Leopold von Ranke
Now that we’ve established that history is reading and writing, where do we go next? That, of course, all depends on the journey that one wishes to take. For me, the best way to study history is through biography, or reading the great historians. There is nothing more entertaining for me than to read what Leopold von Ranke wrote about, say, England in the seventeenth century. I am thoroughly entertained by Heinrich Treitschke’s interpretation of Prussian history. His is a history full of Germanic passion. He writes to inspire, to awaken what he thought was a dormant spirit of nationalism throughout the German states, and wished to arouse their passions. The contrast between Ranke’s telling of history is quite striking when compared to Treitschke. I enjoy them both. Homer, retelling the stories of ancient heroes, or the great William Manchester, conveying just about anything (I love his style) is to lose oneself in the telling. While the unduly and overly critical “history soothsayers” roundly lambaste Manchester’s work A World Lit Only By Fire, I found it to be exactly what the author said it to be in his introduction…not overly scholarly, but certainly an entertaining history of a fantastical period. Should that particular work spur someone on to further study, is that not the idea?
I can’t help but get excited when reading Evening In The Palace Of Reason by James R. Gaines. His account of the meeting of J.S. Bach with Frederick the Great is captivating, entertaining, and takes one there…in the presence of both. It shines a light on both personalities as well as illuminates an age that is lost to us in both etiquette as well as behavior. That work, among others, spurred me on to greater contemplation and greater study of the period, which is what a good work should do. The result? Writing. I was propelled by that work, and others, to create this article, as short but to the point as it is.
The thought here is that one should take the time to read, as much as one can, in order to taste all of the different flavors that the telling of history has to offer. From the ancients, to the old, to the current, they all have different tastes. Sample them all. With the advent of ebooks, sites that preserve those great writers and writings have made attaining them much easier. Project Gutenberg is but one resource that will introduce any budding historian or curious historian to the great ideas and minds of the past. Great works of literature such as Anna Karenina are available as well. Find them, enjoy them, turn off the TV and journey into the past. It will be a great trip.