Lamprecht, Karl

views updated Jun 27 2018

Lamprecht, Karl



Karl Gotthard Lamprecht, German historian, was born in Jessen an der Schwarzen Elster in 1856, the son of the theologian and rector C. N. Lamprecht, and died in Leipzig in 1915. Lamprecht attended the classical Gymnasium in Wittenberg and then the celebrated Schulpforta school. He studied history, German, Latin, and Greek in the universities of Gottingen and Leipzig; after obtaining his doctorate in 1878, he went to Munich for postgraduate study. In 1879 he took the examination that qualified him for secondary-school teaching in the above-mentioned subjects. Then he spent a year as a private tutor in Cologne. There, certain benefactors provided him with the means of continuing his scholarly work; in 1880 he was able to qualify as an academic lecturer in history at the University of Bonn. There he remained until 1890, when he accepted a professorship at the University of Marburg (Lahn). In 1891 he accepted a similar appointment at Leipzig, where he taught until his death.

Lamprecht’s work in the history of civilization was probably inspired by Wilhelm Scherer, a literary historian, and his work in economic history by Wilhelm Roschr, the earliest representative of the so-called historical school in political economy, under both of whom he studied. Lamprecht’s early works deal with problems in the history of civilization and art. His studies led him to collect “libri picturati,” illustrated medieval manuscripts. He continued such studies until 1882, when he concluded them with a monograph on the illumination of initials from the eighth to the thirteenth century. At this time he was also engaged in studies in economic history, research which was to produce his most enduring work, Deutsches Wirtschaftsleben im Mittelalter (1885–1886).

As early as 1882 Lamprecht, together with Felix Hettner, founded the Westdeutsche Zeitschrift fur Geschichte und Kunst (note the inclusion of art in the title). He established in Leipzig in 1909 the Institute of Universal History and the History of Civilization, which likewise reflected his particular views. In 1910–1911, as the rector of the University of Leipzig, he advocated significant innovations in the field of cultural policy. Lamprecht gained wide recognition, receiving honorary doctorates from Columbia, Christiania, and St. Andrews. He was also a member of numerous academies and learned societies.

Conception of universal history .All Lamprecht’s efforts early became concentrated on his Deutsche Geschichte (1891–1909), which established his importance for historiography. It was based on his conception of universal history, formulated when he was only 22, although he published it in explicit form only in the twelfth volume of his Deutsche Geschichte. Lamprecht, like others, did not share Ranke’s optimism about the state of historical scholarship; he felt that it was generally declining and attributed this decline to excessive specialization, especially one-sided concentration upon political history. His vision was of a universal history that would deal with the interrelationships of events of every kind. But this task required an appropriate method.

Lamprecht developed a new method, drawing on positivist ideas and ordering behavior patterns in accordance with the theoretical principles of natural science. Under the influence of Wilhelm Wundt, he related this method to psychological concepts. He believed that historical epochs are characterized by collective psychological dispositions: the symbolic, the typical, the conventional, the individualistic, the subjectvistic, and the impressionistic.

Both Lamprecht’s theory and his method gave rise to lively controversy and were bluntly rejected by almost all historians (K. Breysig being an exception), who found fault especially with the way he had applied Y-u new ideas. For a time, Lamprecht did receiw trie approval of those French historians who had been influenced by Hippolyte Taine. Moreover, he was supported by anthropologists, historians of civilization, sociologists, and historically oriented economists, as well as by the adherents of a materialist conception of history, although he was far from sympathetic to their point of view. Lamprecht’s scholarly work was not carried forward by others, one reason being that he was much too fair-minded to expect his students to accept his theses. The methodological dispute, often inappropriately treated as the antinomy between “individualistic” and “collectivistic” concepts, was prolonged and partly pointless, since under the impact of criticism Lamprecht himself modified his method in the course of writing the 12 volumes of his Deutsche Geschichte. The work thus turned out to be a respectable but premature and, in the end, unsuccessful venture that had no lasting influence. This does not mean that the endeavor may not some day be repeated with the use of more appropriate methods and with an extensive array of detailed studies in all areas. The perspective of universal history is still an objective of historiography.

Friedrich LÜtge

[For the historical context of Lamprecht’s work, see the biographies ofRanke; Roscher; Wundt. For discussion of a parallel development of historio-graphical ideas, see the biography ofRobinson.]


1882Initial-omamentik des VIII. bis XIII. Jahrhunderts. Leipzig: Dürr.

1885–1886 Deutsches Wirtschaftsleben im Mittelalter: Untersuchungen über die Entwicklung der materiellen Kultur des platten Landes auf Grund der Quellen, zundchst des Mosellandes. 3 vols. in 4. Leipzig: Diirr.

1891–1909 Deutsche Geschichte. 14 vols. in 19. Berlin: Gartner.

1905 Moderne Geschichtswissenschaft: Fünf Vorträge. Freiburg im Breisgau: Heyfelder.

1908 Europäische Expansion. Volume 6, pages 597–625 in Julius A. G. Pflugk-Harttung (editor), Weltgeschichte. Berlin: Ullstein.

