It was not just German scientists who criticized the idealist conception of the unity of knowledge, but scholars in the humanities as well. The historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) emphatically rejected Hegel's approach to human history as demonstrating the development and progress of philosophical concepts. Rather, as can be seen from the excerpts reproduced here – the introduction to his 1825 book The History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations, his notes from the 1830s on history and philosophy, and his 1854 lectures on world history, Ranke stressed the importance of precisely understanding historical events on the basis of an intensive and critical study of published and unpublished primary sources. Ranke did not deny that there were general themes that could become apparent from the study of history, but he believed that such themes emerged from the historian's empirical analysis rather than philosophical presuppositions. Ranke was also skeptical of the idea that history was the story of any form of progress, conceptual or otherwise.
While scholars argued about the meaning of advanced forms of knowledge, a quite different controversy was in progress concerning elementary education. One tendency in this controversy was represented by Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz (1777-1837), a noble landlord in the province of Brandenburg in the Kingdom of Prussia, who was the model of a nineteenth-century reactionary. When, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Prussian government set about freeing the serfs, Marwitz opposed this so vigorously that the frustrated Prussian Chancellor von Hardenberg had him imprisoned in a fortress. In his 1836 memorandum on crime and moral decay, Marwitz set out, in slightly exaggerated form, a nineteenth-century conservative belief about elementary public education for the lower classes. Such education, Marwitz thought, should consist primarily of teaching children of the common people the basics of religion and morality. Further instruction, whether in the three R's, or more advanced subjects, would just ruin the common people morally and economically.