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Leopold von Ranke: Excerpts from Selected Works (1824-1881)

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In contrast, I would apply the term “guiding ideas" to the dominant tendencies in each century. These tendencies can be only described, not ultimately defined in a concept. Otherwise, we should be back at the position which I rejected earlier.

The historian must unravel the great tendencies of the centuries and unroll the history of mankind, which is precisely the whole network of these different tendencies. From the viewpoint of the divine idea, I can think of the matter only this way: humanity contains within itself an endless variety of developments which come to view from time to time, according to laws which are unknown to us, more mysterious, and greater than we can conceive.

Source of English translation: Leopold von Ranke, The Secret of World History: Selected Writings on the Art and Science of History, edited and translated by Roger Wines. New York: Fordham University Press, 1981, pp. 157-561.

© 1981 Fordham University Press. Reprinted with the permission of Fordham University Press.

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