Alexander von Humboldt

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Alexander von Humboldt
painting by Joseph Stieler , 1843
Humboldt's signature

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (born September 14, 1769 in Berlin ; † May 6, 1859 there ) was a German explorer with a field of activity reaching far beyond Europe . In his oeuvre over a period of more than seven decades he created “a new level of knowledge and reflection on knowledge of the world” and became a co-founder of geography as an empirical science . He was the younger brother of Wilhelm von Humboldt .

Research trips lasting several years took Alexander von Humboldt to Latin America , the USA and Central Asia . He conducted scientific field studies in the fields of physics , geology , mineralogy , botany , vegetation geography , zoology , climatology , oceanography and astronomy, among others . Further research concerned economic geography , ethnology , demography , physiology and chemistry . Alexander von Humboldt corresponded with numerous experts from various disciplines and thus created a scientific network of its own.

In Germany, Alexander von Humboldt achieved extraordinary popularity , especially with his works Views of Nature and the Cosmos . Even during his lifetime he enjoyed a high reputation at home and abroad and was considered "the greatest natural scientist [of his] time". The Academy of Sciences in Berlin recognized him as "the first scientific greatness of his age", whose world fame even surpassed Leibniz's . The Paris Academy of Sciences gave him the nickname "The New Aristotle ".

The complexity of Humboldt's work and vita meant that after his death numerous social and political currents appealed to him for their respective goals. Since the end of the 20th century - under the impression of comprehensive globalization - his work has been received as a pioneer of ecological thinking, for whom the insight was: "Everything is interaction".

Career and work

Family background

Coat of arms of the
Humboldt family
Memorial plaque at the location of the former birth house at Jägerstrasse 22 in Berlin-Mitte (today: Academy of Sciences)
Alexander von Humboldt, portrayed by Johann Heinrich Schmidt in 1784

Alexander von Humboldt from Pomerania originating father Alexander Georg was a Prussian officer and was for his services in the Seven Years' War to the chamberlain of the Princess of Prussia appointed. In 1766 he married the widow Marie-Elisabeth von Holwede, b. Colomb , daughter of a wealthy family, some of Huguenot origin, who had received significant fortunes from their first marriage, including Tegel Castle and the Berlin town hall. The second marriage resulted in two sons, Wilhelm and Alexander.

Sometimes Alexander von Humboldt is referred to as " Freiherr " (French or English "baron"). This already happened during his lifetime, and Humboldt did not contradict it, rather he used the title of baron himself on rare occasions. But it could be proved that after the ennoblement of his grandfather as "von Humboldt" only the descendants of his brother William were lawfully awarded in 1875 the title Baron. Most of the time, Alexander von Humboldt even signed without the word “from” in his name.

Childhood and youth

The father's position established a specific relationship between the Humboldt brothers and the Prussian royal family, especially since the Crown Prince , who later became Friedrich Wilhelm II , was one of Alexander's godparents. After the marriage of the heir to the throne was divorced in 1769, Chamberlain von Humboldt, who had been unmarried from his previous duties, was able to retire to private life at the Tegel Estate and Castle . His main focus was now on the best possible upbringing and training of his sons, for whom he sought tutors who were close to enlightened thinking. In two phases from 1769 to 1773 and in 1775 in Tegel , Joachim Heinrich Campe, who was pedagogically inspired by Rousseau, exerted a significant influence on the brothers as a private tutor and educator, and from 1777 onwards Gottlob Johann Christian Kunth , who soon became the closest confidante of the landlord and after his death in 1779 also became his widow.

For a long time, Alexander appeared to his educators as a rather poorly qualified, unwilling head to learn. Nevertheless, he was expected to work through the same learning material, largely abstractly prepared in the manner typical of the time, which his two years older brother Wilhelm grasped with comparatively effortlessly. However, Alexander showed a special interest in natural objects early on; and since he liked to deal with insects, stones and plants, he was soon known as "the little pharmacist". In his room he organized and labeled his finds. As a ten year old he designed maps of the planetary system and America.

He pursued these interests in addition to the tutor's lessons, so that he completed an even larger amount of material than Wilhelm and formed a horizon that was profiled in his own way. This also included his drawing and painting talent, which was trained in engraving and etching under the guidance of Daniel Chodowiecki and with which he presented himself to the public in the first art exhibition of the Berlin Academy in 1786. The astonishing quality of the illustrations of his later travel work may have originated here.

The whole educational plan of the now twice widowed Ms. von Humboldt was geared towards the optimal training of the two half-orphans for important posts in the civil service, who, with a relatively modest lifestyle, used significant funds for this purpose. Not only did the brothers receive thorough instruction in old and new languages, but under Kunth's careful guidance they were taught by a number of specialists at a university-like level. These included, among others, the camerawoman and privy councilor Christian Konrad Wilhelm von Dohm , who advocated Jewish emancipation , Ernst Ferdinand Klein for natural law and Johann Jakob Engel for philosophy. In addition, both Humboldts attended the experimentally supported philosophical-physical lectures of the doctor Marcus Herz, who was influenced by Kant . Thus the brothers came into the salon of Henriette Herz , where she with that of Moses Mendelssohn influenced Berlin Enlightenment came into close contact.


With a view to the planned careers in civil service, in 1787 the mother sent her sons to study at the Brandenburg University of Frankfurt (Viadrina), the closest university to Berlin. Wilhelm was supposed to study law there, Alexander the less famous camera science (political economy). On the side, Alexander listened to ancient studies , medicine , physics and mathematics .

With the theology student Wilhelm Gabriel Wegener (1767-1837) he made an "eternal friendship" in February 1788. For this reason, among other things, and because Humboldt remained a bachelor until the end of his life , some of the research literature takes the view that Alexander von Humboldt was homosexual . Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller, for example, sees evidence of homoerotic relationships not only with Wegener, but also with Israel (Johannes) Stieglitz , Johann Carl Freiesleben , the officer Reinhard Samuel Christian von Haeften (1772–1803) and in Paris with the chemist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac , with whom he lived in an apartment for four years, and with the painter Carl von Steuben .

Both Alexander and his brother Wilhelm were obviously under academically underutilized in Frankfurt (Oder) and left the university after one semester. Alexander went back to Berlin, where he was trained in botany by Carl Ludwig Willdenow .

On April 25, 1789, following his brother, he enrolled at the Braunschweig-Lüneburg University of Göttingen . In addition to the physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg , the anatomist and zoologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach , who valued the research trip as an important source of knowledge for anthropology and biology and gathered an interdisciplinary group of ambitious young scientists around him , was particularly pioneering for Alexander . In autumn 1789, Humboldt went on a study trip with the Dutch physician Steven Jan van Geuns to areas west of Prussia and to the Rhine. In Mainz he got to know Georg Forster , who, as a naturalist with experience of circumnavigation, embodied the type he himself was striving for. From the end of March to July 1790, Humboldt and Forster undertook a joint research trip from Mainz via the Lower Rhine to England and back via Paris, which was in the first year after the storming of the Bastille, which triggered the French Revolution . Like Forster, Humboldt stood up for revolutionary ideals and human rights ; But unlike the latter, who became a German Jacobin in Mainz and finally moved to Paris as an ardent supporter of the revolution, Humboldt continued his cameralistic training in commercial science as well as in economics and world economics at the Hamburg Büsch Academy. This offered him many opportunities to specialize in geography and travelogues.

