that is
itself something like an act of statesmanship. Some-
times the subject has been reduced almost to a study
of conditions, but Camille Ernest Labrousse and
Georges Lefebvre, students of conditions, came to
admit that the French Revolution cannot be explained
without the political narrative, and that a man like
Henri IV on the throne of France, instead of Louis
XVI, might have given a different turn to the whole
story. It is still going to be true that when a people
has been involved in a war, it will want to know how
that war came about and how its leaders behaved; and
perhaps this basic human demand for narrative will
secure the survival of what has always been regarded
as history, and will tend to keep the subject on the
rails. Indeed, there is something absolutely essential in
history and in the processes of time to which justice
cannot be done save in the form of a narrative in which
one does not know in advance what is going to happen