Letter to the Ranke Editor

"The Ranke" was an undergraduate newsletter some friends and I started. We passed it on to other students after the first year. They took the newsletter in a very different direction. I was dismayed. And so wrote this letter to the new editors.

Dear Editor,

As a contributor to The Ranke last year, I read the first issue of this year's Ranke with great interest. Let me tell you how it happened. How it really was.

Last Saturday evening, I was at the house of a friend. We began the evening as we had ended the afternoon-with a beer in one hand and a bowl of macaroni and cheese in the other. This engendered a certain heaviness of stomach. The conversation turned to conservation, specifically the alcohol-to-calorie ratio of popular adult beverages. You see, the goal is not to die of cirrhosis, nor to die of obesity, but to expire from both at the exact same time. This entails a certain amount of planning and mathematical calculation. Being fearless seekers-after-truth, this friend and I have undertaken this exacting research.

After a few hours of argument and experiment, we decided on gin-and-diet-tonic as the most efficient alcohol introduction method. We rushed to the computer to record our findings. As the computer came out of its slumber, The Ranke stared out at us from the email inbox. We took turns reading it aloud. With each paragraph, our enunciation became crisper, our vocal range became wider, and our passion increased. That night, we did not just read The Ranke. We performed The Ranke.

You might consider the previous story irrelevant rambling. You might ask what it has to do with the articles in the latest issue of The Ranke, in any issue of The Ranke. And I would answer: nothing. But that is no reason not to tell such a story. In the first year of its existence, irrelevant rambling was The Ranke's raison d'etre.

The first issue of this year's Ranke was a dramatic break from this tradition. It was clear and concise. It provided a succinct and accessible account of The Ranke, past, present, and future. There was actual news--accurate news even.

In these changes, I fear something has been lost. Who can forget the hilarity of the time when that prominent scholar came to PSU as a guest lecturer, and we quoted him as saying, "I am feeling quite syphilitic today." Is it our fault that none of the editors had heard "Sisyphean" before? Or how about the time we broke the news that Henry VIII's alleged infidelity was the result of an erroneous sixteenth-century chronicle, and henceforth all history texts would have to be revised. This time, the "scholar" we quoted actually did have syphilis. In our defense, most of the grey-haired, ill-clothed, and unkempt people behaving erratically in the park blocks have tenure at PSU.

The irrelevant rambling of last year's Ranke was always more than just entertainment however. We did not seek to provide a glimpse of how professional history liked to think of itself; we sought to show how it really was. All that I have written in this letter could go by another name: historical context. In the historical discipline, the ramblers shall inherit the earth. At the level of the work done by the individual historian, what is history if it is not writing about things that hardly matter for an audience who hardly cares?

Best Wishes,

D. G. Fellin