My great grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher (1824–1904) belonged to a close circle of students of Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), obtained his doctorate under Ranke [see Wolfgang WeberBiographisches Lexikon zur Geschichtswissenschaft in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. Peter Lang: Frankfurt, 1984(1), 1987(2). p. 515 and Gunter Berg. Leopold von Ranke als akademischer Lehrer. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht., 1968. p. 237], and was assisted by Ranke up to his professorship at Rostock in 1866 [in “Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher an Vize-Kanzler der Universität Rostock.” Liegnitz, May 27, 1866. 4 pp., in my possession, in which he expresses thanks for his appointment and in particular p. 3 for Ranke’s assistance] – whereby in Rostock, beginning in 1857, my great grandfather’s two predecessors had been students of Ranke. At Rostock my great grandfather was considered one of the most productive implementers of Ranke’s historicism. He utilized Ranke’s historicism in editing numerous source volumes and composed comprehensive biographies as well as a universal history (particularly of Spain).

It appears strange today that the German Democratic Republic’s historiography recast my great grandfather into a socialist, although he specifically rejected the socio-historical method.

Here is an example: Konrad Canis et al., “1789–1917.” pp. 85-153 in: Gerhard Heitz et al. (ed.). Geschichte der Universität Rostock 1419–1969. vol. 1. Rostock 1969, pp. 139-140, better in contrast Helga Schultz, Gerhard Heitz, Karl-Friedrich Olechnowitz. “Die Entwicklung geschichtswissenschaftlicher Studien an der Universität Rostock seit Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts.” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Universität Rostock, Gesellschaftswissenschaftliche Reihe 20 (1970) 5: 355–375, pp. 364–365.

The correspondence between Ranke und Schirrmacher has not been preserved [so also Klüssendorf, see below]. For that reason there are only a few indications of what Ranke said about my great grandfather:

I have already given my commendation to Schirrmacher for Greifswald. He deserves consideration at the highest level. I do not know if my counsel will be coveted, or whether I will also be offered the opportunity to express the same.

Ranke to Heinrich von Sybel on March 14, 1864: Leopold von Ranke. Neue Briefe. Hoffmann und Campe: Hamburg, 1949. p. 432.

Schirrmacher deserves recognition since he truly understood the large amount of material society had in view at the time. The contrast with Höfler brought about a situation in which at times the apologetic stature of the moment was too strong; I found passages where I would have wanted to interpret the texts differently than he did, but in general it is indeed well studied. Recognition from your side will spur him on and perhaps put him in a position to undertake a general presentation of the conditions and tendencies of the epoch, from which I would expect much.

Ranke on March 22, 1865 to Georg Waitz, quoted in Leopold von Ranke. Zur eigenen Lebensgeschichte. ed. by Alfred Dove. Sämmtliche Werke Bd. 53/54. Duncker & Humblot: Leipzig 1890. p. 437 (on p. 541 only a mention is made of Schirrmacher)

In a conversation that we recently had the honor to have with Professor Ranke, this master of historical scholarship praised Schirrmacher’s work and said that the second volume, when compared with the first, is witness of good progress.

Cf. “Zur Deutschen Geschichte: Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite …”. Supplement No. 16 to the newspaper Neuen Preußischen (Kreuz-) Zeitung (Berlin) dated January 19, 1862, p. 1 (title page).

Also compare:

We would wish for the author that his desire will soon be fulfilled, the unbothered continuation of historical studies that amassed such laudable success, as well the personal nearness to an interested audience that provides a motivating allure to conduct more research, to which Niebrechts expression can also be uttered: ‘You are the source of my enthusiasm.’ Since Ranke und Giesebrecht also rose from being teachers at academic secondary schools to having successful activity as professors at universities , we hope that Mr. Schirrmacher, with the release of the third volume, has moved closer to the fulfillment of his wishes, and if possible, to have already reached them.


He [Wilhelm Maurenbrecher] belonged to the younger circle of students and followers, who, along with Arnold, Dove and Dümmler, Oelsner, von Noorden and Pauli, Arnold Schäfer, Schirrmacher und Steindorff, Warrenbach, Weizsäcker, Winkelmann and Winter, venerated in Ranke their teacher and master.

Leopold von Ranke. Neue Briefe. Hoffmann und Campe: Hamburg, 1949. p. 423, Note 423, Notation by the publisher

I in the summer semester of 1845 . . .

4. The history of the newest era” ” ” Ranke, very diligent

The original “Auflistung der Vorlesungen von Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher in Berlin 1845/46“ (“List of Lectures by Friedrich Wilhelm Schirrmacher in Berlin 1845/46) is in my possession.

Additional quotes on the relationship between Schirrmacher und Ranke

Thereafter he primarily studied history in Berlin. From the beginning onwards, Ranke got close to him there, and S. belonged to his group of chosen students and friends. Besides Ranke he heard the historian Siegfried Hirsch, Adolf Schmidt, Gneist und Gelzer, as well as the Philosophers Trendelenburg and Werder. … With S. one of Ranke’s last students and friends passed away, someone who completely held to the interpretation of history of his revered master.

