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13 - Historicism from Ranke to Nietzsche

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 August 2019

Warren Breckman
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
Peter E. Gordon
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
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Summary

Historicism as a general framework for thinking about human existence was connected to the development of the European national state after 1815 not only in Germany, but across Western Europe. It was a critical component in the formation of a public culture in which the emergence of new collective identities was tied to the production of narrative scripts creating the memory of a common past. Increasing recognition of the value of historical research and historiography was entangled in this process, as historians teaching in public universities or writing for an expanding literate public became the recognized spokespersons for the collective memory that created and sustained the common identity of the otherwise fragmented populations of the emerging nation-states. Both the articulation of national borders as cultural boundaries and the definition of nation-states as primary sites for integrating ethnic and ethical identities were central to nineteenth-century historicism; and the emergence of a professional academic discipline for the production of publicly validated historical knowledge delineating a common past was important in both of these processes. Historicism was defined most of all by the belief that reconstruction of the meaning of the past could sustain the meaning of existence in the present, and that historical understanding was a necessary condition for determining the creative possibilities of human individuals both in the present and in the future.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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