After completing his studies at the commercial academy, Humboldt sent an application to the Prussian chief miner Friedrich Anton von Heynitz for a job in the mining administration in May 1791 . To this end, he first took up a degree in mining at the Bergakademie Freiberg , which he completed in eight months. His urge to be active corresponded to the practical miner's service, for which he drove into the pits with the other miners every day at six o'clock; in the afternoons he took part in up to six preparatory courses, including a. with Abraham Gottlob Werner .

Civil service career (1792–1796)

On March 6, 1792 he received the certificate of employment as " Bergassessor cum voto", and a little later he was entrusted with the investigation of the Lotharheiler slate that was mined in the Principality of Bayreuth , which had just come to Prussia . On his way there, he inspected the Kamsdorf-Könitzer mining and revolutionized the mining processes for alum slate in the Schmiedefelder Vitriolwerk am Schwefelloch. Due to his exemplary illuminating report, he was promoted to chief miner after only half a year of service, with the task of rehabilitating the mining in the Fichtelgebirge and Franconian Forest .

Humboldt reorganized mining in technical and economic terms. He modernized the mining processes for silver , nickel , tin and iron as well as alum slate in the Bayreuth region . He brought the gold mines of Goldkronach , which were threatened in their existence, into the profit zone , so that they were operated until 1861. He achieved a similar success with the Friedrich Wilhelm tunnel in the Steben copper mine, which he had rebuilt, with which he was able to increase the annual yield considerably. In his activities, Humboldt also had an eye on the effect on the local job market and the social situation of the miners; So he reformed the "Mining Aid Fund" by transferring surpluses to the mining authorities.

On the basis of his chemical analyzes of the mine weather , he developed a mine lamp with an improved lighting effect in pits with a low-oxygen atmosphere . When testing this miner's lamp in the self-experiment he fell because of toxic mine gases pass out, but the lamp helped to save him. He also described a “respiratory machine”, a forerunner of the respirator mask that could be used in rescue operations. However, neither apparatus could prevail.

With his own resources, without consulting the superior authorities, he first founded a mountain school in Steben, the first working-class vocational school in Germany, open to ages from 12 to 30 years. From the end of the shift until 11 p.m., subjects taught included mineral science, mining arithmetic and mining law, machine and compass science . Due to a lack of suitable teaching material, he wrote the textbooks for it himself. From 1792 to 1795 he lived in Steben , Arzberg and Goldkronach.

During his work in the civil service he came into contact with other high-ranking persons employed in the mining administration, who recognized his abilities and tried to make them useful for their purposes. Some of them were later leaders in the Prussian reforms , such as B. Freiherr vom Stein and Karl August von Hardenberg , Minister for the Ansbach-Bayreuth Territory . Humboldt was promoted to Bergrat in 1794 and to Oberbergrat in 1795 by his minister, von Heynitz . But neither this nor unusual offers of salary and time off were able to keep Humboldt in office. On March 26, 1795, he asked the Prussian king to be dismissed from his service as chief miner in order to realize his childhood dream of exploring the world.

Work on biology

Humboldt's official botanical author's abbreviation is “ Humb. ".

During his time in the mining industry, Humboldt dealt with mycology . The lichen and mushroom species that he found in the Freiberg mines were described in Florae Fribergensis specimen , which contained some initial descriptions of species of the genera Agaricus , Peziza and Boletus . He described not only the morphology of the cryptogamous plants, but also the dependence on their environmental conditions. For the lichens, he set up a kinship table ( tabula affinitatum ), which was not yet based on tribal history, but only on external similarity. Already in this work he emphasized programmatically that he viewed plant geography as part of a comprehensive geography in contrast to conventional natural history .

Furthermore, he experimentally investigated the influence of various components of the air on plant growth , with the aspect of economic use for plant production in mind. Although he did not succeed in properly elucidating the role of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the metabolism of plants, he was of the opinion that the carbon in plants comes from the air and not from the earth. He also recognized that the stomata are important for the water balance of the plants, but could not clarify the exact function.

Then he turned to the then current research area of animal electricity in continuation of the experiments of Galvani and Volta . Extensive studies with thousands of animal experiments on the influence of electricity, some with his brother Wilhelm, some as a self-experiment on his own body, demonstrated, among other things, the consumption of oxygen during muscle movement and the effect of moisture on electrical conductivity. In self- experiments for his study, experiments on the irritated muscle and nerve fibers , he brought artificially created wounds on his back into contact with galvanic cells made of metals such as zinc and silver. In contrast to Volta, Humboldt remained convinced of the concept of his own “animal electricity”; He ascribed only a secondary role to contact metals. His physiological writings were often quoted in contemporary specialist literature.

On his South America expedition, Humboldt continued his galvanic experiments; his research on the electric eel ( Electrophorus electricus ) became known. In his later years, Humboldt supported Emil du Bois-Reymond's electrophysiological studies . His results, which make the nerve activity that triggers muscle movement measurable, were taken as a continuation of his experiments.

Work on chemistry

In parallel to his mining experience, Alexander von Humboldt began to grapple with questions about chemistry, with the focus on practical problems. He dealt with the formation and investigation of mine gas as well as with measurements of oxygen consumption and the formation of carbon dioxide . He recognized the seasonal variation in the proportion of this gas in the air and the effect that an increase in the carbon dioxide content up to certain limits promotes the speed of plant growth.

He was particularly interested in the chemistry of air and its components. He recognized the constancy of the air composition at different altitudes. Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Humboldt proved with the help of eudiometric experiments carried out together in 1805 that the elementary ratio of oxygen to hydrogen in water is 1: 2. He also made experiments to research the nitrous gases .

As a mining official , Humboldt prepared reports on the production of glass , porcelain and earthenware . Thanks to his publications on chemistry, Humboldt was scientifically recognized early on. On August 4, 1800, he was accepted as an extraordinary member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin in absentia and referred to as "chimiste célèbre".

Preparation of a major research expedition

Evidently since 1793, Alexander von Humboldt has been preparing intensively for his trip to South America in addition to his work as a mining official. As soon as he became a wealthy heir through his mother's death in November 1796, he resigned from civil service in order to become independent as a naturalist and scientist. His goal was a “physique du monde”, a representation of the entire physical-geographical knowledge of the time, to which he himself wanted to make a decisive contribution on research trips. Already at the end of 1796 he developed his plans for a trip to the "West Indies", which, as understood at the time, encompassed the whole area from Mexico to the Amazon , which he consistently pursued despite some adversities, multiple attempts and detours :

“My journey is sure to be unshakable. I prepare myself for a few more years and collect instruments, I stay in Italy for one to a year and a half to get to know the volcanoes in detail, then via Paris to England, where I could easily stay another year […], and then with English ships to the West Indies "

The fascination of the world overseas had already been conveyed to Alexander through Campe. In the years of preparation he used every opportunity to systematically deepen his knowledge, not only by studying the relevant travel reports and the latest research results, but also through his personal contact with the leading zoologists, botanists and astronomers of the time and through constant practical testing of Measuring instruments in the various landscapes and natural areas (e.g. in the Alps). In addition, he developed a specific recording method for recording his respective research results, the pasigraphy , a written language that recorded the geographical appearances through letters, directional arrows, symbols and abbreviations for formations and rocks.