A. Vorberg. “Schirrmacher, Friedrich Wilhelm”. pp. 76–78 in: Anton Bettel heim (ed.). Biographisches Jahrbuch und Deutscher Nekrolog. vol. 9 (for 1904). Georg Reimer: Berlin, 1906

Like many other renowned historians of his time, among them his teacher, Leopold v. Ranke who was rewarded with the title of nobility in 1865, Schirrmacher was called to a faculty chair at the University of Rostock from upper level school service. At that time two Ranke students, one after the other, had held professorship positions there. In his younger years the internal connection with Ranke and his school stood behind the connection to his mentor Theodor Hirsch and to Siegfried Hirsch, the latter who died in 1860. In 1864 Ranke had supported Schirrmacher, when a professorship in Greifswald opened up. The adoration which Schirrmacher expressed towards Leopold v. Ranke, who at the time was the most prominent historian, and the contact to other representatives of his school, for instance Fried rich Wilhelm v. Giesebrecht (1814–1889), became visibly stronger over the years. In Ranke’s estate there is admittedly no correspondence with Schirrmacher that was preserved. . . .

The collection of books, which was placed in a normal lecture hall and not in a separate seminar room, (significant for Schirrmacher in his later years: under a bust of v. Ranke, and perhaps the one which his students gave him upon the occasion of his 80th birthday) . . .

Niklot Klüßendorf. “Schirrmacher, Friedrich Wilhelm“. pp. 232–237 in: Sabine Pettke (ed.). Biographisches Lexikon für Mecklenburg. Bd. 2. Veröffentlichungen der Historischen Kom mission für Mecklenburg, Reihe A. Schmidt Römhild: Rostock, 1999

With the passing of Friedrich Schirrmacher one of Leopold von Ranke’s last friends and students has died. As a student in Berlin he had belonged to a small circle of people that Ranke had formed around himself, and he was surely one of the most faithful members of the circle. “We were like a family,” he had only recently said, “closely tied to each other.” His eyes lit up when a person spoke to him about Ranke, and joyous, living memories of that time, especially on festive occasions, would invigorate a lecture in his history seminar. He would turn his glimpse towards the splendid bust of his teacher, bringing the loyal student joy and adding adornment to the undecorated room. . . .

In his scholarship he remained unvaryingly true to the Rankian interpretation of history all his life. “To tell it as it truly was,” was that he saw, along with Ranke, to be the task of the historian in speech and writing. Often he could be heard saying with respect to historical explanations: “One has to take the things as they are. That is all!” This was normally followed by short, almost aphoristic sentences with such a striking presentation of the state of affairs, such a characteristic depiction of the personalities that the listener had reality palpably set before his eyes. He rejected with all determination the modern conception which has history emerge from the social milieu. With all vigor he emphasized the meaning of the personalities for the historical development of world events, just as he dedicated himself with all inclination and skillfulness in his literary efforts to the presentation of great personages.

Ernst Schäfer. “Friedrich Schirrmacher.” Historische Vierteljahrsschrift 8 (1904) 3: 454–457

As a supplement on Ranke’s method: “Ranke is one of the founding fathers of modern historical scholarship. After the Prussian reforms (around 1810) and the founding of the first Berlin University under Wilhelm von Humboldt, the scientific concept of history asserted itself. Historicism differentiated itself, by its systematic and source-critical approach, from the examination of history up to the present which had principally been a philosophical consideration of history. On the basis of this approach Ranke served up a method which tied the old narrative history to the new scientific basis (with an increasing professionalization via the study of history). As a consequence, the historian had the task of demonstrating “how it actually was.” For Ranke what was most important was to achieve the greatest objectivity when recounting history. In German historical scholarship this characteristic trait of writing history led to the formation of so-called neo-Rankians (from Wikipedia 20.1.2010


One Comment

  1. Sarah L. says:

    Sehr gehrter Herr Schirrmacher, gerade las ich hier, dass Ihr Urgroßvater bei meinen Verwandten gelernt hat, nämlich Theodor Hirsch als seinem Mentor (meinen Urururgroßvater) und Sigfried Hirsch (seinem Vetter). Wir haben in der Familie keine Geschichten oder Erbstücke von der Familie Hirsch, da durch Flucht und frühe und unerwartete Todesfälle sehr vieles verloren gegangen ist. Können sie etwas von Theodor und Sigfried Hirsch erzählen? Haben sie Korrespondenz? Wir kennen auch keine anderen lebenden Verwandten. Theodor’s Sohn Ferdinand Hirsch war mein Ururgroßvater und seine Tochter Marie Hirsch meine Urgroßmutter. Ich selber bin jüdisch messianische Theologie und habe daher ein Interesse, die eigene Familiengeschichte besser zu verstehen.

    Vielen Dank!

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