The Decline of the Classical National Tradition of German Historiography

Since Ranke, German historiography has been dominated by historicism. History defies conceptualism and systematic analysis; it requires empathetic understanding (Verstehen) of the individualities which compose history, a narrative account of the intentions and actions of great individuals and states. Value judgments are to be suspended; military power and foreign policy are stressed. Defeat in World War I had little impact on German historical scholarship. Hintze's attempts at structural analysis and Kehr's efforts to study foreign policy within the framework of domestic history met opposition. Traditional methodological and political assumptions remained important after 1945 in the work of G. Ritter, H. Rothfels, and others; at the same time these assumptions were increasingly questioned by a new generation of historians committed to democratic values who sought to integrate the methods of political science, sociology, and economics with those of history.