In May 1798 Humboldt went to Paris, where he cemented his reputation as a scientist in lectures and debates and completed his equipment with measuring instruments. Here he finally found in the botanist Aimé Bonpland the traveling companion whose collaboration made it possible for him to carry out his research projects.

During the preparatory period, Humboldt had to change his plans several times during the preparatory period due to political and warlike entanglements under the sign of the aspiring General Napoleon Bonaparte , and had to break off travel activities that had already started, most recently in December 1798 when he tried to get on a ship from southern France, the Bonpland and his connection to the Egyptian expedition of Napoleon should have made possible. Instead, both of them set off for Madrid with all the instruments planned for the research trip , mostly on foot next to the car, in order to possibly obtain the support of the Spanish crown for the American research company. The large number of measurement data collected along the way brought geographical information about the shape of the Spanish plateau for the first time.

His reputation as a scientist and mining expert, his diplomatic skill and his appearance at court, supported by his excellent command of Spanish, soon provided Humboldt with recommendations and a privileged research passport that, in his own opinion, no foreigner had ever received. He guaranteed him full freedom of action and the courtesy of all governors and officials throughout the Spanish colonial area. Spain saw the possibility that this private expedition might be worthwhile. In fact, Humboldt's descriptions of the Mexican silver mines later led to massive foreign investment in an attempt to investigate the political state of the Kingdom of New Spain . In contrast, in 1800 the Portuguese government issued an arrest warrant for Humboldt in the event that he entered the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The Portuguese feared that Humboldt would spread or spy on revolutionary ideas.

American expedition (1799–1804)


Course of the America trip

The departure date for the Spanish frigate Pizarro from La Coruña was June 5, 1799. Humboldt wrote in a letter of the same day:

“I will collect plants and fossils, with an excellent sextant from Ramsden , a quadrant from Bird , and a chronometer from Louis Berthoud , I will make useful astronomical observations; I will chemically decompose the air. - But all this is not the main purpose of my trip. On the interaction of forces, the influence of inanimate creation on the animate world of animals and plants; my eyes should always be directed to this harmony. The hardworking person must want the good and the great. Whether he will achieve it depends on the unsettled fate. "

Humboldt and Bonpland used the one-week stopover on the Canary Island of Tenerife in June 1799 for activities that they then repeated many times over in the New World : They climbed the Pico del Teide , registered the vegetation zones , stayed in a cave below the summit and examined the day after Crater of the volcano.

The crossing of the Atlantic went without any problems. Humboldt had around 50 of the most modern instruments on board , including sextants , quadrants , telescopes , a length clock , an inclinatorium , a declinatorium , a cyanometer , eudiometer , hydrometer , hyetometer , electrometer , hygrometer , barometer and thermometer .

On July 16, 1799 - 20 days after leaving Tenerife - the Pizarro anchored on the coast of New Granada in what is now Venezuela. Humboldt and Bonpland disembarked in Cumaná , where the slave market made a lasting impression on them. Humboldt was so appalled by the cruel treatment of the slaves that he became a staunch advocate of abolitionism . From Cumaná, Humboldt and Bonpland traveled on to Caracas after the excursions in the surrounding area .

First expedition: Between Orinoco and Rio Negro

Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland on the Orinoco, painting by Eduard Ender , 1856

Humboldt's American expedition can be divided into three phases of roughly similar duration: the first with the Orinoco exploration; the second, which led from Cuba to Peru via Colombia and Ecuador ; and the third, mainly dedicated to Mexico .

The first expedition led from Caracas to the Apure River in February 1800 and on this into the Orinoco river bed, which was traveled upstream as far south as possible, but then left to continue south over the Rio Atabapo to the Rio Negro , the Amazon tributary to advance. The rivers were sailed on a pirogue , a tree trunk about 13 meters long and a meter wide, hollowed out with an ax and fire. It was operated by a helmsman and four Indian rowers. In the area of ​​the stern a low canopy of leaves was installed, on the load-bearing parts of which cages with captured birds and monkeys hung. The larger measuring instruments carried with them also restricted freedom of movement.

On the Rio Negro, the confluence of the Rio Casiquiare , which flows directly to the northeast of the Orinoco, was reached, and with its entire length upstream it was proven that, contrary to the widespread doctrine, according to which there were no natural connections between the great river areas of the earth, there was one between Orinoco and Amazon just exist. On May 20, 1800 the pirogue reached the bifurcation of the Orinoco, as expected , where it forks into two arms, thus achieving the most important research goal of this expedition; the travelers could now move downriver on the Orinoco for the return trip. They followed its course to Angostura ( Ciudad Bolívar ) and then fought through the agonizing heat of the Llanos north to the coastal city of Nueva Barcelona , which they reached on July 23, 1800.

They survived the 2250 kilometer long river journey, although Bonpland had recently come close to death in Angostura, to which, in addition to the happy turn of some dangerous situations, their determination and hard-wearing physique contributed. Alexander, who was often ailing at a young age, reported home: “The tropical world is my element and I have never been as healthy as I have been in the past two years. [...] On the Atabapo, where the savages always suffer from lazy fever, my health resisted incomprehensibly well. "

The overall success of the American trip also enabled an unshakable stamina - Humboldt was constantly busy with localization and measurements of all kinds, Bonpland with botanizing, both together with sketches and notes - even under the most adverse conditions:

"Four months on end we slept in forests, surrounded by crocodiles, boas and jaguars [...] not enjoying as rice, ants, cassava , plantain , Orenocowasser and sometimes monkeys. [...] In Guiana , where you have to keep your head and hands covered because of the mosquites that darken the air, it is almost impossible to write in daylight; the pen cannot be held still, the poison of insects hurts so furiously. All our work therefore had to be done by the fire, in an Indian hut, where no ray of sunlight penetrates and in which one has to crawl on one's stomach. Here, however, one suffocates from smoke again if one also suffers less from the mosquitoes. "

Second expedition: From Cartagena to Lima

The catchment area of ​​the Amazon (yellow); its source river Marañón is marked purple.
Humboldt and Bonpland at the foot of the Chimborazo volcano , painting by Friedrich Georg Weitsch (1810)
The Chimborazo in Ecuador

The second South America expedition began after a stopover in Havana , where Humboldt had prepared the material for his geographical Essai politique sur l′île de Cuba , on March 30, 1801 in Cartagena on the Colombian Caribbean coast. Humboldt had learned that he would be able to join the French round-the-world expedition under Captain Nicolas Baudin on the Peruvian coast. On the way there, the implementation of the long-considered Andean research project was an urgent necessity.

