ABSTRACT

Romantic conceptions of history shared by many nineteenth-century historians were instrumental in advancing forms of history that were dependent on the figure of the great man as a primary force of historical process. Johann Gottfried Herder espoused a view of historical process characteristic of nineteenth-century history-making that identified with an organicist conception of life, in which individuals and groups were united by nature and spirit, and viewed history as a theater where antagonistic forces engaged in combat toward moral and political enlightenment as a drama of spiritual progress.1 While Thomas Carlyle shared Herder’s view of history as a struggle to overcome chaos, he placed emphasis on super heroes and how they were distinct from the common run of humanity.2 Though the Enlightenment expressed a greater skepticism about the achievements of individuals, Carlyle held that the actions of exceptional individuals (e.g., Frederick the Great) were the prime instruments in “history as a process

[that] represents an endless struggle of the mob against the exceptional man, the hero.”3 He held that the actions of these exceptional individuals were instrumental in imposing order through purposive action to “give to history the mark of man’s own aspiration to be something more than mere chaos.”4 This nineteenth-century view of historicism was to be prominent in much biographical writing and was later expressed through cinema.