Modern Nationalism and the Making of a Professional Historian: the Life and Work of Leopold von Ranke


As the development of nationalism, modern historiography and the professionalization of the discipline of history happened in tandem and needed to be seen as inseparable, the historical profession was essentially funded on the prospect of resolving the theoretical inconsistency regarding the maintenance of nationalist historiography as an objective science while advocating an extreme nationalist cause. This dissertation examines Leopold von Ranke's career as the ideal-typical case of the making of a professional historian, and analyzes the utilization of remembering and forgetting in his reconstruction of a national history of Germany. It operates on the assumptions that the modern notion of national identity is culturally constructed by creating a temporal void filled by the historian's narrative of the forgotten past, and, acting as the "official" conservator (mnemon) of the national memories, the professional historian's narratives become the "official" discourse of the national past. By deconstructing the Rankean paradigm with reference to the Nietzschean idea of "active forgetting," I argue that professional historians actively create an ideologically "neutral" sphere of activity to stabilize the constant conflict between their identities and an imagined historiography. Through strategic employment of forgetting, Ranke developed a tripartite selfhood that resulted in the classical construction of a historian's "calling" to search for the universal "truth" in God's divine plan. He utilized historical scholarship as a nonpartisan intervention in addressing the unsettled imagery of a unified Germany, and as the "scientific" framework to historically justify the Prussian project of building a Prussocentric Kleinduetschland. By manipulating collective memories and shared perceptions of the past, Ranke imagined a historical correlation between the nationalist historiography of Germany and universal history on a world-historical platform. Through employment of historiographical forgetting, he articulated a harmonious synthesis of the historian's subjectivity with an objectivity "out there" as the truth to be discovered, rather than constructed, in reality. Accordingly, the historical work deposits all the information of the "authentic" past, and provides the "imagined" past with an ideological legitimacy, enabling historians to constantly reconstruct (rejuvenate) the cultural memory or revise history for a specific national and political entity.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2012)


Su, Shih-chieh (Jay), "Modern Nationalism and the Making of a Professional Historian: the Life and Work of Leopold von Ranke" (2012). History Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.