From Barancas Nuevas, Humboldt and Bonpland sailed the Río Magdalena upstream: “Our Magdalena trip was a terrible tragedy; We left eight of the twenty dark rowers on the way, just as many arrived at Honda straight away with stinking ulcers . ”After four days of steep ascent, they reached the Andean plateau and in Bogotá were able to engage in a lively scientific exchange with the botanist José, who welcomed them lavishly Kick Mutis . For the Spanish viceroy, Humboldt prepared, among other things, an appraisal of the silver mines and gold production in Colombia. The continuation of the route over the Andes turned out to be extremely difficult: “Thick forests lie between marshes; the mules sink down to half their bodies; and you have to go through gaps so deep and narrow that you think you are entering a mine tunnel. The paths are also paved with the bones of the mules, which fell over here from cold or fatigue. "

To get from Bogotá to Quito , the travelers needed from September 19, 1801 - with a stopover in Popayán  - to January 6, 1802. In Quito they were accommodated in the house of Duke Juan Pío Montúfar y Larrea; his son Carlos de Montúfar (1780-1816) henceforth took part in Humboldt's American expedition.

Volcanoes in an area of ​​Ecuador have recently become the focus of research. After a first aborted attempt, Humboldt climbed the Pichincha twice, finally accompanied by a violent earthquake, the impacts of which he carefully recorded. Despite the inadequacy of footwear, clothing and equipment, Humboldt, Bonpland and Montúfar reached almost the summit on June 23, 1802 when climbing Chimborazo (6,263 meters), but had to turn back 400 to 800 meters below the crater due to an impassable crevice. Nevertheless, this remained a world record for mountaineers for 30 years. They suffered from the symptoms of altitude sickness : dizziness and nausea, bleeding from lips and gums.

Soon afterwards, after a rapid descent to Jaén , the expedition explored the upper reaches of the Marañón in the headwaters of the Amazon and, after a renewed ascent into the Andes, the remains of the Inca sites in the vicinity of Cajamarca . As the measurements showed, they crossed the magnetic equator . During his trip to South America, Humboldt noticed on various occasions the daily fluctuations in sound intensity ( Humboldt effect ), for which he gave an explanation in 1820.

When the participants arrived in Lima on October 23, 1802 after crossing an Andean chain four times , this second research undertaking was successfully completed. Between ten degrees north and ten degrees south latitude, the climatic and vegetation levels of the tropical high mountains were measured and recorded in a variety of ways. By observing the passage of the planet Mercury on November 9, 1802 in Lima's port of Callao , Humboldt succeeded in determining the longitude of Lima more precisely ; this subsequently became a benchmark for the entire south-western part of the new continent. There he also studied the fertilizer properties of guano , which was then introduced to Europe as a fertilizer.

Third expedition: Mexico

Even before the departure from Quito , the information had arrived that the planned connection to the French round-the-world expedition of Captain Baudin was no longer possible because of his change of route. So again had to be rescheduled. After a stopover in Guayaquil , during which Humboldt demonstrated the ocean current named after him through temperature measurements , a one-year stay in Mexico began on March 23, 1803 in Acapulco as the last section of the voyage. On the basis of barometric height measurements during the journey from Acapulco via Mexico City (with a nine-month exploration stay) to Veracruz on the Atlantic coast, a cross-sectional height profile of central Mexico could be created. In Mexico City, Humboldt collected material for his geographical work on the viceroyalty of New Spain (with descriptions of the political, social and economic conditions as well as extensive population statistics), which became a cornerstone of modern scientific geography as well as that about Cuba, for which he was preparing the preliminary studies in March and April 1804 in Havana . He also gathered observations on epidemic infectious diseases, especially yellow fever , and later described them as a challenge for medicine and society.

The American expedition ended with a visit to the USA , where Humboldt, also due to his intensive travel correspondence, already enjoyed the highest recognition as a researcher and scientist and, among other things, spent three weeks as a guest of President Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC and Philadelphia .

On August 3, 1804, Humboldt and Bonpland set foot on European soil again in Bordeaux . The fact that a private individual had made such a research trip entirely from his own resources was unprecedented. Humboldt's fortune was reduced by a third, and it was to be completely used up in the three decades that followed, in which he wrote his travel book in 30 volumes and published it - the largest private travel book ever published.

Condemnation of slavery and the colonial regime

Alexander von Humboldt, painting by Friedrich Georg Weitsch (1806)

Humboldt, who traveled under the protection of the Spanish crown, who relied on the support of the colonial administrations for his investigations into the social conditions on site and was in communication with their leading representatives, could not express open criticism of the system without acutely endangering his entire company. In his travel diaries as well as in later writings, however, it clearly shows that Humboldt viewed the prevailing conditions as untenable in the long run. Against the "current predicament" determined by monocultures and slavery, he relied on a combination of natural order and human freedom: If this predicament were eliminated by revolutions, silk, wine, oil and cloth would be produced "in an independent, free existence"; then the trade dependency also goes back and everything comes into a natural position. “The slave haciendas presuppose unnatural conditions and establish new, even more unnatural ones. But what is against nature is unjust, bad and unsustainable. "

In the political essay on the island of Cuba , Humboldt wrote:

“Without a doubt, slavery is the greatest of all evils that have plagued mankind, whether you look at the slave as he is snatched from his family at home and thrown into the hold of a vehicle prepared for the Negro trade, or that you are regards him as part of the herd of black people crammed into the ground in the Antilles; "

According to Humboldt, an improvement in the situation could only be brought about by those European governments “who have a feeling for human worth and know that every injustice carries a germ of destruction”. But this will not happen "as long as the totality of the owners and the colonial assemblies or legislatures do not share the same view and work together according to a well-calculated plan to achieve the complete abolition of slavery in the Antilles." In writing, however, Humboldt had little hope of an imminent change in the situation for the better:

“The European governments have achieved so much success in spreading hatred and disagreement in the colonies that the joys of social life are hardly known in them; […] From this situation there arises a confusion of ideas and incomprehensible opinions, a general revolutionary tendency. But this wish is limited to driving out the Europeans and then fighting each other. "

Alexander von Humboldt criticized the arbitrary rule of the monks in the missions of the Spanish colonies, especially in Venezuela, particularly drastically in his travel diary. The oppressive regime was established through intrigues spun by the monks, in which the Indians were also played off against one another through unilateral rewards:

“There is no more unlimited despotism than that of the monks. What a terrible idea that the same person who absolves sins, who can withdraw the mildest consolation of a happier future life as he pleases, is also lord and master of your property, the fruits of your agriculture, your least actions. […] The missionary tries to treat his village like a monastery. Everything happens after the sound of the bells; the Indian is not free for a single moment in his actions [...] The Indian does not want to grow anything because everything he produces belongs to the Father. "

Naturalist in Paris and Berlin

Illustration from Ideas for a Geography of Plants together with a nature painting of the tropical countries , Paris 1805

Reception in Paris

In Paris, where he sought and found connection to the scientific developments of the past five years, he was given a terrific reception by his research colleagues. You promised him every support in clarifying technical problems.

