"How it really was"

Posted by Helen Friday, May 26, 2006

Lord Acton, the subject of the previous posting, was a great admirer of Leopold von Ranke. It seems fitting, therefore, that we should now publish what muat have been the latter's most famous comment about history:

"You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was."
There has been much discussion whether any historian can tell it "how it really was" and whether there is any possibility of objective (as opposed to honest) historiography.

It is, however, salutary to remember that the role of the historian is to tell and analyze not to pronounce judgements on the past, based on the ideology of the present.


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