1909 Zur universalgeschichtlichen Methodenbildung. Süchsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Leipzig, Philologisch-historische Klasse, Abhandlungen, Vol. 27, No. 2. Leipzig: Teubner.

1912 Einführung in das historische Denken. Leipzig: Voigtländer.

1912–1913 Deutsche Geschichte der jüngsten Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. 2 vols. Berlin: Weidmann.


Arens, Franz 1926 Karl Lamprecht. Preussische Jahrbücher 203:306–328.

Below, Georg A. H. von (1916) 1924 Die deutsche Geschichtschreibung von den Befreiungskriegen bis zu unseren Tagen. 2d ed. Munich and Berlin: Olden-bourg. → See especially pages 95 ff.

Hübschmann, S. 1929 Karl Lamprecht. Mitteldeutsche Lebensbilder 4:405–415.

KÜtzschke, Rudolf 1915 Verzeichnis der Schriften Karl Lamprechts. Sächsische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Leipzig, Philologisch-historische Klasse, Berichte über die Verhandlungen 67:105–119.

KÜtzschke, Rudolf; and Tille, Armin 1915 Karl Lamprecht. Gotha: Perthes. [MEINECKE, FRIEDRICH] 1915 Karl Lamprecht [Obituary Notice], by M. Historische Zeitschrift 114:696–698.

SchÜnebaum, Herbert 1951 Vom Werden der Deutschen Geschichte Karl Lamprechts. Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 25:94–111.

SchÜnebaum, Herbert 1956 Karl Lamprechts hochschulpädagogische Bestrebungen. Zeitschrift fur Pddagogik 2:1–16.

Seifert, Friedrich 1925 Der Streit um Karl Lamprechts Geschichtsphilosophie. Augsburg: Filser.

Spiess, Emil J. 1921 Die Geschichtsphilosophie von Karl Lamprecht. Erlangen: Junge.

Wagner, Fritz 1951 Geschichtswissenschaft. Freiburg im Breisgau: Alber.

Karl Lamprecht

views updated May 14 2018

Karl Lamprecht

The highly original and combative German historian Karl Lamprecht (1856-1915) stirred up a violent controversy over the nature, methods, and purposes of history.

Karl Lamprecht was born in Jessen in Saxony on Feb. 25, 1856, the son of a liberal Lutheran pastor. He studied at the universities of Göttingen, Leipzig, and Munich, taking his doctorate at Munich in 1879. After a year of private tutoring, he qualified as lecturer at Bonn; he was promoted to assistant professor in 1885. Lamprecht's first major work, German Economic Life in the Middle Ages (3 vols.), came out in 1886. In 1890 he accepted a full professorship at Marburg but removed the following year to Leipzig, where he remained until his death on May 10, 1915.

In 1891 appeared the first volume (of the eventual 21 volumes) of what was to be Lamprecht's lifework, the German History. Controversy broke out immediately, reaching its climax with volume 6 in 1897. History, he explained in later articles and books, has been a discipline that explores useless individual facts and concentrates too narrowly on politics. It should deal with the whole life of human society and, like the natural sciences, generalize and seek causal laws that will provide a few basic principles that will enable one to explain the whole human past.

Lamprecht thought that he had discovered such general principles in the sociopsychological realm. Once one has discovered the thought and behavior patterns of a people for a given period, one has the key by which to explain the whole society, its economic and social life, its art and thought, and its politics. Art, he thought, was particularly revealing about such thought and behavior patterns. Furthermore, such patterns of thinking and acting never completely disappear but live on into the next age, so that, as new ones come along, they tend to accumulate, leading to a progressive complexity and intensity of social life.

These theories of history hit the historical profession at a very sensitive time, when nature, methods, and purposes of history were being painfully examined. Men such as Wilhelm Dilthey and Max Weber were seeking to give history a rationale distinct from, but equally as reputable as, that of natural science. Others were seeking ways to treat history in all its aspects, even to find a universal history. What was lacking was a way to deal with these things within a single discipline. They were being treated as separate subjects, often collaboratively, and without any integrating principle. To this extent, Lamprecht found a sympathetic hearing. But his own solution—the "psychogenetic"—met with universal rejection as being too vague and not amenable to rigorous, disciplined study. The literature of controversy grew enormously after 1900, but the controversy quickly became tiresome, even for those engaged in it. Lamprecht's influence, therefore, was slight, not to say negative, but he was a symptom and child of his age.

In 1909 he founded, with private funds, the Institute for Cultural and Universal History at Leipzig in order to train scholars to carry on his work. It produced many admirers but few followers.

Further Reading

The best treatment in English of Lamprecht is by Annie M. Popper in Bernadotte E. Schmitt, ed., Some Historians of Modern Europe (1942). See also G. P. Gooch, History and Historians of the Nineteenth Century (1913; rev. ed. 1961), and James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing (2 vols., 1942).

Additional Sources

Chickering, Roger, Karl Lamprecht: a German academic life (1856-1915), Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1993. □