This knowledge network was necessary for the report on his expedition; because he had more plans than just describing his own experiences, impressions and measurement results. For example, where he discussed grain cultivation, cocoa and coffee harvest in the Orinoco region, this was mostly associated with a classification into the geographical and economic conditions of the whole known world, i.e. in contexts of knowledge that he could only establish with the help of others. Paris was the most suitable place for this and for the best possible publishing quality of the travel work. In retrospect, Humboldt wrote in 1852: "I chose Paris as my stay, because no place on the continent offered an equally accessible treasure of scientific aids at the time, and none included as many great and active researchers as that capital."

Stay in Berlin

Humboldt 1807 in Berlin (drawing by Frédéric d'Houdetot)

Humboldt felt little inclination to “see the towers of Berlin again”; in the summer of 1805 he undertook a several-month trip to Italy to study volcanism with Gay-Lussac, while visiting his brother Wilhelm in Rome. It is due to his warnings and the advertising pressure of the Prussian royal family that he then went to Berlin. Immediately after his return, King Friedrich Wilhelm III thought of him . with a pension of 2500 thalers and soon afterwards appointed him royal chamberlain, both without any specific obligations. From November 1805 he continued his scientific work in Berlin; his membership in the Berlin Academy was changed from extraordinary to ordinary. During the years that he spent in Berlin, Humboldt participated intensively in the work of the academy.

After the military collapse of Prussia as a result of the battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806, he experienced the occupation of Berlin by the French and the sacking of Tegel Castle, which had fallen to brother Wilhelm in the course of the division of the estate. At that time, Alexander's Berlin apartment was at Friedrichstrasse 189. Alexander used good contacts to the French both to limit damage to his own family properties and to alleviate some of the hardships of the occupation policy in public spaces. He repeatedly turned down offers to make him the Prussian minister of education. However, he retained the favor of the king by occasionally serving him as a brilliant partner and knowledgeable guide on stays abroad, for example in 1814 during a visit by the monarch to Paris after the coalition's victory over Napoleon I or in 1822 at a congress in Verona , combined with visits to Venice and Rome. Humboldt's well-known urbane and obliging demeanor, his linguistic power and captivating storytelling made him the focus of every society he went to. His horizon of knowledge and the ability to convey it also fascinated Goethe , who had already known in 1797: “The presence of Mr. Bergrat v. Humboldt gives me, I may say, a very special epoch in that he sets in motion everything that may interest me from many angles, I can probably call him unique, because I have never known anyone who makes such a difference directed activity unites such a versatility of the mind that it is incalculable what he can still do for science. "

Change to Paris

When the French demands for war compensation threatened to ruin Prussia, Freiherr vom Stein , who was appointed to the head of government as a reformer, ordered an embassy to Paris under Prince Wilhelm , the king's brother, in November 1807 . Alexander von Humboldt was added to his advisory role, giving him the opportunity to resume work on his travel guide at the most suitable location. For this very purpose, after the failure of the Prince's mission, Humboldt received permission to stay in Paris, which he defended with consistency and skill for almost 20 years.

Humboldt played a role in shaping the Parisian science scene. As early as 1807, he was listed among the founding members of the Société d'Arcueil . This research community was joined by the Catalan physicist François Arago, along with others, in 1809 , with whom Humboldt was henceforth a close friend. Correspondence by letter developed with Simón Bolívar , whom Humboldt also met here.

In 1825/1827 he took private mathematics lessons from the physicist Jean Marie Constant Duhamel and later attended mathematics lectures at the university in Berlin.

Travel plans to South and Central Asia

Self-Portrait in the Mirror (1814)

Humboldt constantly expressed his intentions to extend his natural history research to the eastern hemisphere in order to then obtain a holistic picture of the diversity of the earth and its inhabitants by comparing and differentiating. He was mainly interested in India , the Himalayas and Tibet . When in 1811 he received the second offer to take part in a Russian expedition, he replied: “It costs me a lot to give up hope of seeing the banks of the Ganges with their banana and palm trees; I am now 42 years old and would like to go on an expedition that will last 7–8 years; but in order to sacrifice the equinoctial regions of Asia it is necessary that the plan which will be drawn up for me should be extensive and broad. The Caucasus attracts me less than Lake Baikal and the volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula . Can you penetrate into Kabul , Samarkand and Kashmir ? ”Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812 made such plans obsolete.

A new and promising opportunity in the line of Alexander's primary interests opened up in 1817/18 when his brother Wilhelm was the Prussian envoy in London. During several visits to England, Alexander obtained the support of the Prince Regent and George Canning , President of the Board of Control of the British East India Company , for his plans, including a commitment to finance Friedrich Wilhelm III. in the desired order of magnitude. More than two years of intensive preparations followed before this project also failed, probably due to resistance within the East India Company, in which Humboldt's critical view of colonial conditions might have been feared.

Processing of the America trip

During the American research trip, Humboldt had already ensured that this expedition received sustained attention in scientific circles at home through correspondence and sending samples of the plant collections created with Bonpland. In Berlin, the director of the Botanical Garden, Carl Ludwig Willdenow, who had promoted Humboldt's botanical interests early on, received the programs and began to publish them. Other large parts of the collection were handed over to the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris, a globally oriented institution for the creation, preservation, development and research of natural history collections that was unique at the time due to the French possessions overseas and the research expeditions originating from France .

It was not until 1813, however, when Karl Sigismund Kunth took on the systematic indexing and publication of the herbarium material in Paris, that the comprehensive documentation of the botanical research by Bonpland and Humboldt could take shape. In the seven-volume work Nova genera et species plantarum, Kunth published the botanical output of Humboldt and Bonpland in America between 1815 and 1825.

Meanwhile, the American travel book Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent had grown far beyond the original concept. The 30 volumes appeared between 1805 and 1834 - 10 volumes in folio format and 20 volumes in quarto format . In addition to a significant number of scholars from the various scientific disciplines who provided Humboldt with the content, around 50 specialists were engaged in graphic representations (1,452 of which were copperplate engravings), including painters, draftsmen, cartographers and type artists. What did not meet his quality standards, Humboldt had new made at his own expense, including already completed copper plates, finished text prints up to a whole volume.

Return to Berlin

Memorial plaque in the house at Unter den Linden 6 in Berlin-Mitte for Humboldt's lectures in 1827/28

Finally, in 1827, as the preparatory work for the entire publication was coming to an end, the reason for Humboldt's permanent stay in Paris no longer existed from the Berlin perspective: the king ordered his chamberlain back to Berlin. In 1829 he appointed him Real Privy Councilor with the title of excellence . But Humboldt was in no hurry to get back and first traveled to London to meet important people and enjoy social life. There, at the age of 57 - on the occasion of the first tunnel construction under the Thames - he gave a sample of his risk-free urge to explore. In a two-ton diving bell hanging from a ship's crane with two thick panes of glass that provided a view of the muddy river water, he, together with its designer and the even older philosopher Jeremy Bentham, lowered himself to a depth of 11 meters using a leather hose from above supplied with breathing air. A few days later, the construction site collapsed.

