Adolf Bastian

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Adolf Bastian
Adolf Bastian as a corps student, 1846

Philipp Wilhelm Adolf Bastian (born June 26, 1826 in Bremen ; † February 2, 1905 in Port of Spain , today Trinidad and Tobago ) was a German doctor , ethnologist and founding director of the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin .


In Bremen and while traveling

Bastian came from a respected merchant family in Bremen. He studied law at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg . He studied medicine and natural science at the University of Berlin , the University of Jena and the University of Würzburg . In Würzburg he was promoted to Dr. med. PhD . He was a member of the Corps Vandalia Heidelberg and an honorary member of the Corps Saxonia Jena .

After graduating from 1850, he traveled to Australia , Peru , the Caribbean , Mexico , India and Africa as a ship's doctor . In 1858 he returned to Bremen and described his travel experiences. In 1860 the three-volume work Der Mensch in der Geschichte was published , which established its reputation as the first German ethnologist to conduct systematic investigations in the field. In 1861 he traveled to South and East Asia. In 1863 he was the first to decipher the mythological roots of Angkor . Bastian discovered the longest relief in the world, which illustrates an Indian creation myth, the Milky Ocean , as well as a river bed decorated with symbols of Indian gods. He concluded that Hindus, not Buddhists, laid the foundation for these structures. The second visit to Latin America took place in 1875/76, which took Bastian to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Puerto Rico. In Chile, he was hoping to find an archaeological or ethnological museum. However, these plans could not be implemented.

In Berlin

In 1866 Bastian became a lecturer in Berlin . He was a co-founder of the journal for ethnology . In 1869 he was elected a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina . In 1873 he and others founded the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin (today the Ethnological Museum in Berlin-Dahlem) and he became its first director. Together with Rudolf Virchow and Carl Vogt, he founded the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory .

Bastian has written more than 80 books and over 300 articles, and in total he spent more than 25 years traveling. In the meantime, he also found the opportunity to found some (still existing) scientific institutions.


Adolf Bastian died in 1905 at the age of 78 and was buried in the Old St. Matthew Cemetery in Schöneberg . In the course of the leveling carried out by the National Socialists on the cemetery in 1938/1939, Bastian's remains were reburied in the south-west cemetery Stahnsdorf near Berlin ( Trinity block ). His grave there is dedicated to the city of Berlin as a grave of honor .



In his theoretical work, Bastian emphasized the idea of ​​“elementary thoughts”, which show only a small variance among all peoples (“people's thoughts”), the unity of people and the human spirit. By tracing the diversity of human cultures back to “elementary ideas”, he distanced himself from diffusion theories, which assume migration of cultural features as an explanation for similarities in different cultures. He was an avowed enemy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and followed the model of the social Darwinist evolutionists Lewis Henry Morgan , Edward Tylor and Herbert Spencer , which is why Bastian is often associated with evolutionism, especially in the English-speaking world.

He has been seen in line with enlightened and romantic thinkers such as Giambattista Vico , Johann Gottfried Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt . Although Bastian himself insisted on pursuing a scientific approach, he was retrospectively classified in the humanities-inspired and history-conscious tradition of ethnology.

All in all, his multi-layered work and the sometimes fleeting formulations seem to have stood in the way of an appropriate reception to this day. Carl Gustav Jung developed Bastian's idea of ​​"elementary thoughts" into " archetypes ".


