Sybel, Heinrich von

Sybel, Heinrich von

(hīn`rĭkh fən zē`bəl), 1817–95, German historian. He studied under Ranke at the Univ. of Berlin, but later abandoned the Rankean striving for objective history; he began to take an active part in politics and promoted the nationalist and Protestant causes in his speeches and writings. In 1859, Sybel founded the Historische Zeitschrift. After 1875 he was director of the Prussian state archives, which he used extensively for his chief work, Founding of the German Empire by William I (tr., 7 vol., 1890–98). His other works include a history of the revolutionary period from 1789 to 1800, part of which was translated as History of the French Revolution (4 vol., 1867–79).
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Sybel, Heinrich Von


Born Dec. 2, 1817, in Dusseldorf; died Aug. 1, 1895, in Marburg. German historian and political figure; representative of the nationalistic Prussian-oriented little Germany school, which was a leading tendency in German bourgeois historiography in the second half of the 19th century.

Sybel studied at the University of Berlin with L. von Ranke and F. von Savigny. He became a professor at the University of Marburg in 1846; from 1856 to 1860 he was a professor at the University of Munich, and from 1861 to 1874 at the University of Bonn. In 1859 he founded the journal Historische Zeitschrift. He became director of the Prussian State Archives in Berlin in 1875. From 1862 to 1864 he was a deputy in the Prussian Landtag; in the Reichstag of the North German Confederation, where he was a deputy beginning in 1867, he aligned himself with the National Liberals. An ideologue of the big bourgeoisie, Sybel fused a moderately liberal critique of feudal vestiges and of Germany’s political fragmentation with an antidemocratic attitude, deeply hostile to the revolutionary movement. As with other liberals, he shifted from opposition to Bismarck to a position of compromise with the Junker regime. From the mid-1860’s he was an active supporter of the unification of Germany through the Prussian monarchy.

Viewing history as a political science, Sybel injected his own political ideas into his historical writings. This explains his extremely tendentious, negative description of the Great French Revolution as the “dangerous French way” of struggling with feudalism, his idealization of the Prussian monarchy, and his apologia of the Hohenzollerns and Bismarck, whom he depicted as fighters for a national German state. At the same time Sybel also expressed rational opinions in his works, such as his view of the medieval Holy Roman Empire as a brake on the development of a national German state and his critical evaluation of the role of Catholicism in history.


Die deutsche Nation und Kaiserreich. Düsseldorf, 1862.
Die Begréndung des Deutschen Reiches durch Wilhelm I, vols. 1–7. Munich-Leipzig, 1889–95.
In Russian translation:
Istoriia frantsuzskoi revoliutsii i ee vremeni (1789–1795), parts 1—4. St. Petersburg, 1863–67.


Istoriografiia novogo vremeni stran Evropy i Ameriki. Moscow, 1967. Pages 297–302, 307–08.
Gavrilichev, V. A. “Teoretiko-metodologicheskie osnovy istoricheskikh issledovanii Genrikha fon Zibelia.” In the collection Metodologicheskie i istoriograficheskie voprosy istoricheskoi nauki. Tomsk, 1963.
Schleier, H. Sybel und Treitschke. … Berlin, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.