At home, he immediately became the engine and crystallization core of an up-and-coming science scene. His lectures, which he began at the university within the framework of a very broad geographical horizon, were so well attended and in demand that he soon summarized them as a condensed and publicly accessible lecture series in the house of the Sing-Akademie, which had a capacity of 1,000 people , later as "Kosmos lectures" designated. A broad spectrum of society was represented among his listeners, from kings to craftsmen, including women. The only currently known transcript of the lecture series in the house of the Sing-Akademie comes from Henriette Kohlrausch . “The lecture cycle”, says Rüdiger Schaper , “creates a new form of publicity. […] Humboldt is the talk of the town. ”As in his Views of Nature , which had appeared 20 years earlier, he succeeded in captivating his German audience in a language that was easy to understand and rich in images, and sparked interest in geographic and scientific questions. Humboldt developed a similar charisma on another level as the organizer and president of the top-class natural scientists' congress in Berlin in 1828 , which among other things set standards for future such events with its conference mode in specialist departments.

Russian expedition (1829)

Travel route of Humboldt's Russian expedition

Not long after his return from Paris, for which he was granted a four-month stay per year in future, and at the time of his brilliant success as a communicator of nature research in Berlin, Humboldt seized the opportunity to come on his eastern research trip after all - 37 years after the first considerations in this regard. The starting point was a request from Russian Finance Minister Georg Cancrin that Humboldt should comment on the planned introduction of a platinum currency in Russia, which was then implemented despite Humboldt's warning, but actually failed in 1845. Cancrin was also interested in the geologist and mining expert Humboldt and offered him the prospect of a research trip to the Urals and beyond in order to obtain information about exploitable mine deposits.

Although he would have to take into account the interests of the Russian government here and the character of this expedition would have to differ considerably from the American one, in which Humboldt had been able to plan freely, he did not hesitate long. Relations between the crowned heads of Prussia and Russia were just better than ever, and his own resources would no longer have been sufficient for such an undertaking. His 60th birthday was to fall into this expedition; so he was about twice as old as at the beginning of the America trip.

He chose the physician, zoologist and botanist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and the chemist and mineralogist Gustav Rose as companions who were supposed to carry out the scientific evaluation of the expedition for their specialist discipline . Humboldt mainly devoted himself to geomagnetic and astronomical observations and was able to study physical geography in an overview.

The research trip began with a three-week stay at the court in St. Petersburg, where Humboldt captivated the tsarina with, among other things, predictions about diamond finds to be expected in the Urals - and those that were actually made during the trip. Movement in the area from May 20, 1829 on took place in three spring-loaded wagons pulled by 16 horses. A cook and Humboldt's servant Johann Seifert (* 1800, † May 6, 1877 in Pressburg ) were part of the party - in clear contrast to the three American exploratory trips . Seifert had been in Humboldt's service since 1826 by royal decree.

The agreed expedition route should first reach Yekaterinburg on the Urals via Moscow , Kazan and Perm ; More detailed investigations were to take place here on a northern loop, which led to a rich collection of geological material. Tobolsk at the confluence of the Tobol into the Irtysh should have been the eastern turning point of the expedition according to the pre-determinations. However, Humboldt wanted to continue to the Altai Mountains and the Chinese border. He let Cancrin know that the expedition was well ahead of schedule and presented him with a fait  accompli with a considerable extension of the route here - and then again later on the advance down the Volga to the Caspian Sea . Humboldt's unofficial comment on the annoying surveillance practice was: “Not a step without being led under the armpit like a sick person”. Nonetheless, his arbitrariness was accepted by the tsarist regime.

The actual turning point of the trip therefore became the place Baty after inspection of the silver mines in the Altai and contact with Chinese border guards. The way back led from Semipalatinsk via Omsk and Miask to Orenburg at the southern exit of the Ural Mountains and - after the second detour contrary to the program - from Astrakhan via Voronezh and Moscow back to St. Petersburg, which was reached on November 13, 1829.

In almost six months, the explorers had covered more than 18,000 kilometers, pulled by over 12,000 horses. A determining factor of the Russian-Siberian journey was the high speed, which made it difficult to adequately record and record observations and measurements in writing. While Humboldt and Bonpland had covered around 8,000 kilometers in five years on the American trip, it was now more than double the distance in eight months. The associated consolidation of the scientific work affected the type of travel notes and their subsequent processing.

Alexander von Humboldt (with star and ribbon of the Order of the Red Eagle),
painting by H. W. Pickersgill (1831)

Czar Nicholas I and his finance minister, discreetly aware of his meanwhile precarious financial situation, generously provided Humboldt with 20,000 rubles for the expedition, without having to give an account of it. Nevertheless, Humboldt returned a good third of these funds that had not been used. His suggestion to use the money saved for further research companies was followed. Humboldt's lecture summarizing his expedition experiences on November 28, 1829 before the Russian business elite in the presence of the king and other dignitaries, in which he appealed among other things, aimed in the same direction:

“A country that stretches over 135 degrees of longitude, from the fertile zone of the olive trees to the areas where the ground is only covered with lichen-like plants, can do more than any other study of the atmosphere, the knowledge of the average Annual temperature and, more importantly for the cycle of vegetation, promote the study of the distribution of annual heat over the different seasons. […] If the varying isotherms or lines of equal heat are recorded on the basis of precise observations and this is continued for at least five years in European Russia and Siberia , if they are extended to the western coasts of America […], then science becomes of the distribution of heat on the earth's surface and in the layers that are accessible to our research are based on solid foundations. "

In fact, the Russian government subsequently set up a network of measuring stations that recorded, among other things, air pressure, temperature, wind direction and rainfall. The data obtained in this way then served Humboldt as an empirical basis for the relevant considerations in his work on Central Asia, published in 1843.

Compared to the American research trip, Humboldt was significantly less inspired by the Russian expedition afterwards. This was probably due to the disappointment that he hadn't been able to explore the tropical regions of Asia or Africa after the American ones. The flora and fauna of the Urals did not seem particularly attractive to him, but rather tiringly monotonous in the style of Berlin's vegetation and Berlin animal life: "Siberia is the continuation of the Hasenheide." But Humboldt served this second and last great research trip , which was followed by the publication Asie centrale , to make a comparison of the hemispheres on the basis of analogy and contrast. In doing so, she laid the “decisive prerequisites” for his model of a physical description of the world in the cosmos .