  • A visit to San Salvador , the capital of the Kingdom of the Congo . Bremen 1859 ( digitized version )
  • The man in history. To justify a psychological worldview. 1. Vol. Psychology as a natural science. -2. Vol. Psychology and Mythology. -3. Vol. Political Psychology. Verlag von Otto Wigand, Leipzig 1860 (digital copies: I , II , III )
  • The peoples of Eastern Asia . 6 volumes, Jena 1866–1871 (digital copies: I , II , III , IV , V , VI )
  • The constant in the human races and the scope of their changeability . Berlin 1868
  • Contributions to comparative psychology . Berlin 1868 ( digitized version )
  • Comparative language studies . Leipzig 1870
  • Ethnological research . 2 volumes, Jena 1871–1873
  • Geographical and ethnological images . Jena 1873
  • The German expedition to the Loango coast . 2 volumes, Jena 1874–1875
  • Creation or emergence . Jena 1875
  • The cultures of ancient America . 3 volumes, Berlin 1878–1889
  • The sacred legend of the Polynesians  : cosmogony and theogony . Brockhaus, Leipzig 1881. ( Online ).
  • The idea of ​​nations in the construction of a science of man . Berlin 1881. ( digitized version and full text in the German text archive )
  • The prehistory of ethnology . Berlin 1881
  • Stone sculptures from Guatemala . Berlin 1882
  • The Buddhism in his psychology . Berlin 1882
  • America's northwest coast . Berlin 1883
  • Archipelagos in Oceania . Berlin 1883
  • Tribes of people at the Brahmaputra . Berlin 1883
  • Two words about colonial wisdom . Berlin 1883
  • Indonesia . 5 deliveries, Berlin 1884–1894
  • General principles of ethnology . Berlin 1884
  • Problems of religious philosophy in the research field of Buddhist psychology and comparative mythology . Berlin 1884
  • The fetish on the Guinea coast . Berlin 1884
  • The Papua of the dark island kingdom . Berlin 1885
  • In matters of spiritism . Berlin 1886
  • To doctrine of the geographical provinces . Berlin 1886
  • The soul of Indian and Hellenistic philosophy in the ghosts of modern spirit vision . Berlin 1886
  • The world in its reflections under the change of the national thought . Berlin 1887
  • Some from Samoa and other islands in the South Pacific . Berlin 1889
  • About climate and acclimatization . Berlin 1889
  • How the people think . Berlin 1892
  • Ideal worlds . 3 volumes, Berlin 1893
  • Prehistoric creation songs . Berlin 1893
  • The whereabouts of the separated souls . Berlin 1893
  • Controversies in Ethnology . Berlin 1893-1894
  • On the mythology and psychology of the Nigritians in Guinea . Berlin 1894
  • The Samoan creation saga and the following from the South Seas . Weimar 1895
  • Elementary ethnic thoughts in the teaching of man . 2 Dept. Berlin 1895
  • On the teaching of man in ethnic anthropology . 2 Dept. Berlin 1895
  • The thought creation of the surrounding world from cosmogonic ideas . Berlin 1896
  • Loose leaves from India . I – VII, Berlin 1897–1899
  • The Micronesian colonies from an ethnological point of view . Berlin 1899
  • Ethnology and intercourse . Berlin 1900
  • International traffic and its means of communication with regard to China . Berlin 1900
  • The changing phases in the historical visual circle . I – IV, Berlin 1900
  • Cultural-historical studies with reference to Buddhism . Berlin 1900
  • The problems of humanistic questions and how to answer them under the signs of the times . Berlin 1901
  • The thought of humanity through space and time . 2 volumes, Berlin 1901
  • The historical drama on the Cap from a bird's eye view . Berlin 1901 (published anonymously)
  • The doctrine of thinking . 3 volumes, Berlin 1902–1905
  • Works by Adolf Bastian in the Internet Archive in German
  • Works by Philipp Wilhelm Adolf Bastian in the Internet Archive
  • 1869 Founding of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (Berlin), together with Robert Hartmann


Web links

Commons : Adolf Bastian  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Adolf Bastian  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Dissertation: De methodo therapeutica quae endermatica dicitur.
  2. Kösener corps lists 1910, 122/128; 127/335
  3. Andreas Sawall: Atlantis: The Mystery of Angkor , ZDF / arte broadcast from July 14, 2012
  4. ^ Thilo Stumpf: German doctors as explorers in Latin America from the 19th century to the First World War , dissertation Institute for the History of Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Supervisor Wolfgang U. Eckart , 2000, pp. 125–130.
  5. ^ Hans-Jürgen Mende: Lexicon of Berlin tombs . Haude & Spener, Berlin 2006. pp. 299, 465.
  6. Bastianøyane . In: The Place Names of Svalbard (first edition 1942). Norsk Polarinstitutt , Oslo 2001, ISBN 82-90307-82-9 (English, Norwegian).
  7. Østgrønlandske Stednavne - Fra den første kortlægning (PDF; 9.54 MB) on the website of the Danish Arctic Institute (Danish)
  8. International Archive for Ethnography . tape XIII . Bookstore and printer formerly EJ Brill, Leiden 1900, p. 216 ( online ).