A tightrope walker between court service and science (1830-1859)

Humboldt 1847 ( daguerreotype by Hermann Biow )
Memorial plaque on Humboldt's last house at Oranienburger Strasse 67 in Berlin-Mitte

Back in Berlin at the turn of the year 1829/30, Humboldt was essentially faced with three tasks: his official duties at the court, his scientific and political activities and the continuation and completion of the travel work. He rejected the offer to become director of the museum built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel , indignant to his brother, as unsuitable for him. Rather, his interests were met by the eight diplomatic missions on which he was sent to Paris by his two kings in the period up to 1848 and which he was able to use for his scientific contacts and work. As a republican and a free spirit who hated the reaction, Humboldt, who was dependent on the favor of his kings at the Prussian court, could only exert little political influence. But in some areas of public action such as the promotion of art, scientific appointments or the support of technological and industrial innovations, the internationally renowned scientist, with whom the Prussian court could shine, had the trust of his monarchs. "What Humboldt did for the scientific and cultural advancement of Berlin in the third phase of his life, which was to last almost 30 years for the third time," says Ottmar Ette , "can hardly be overestimated."

Since his return to Berlin in 1827, Alexander von Humboldt was a regular guest at the royal table and was required to read and give lectures to the court in the evenings. As chamberlain from 1835 until the accession to the throne of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm in 1840, he was also the latter's reader. The Crown Prince had the "tent room" set up for him in his summer residence at Schloss Charlottenhof .

Humboldt continued to make the best of his situation - in the meantime already for the following generations - by not only continuing his scientific and journalistic work, but also becoming the most important coordinator of scientific patronage due to his enormously ramified network of relationships far beyond Prussia and Germany. The promotion of young researchers became an important concern for Humboldt; For example, he supported the South America researcher Hermann Burmeister , the mathematician Gotthold Eisenstein and the Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch . The proximity of the king was of crucial importance for this function. 1827 appointed Friedrich Wilhelm III. Alexander von Humboldt as president of a commission to examine requests for support from scholars and artists. When Friedrich Wilhelm IV founded the "Pour le mérite" order for science and the arts in 1842 , he made Humboldt its chancellor and mostly followed his suggestions when appointing the 30 German and 25 foreign members.

In January 1848, shortly before the outbreak of the February Revolution in Paris , Humboldt returned from his last diplomatic mission to Berlin. Here he witnessed the March Revolution and was involved in it. After Friedrich Wilhelm IV rode through the city with a black, red and gold armband on March 21 and he and his ministers had given speeches, the people wished to see Alexander von Humboldt on the balcony of the palace. Humboldt appeared, but made no speech, just bowed silently. On the following day, the almost eighty-year-old joined the train that led the 183 civilian victims from the Gendarmenmarkt past the castle to the cemetery of the March dead.

Last years, death, burial and estate

Humboldt in 1857 with the Order of the Black Eagle (photography)

In March 1857, Alexander von Humboldt experienced the belated satisfaction that the Prussian Landtag passed an anti-slavery law, for which he had campaigned: “Slaves are set free from the moment they enter Prussian territory. The property right of the Lord has expired from this point in time. "

Humboldt had already used up his fortune with the expensive publication of his travel book. After returning to Berlin as chamberlain at court, he had taken out loans from the Prussian sea ​​trading company and the Mendelssohn & Co. bank , but his Berlin income was insufficient to repay them. Sometimes Humboldt found himself unable to pay his house servant Johann Seifert, who had been at his side for three decades, to pay his salary . Humboldt finally made him his heir. After a stroke in February 1857, he asked the king to assume his debts to the Mendelssohn banking house in order to secure his legacy for Seifert, and in return received the promise redeemed after his death. In the two remaining years of his life, Humboldt no longer needed to serve as chamberlain to the king; Friedrich Wilhelm IV became seriously ill himself and sought a cure in Italy while Wilhelm I took over the reign. Humboldt concentrated on further work on the cosmos .

On May 6, 1859, Alexander von Humboldt died in his apartment, being looked after by his niece Gabriele von Bülow , after he had not been able to get out of bed since April 21. Four days later, Berlin experienced a day of real national mourning. According to contemporary reports , the crowd that followed the funeral procession from Humboldt's last home at 67 Oranienburger Strasse to the cathedral , where the funeral service for the honorary citizen of Berlin took place, could only be compared with the crowd that had accompanied those who had fallen in March. The following night the coffin was brought to the park of Schloss Tegel , where Alexander von Humboldt was buried in the family grave on May 11th.

Since the Prussian government refused to buy Humboldt's abandoned library, Seifert sold it to London, where a few years later most of it fell victim to a fire. A large part of Humboldt's academic legacy came to the Berlin Academy of Sciences and the Berlin State Library . From the 1960s, the Alexander von Humboldt Research Center at the Academy of Sciences of the GDR dealt with the indexing and publication of the estate; this is now being continued by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.


Cosmos - the sum of life

Handwriting A. v. Humboldts in response to the dedication of the work The entire natural sciences

The enormous popularity that distinguished Alexander von Humboldt after his death was due not least to the work to which he has devoted himself since 1834 and in the two and a half decades that remained: an overview of scientific world exploration that was subject from 1845 to 1862 the title Kosmos has been published in five volumes. In doing so, he succeeded in realizing the vision that he had in mind from the start of his natural research career and that determined all important decision-making situations as a guideline for his actions. To Varnhagen von Ense , who was supposed to advise him on the linguistic design, he wrote in 1834: “I have the great idea, the whole material world, everything we know today about the phenomena of heavenly spaces and earthly life, from the nebulae to the geography of Mosses on the granite rocks know how to represent everything in one work, and in one work that stimulates in lively language and delights the mind at the same time. "

In the foreword to the complete works, Alexander von Humboldt explained to the readership what efforts it had cost him to develop such a complex subject:

“Late in the evening of a busy life, I am handing over a work to the German audience, the image of which, in indefinite outlines, floated in my mind for almost half a century. In some moods I have considered this work to be impracticable: and when I gave it up, I returned to it again, perhaps carelessly. I dedicate it to my contemporaries with the shyness that a just mistrust in the measure of my strength must instill in me. I try to forget that long-awaited scriptures usually have less indulgence. "

However, he had made such an extensive attempt for this project that z. For example, the older brother Wilhelm thought a lot of his abilities at an early age, but for a long time did not give much attention to his research approach: “You don't get closer to nature if you step out of the civilized world.” But he let himself be through Alexander wrong and was ultimately extremely impressed by his lectures at the Singakademie, which Wilhelm attended with his family. The title Kosmos for Alexander's accounting project arose from the mutual reflection of both. In the complementary breadth of their work anyway, but here also in inner harmony, they "took the century brotherly in their arms" (Rübe).

(from left) Friedrich Schiller, Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Jena (wood engraving by W. Aarland after a drawing by Andreas Müller . From: Die Gartenlaube No. 15, Leipzig 1860)

Long before his brother, Alexander won over Goethe for his research method at meetings in Jena and Weimar . He wrote to him in 1795: "Since your observations are based on the element, but mine are based on the figure, we cannot hurry enough to meet in the middle." The 20-year-old took up this impulse and finally it shone in the cosmos brought:

“For the thinking view, nature is unity in multiplicity, the connection of the manifold in form and mixture, the epitome of natural things and natural forces, as a living whole. The most important result of sensible physical research is therefore this: to recognize the unity in the multiplicity, to embrace of the individual everything that the discoveries of the latter ages offer us, to examine the details and yet not to succumb to their mass, the sublime Mindful of man's determination to grasp the spirit of nature, which lies hidden under the cover of appearances. In this way, our endeavors reach beyond the narrow world of the senses, and we can succeed in understanding nature and, as it were, mastering the raw material of empirical perception through ideas. "

Scientific natural research is brought together here with the thinking of Goethe and his brother Wilhelm. At the same time, reference is made to the indispensability of an empirical foundation:

“From incomplete observations and even more incomplete inductions arise erroneous views of the essence of the forces of nature, views which, embodied and rigidified by significant forms of language, spread like a common property of the imagination through all classes of a nation. In addition to scientific physics, another, a system of untested, and in part completely misunderstood, empirical knowledge is formed. Including few details, this kind of empiricism is all the more presumptuous in that it knows none of the facts by which it is shaken. It is self-contained, unchangeable in its axioms, presumptuous like everything limited; while scientific natural history, investigating and therefore doubting, separates the firmly established from the merely probable, and perfects itself daily by expanding and correcting its views. "

The last portrait of Alexander von Humboldt by Julius Schrader (1859). In the background the Chimborazo

Some of the insights that Alexander von Humboldt came to in his later work still apply:

“Knowledge and recognition are the joy and justification of humanity; they are parts of the national wealth, often a substitute for the goods which nature has given out in all too meager measure. Those peoples who lag behind in general industrial activity, in the application of mechanics and technical chemistry, in the careful selection and processing of natural substances, in which respect for such activity does not pervade all classes, will inevitably decline from their prosperity. They become all the more so when neighboring states, in which science and industrial arts are in lively intercourse with one another, advance as if in renewed youth. "

This covers the methodological pillars of Humboldt's research life as well as his late work Kosmos , which made epoch a bestseller with a total print run of 87,000 copies at the time. It was read by students, academics, artists and politicians. Humboldt's German publishers reported record orders for the Kosmos , which even exceeded those for Goethe's Faust . In England, three competing English translation editions of the first two Kosmos volumes were published within four years; In 1849 around 40,000 English copies were sold, plus many thousands in the USA.

Although the sales success and reception of the work prove its extraordinary popularity, the work can only be regarded as a popular work to a limited extent because of its difficult text layout. "The text had all the ideal characteristics of scientific prose: long and often foreign-language quotations, research discussions, comments, etymological digressions, a large amount of dates and figures and historical insertions determine the overall picture." After the work was available, a large number of them appeared Shorter popularizing natural history writings, which often had the term cosmos in the title. Alexander von Humboldt himself occasionally considered - mainly for financial reasons - to write a short version as a microcosm .

World scientist

Alexander von Humboldt's thinking was directed in a comprehensive sense to the world as a whole. The Humboldt researcher Ottmar Ette differentiates between three essential levels of meaning, namely the cosmic one related to space, and a planetary one, which u. a. includes world trade, as well as a philosophical-abstract dimension that comes across as a worldview. Humboldt's research interests and conception of science were not focused solely on the respective objects, but became cosmopolitan science due to its ethical foundation and political responsibility geared to the interests of all of humanity. According to Humboldt, scientific interests and those of the writer went hand in hand. "Aesthetics," says Ette, "for Humboldt is not a mere ornament or a nice bonus, but rather a specific knowledge of linking that is able to connect everything with everything."

As a researcher, Humboldt relied on worldwide networking and promoted it to the best of his ability through his own correspondence and as an organizer of encounters and the exchange of results among scientists. His diverse achievements and areas of activity earned him the highest recognition all over the world:

“In France, where he worked on his travel book for decades, he earned the reputation of being 'the greatest scholar of the century' and 'the Aristotle of the modern age'; in Mexico, where he had a strong influence on the national self-image and independence from Spain through his Essai politique sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne, he was (as the only foreigner) shortly after his death, in July 1859, from President Benito Juárez to 'Benemérito de la Patria' declared; and in Germany, where soon after his return he was celebrated as the 'second discoverer of America', the scientific authority of his time was venerated in him. "

Research horizon

The fields of science to which Alexander von Humboldt made a fundamental contribution include anatomy, ancient studies, botany, geology, history, mathematics, philology, astronomy and zoology. Characteristic of Humboldt's research approach, Ette says, is interdisciplinary lateral thinking and holistic thinking that has by no means got lost in measuring and collecting data for statistical purposes.

“The horizons of his thinking were open - more open than rarely in the history of Western thought. Science and education shouldn't pile up chunks of education: for Alexander von Humboldt, real education was rather aimed at a core competence: the ability to think together. It forms the decisive basis for a coexistence in mutual respect for difference. For Humboldt, everything is not just interaction in nature. "

His approach, which respects the natural sciences and the humanities both in their respective research methods and specifically networked with one another, is likely to be most suitable for developing that problem-solving competence and that public hearing without which it often remains fruitless. "Travel and research," sums up Rüdiger Schaper , "communicate and write, penetrate the world as global events at the respective location and always be on the move, accelerate the flow of information: that is the Humboldt formula."

Humboldt's cosmos arose not least from the constant direct and personal exchange across the boundaries of the disciplines and enabled him to incorporate specialized knowledge, including those areas whose knowledge was important to him, although he could not pursue them in depth himself. Despite the complexity and holistic orientation of his research, Humboldt remained aware of the gaps and provisional nature of his own results. So he writes in the second volume of the Kosmos:

“Stimulated by the brilliance of new discoveries, nourished with hopes, the deception of which often comes late, every age imagines that it has come close to the culminating point in the knowledge and understanding of nature. […] More invigorating and more appropriate to the great idea of ​​the determination of our sex is the conviction that the property conquered is only a very insignificant part of what free mankind will achieve in the coming years with progressive activity and common training. Everything researched is only a step to something higher in the fateful course of things. "

Networking principle
Humboldt's seal on a letter

“If our present age is the age of the internet,” writes Ette, “then Alexander von Humboldt is certainly its scientific mastermind.” While the twenty-year-old still saw himself as a “stranger between the sciences”, he became a tireless communicator after his return from his trip to America of interrelationships between the disciplines. More than 30,000 letters by Alexander von Humboldt testify to the fact that he maintained scientific correspondence around the world, which on the one hand provided access to the respective regional knowledge and research results and on the other hand served to collect the specialist knowledge of individual scientific areas and to relate them to the question horizons of his diverse research to put. Personal encounters in salons and in social intercourse also served Humboldt for his own further training. The exchange with his visitors in Paris and Berlin was often so intense that Humboldt had adopted the habit of accompanying his interlocutors home for hours afterwards, which they replied in reverse. Meyer-Abich believes that Humboldt probably learned more from his scientific friends from such conversations and correspondence by letter than from reading their writings: "Without the conversation and without the salons, Humboldt's existence is unimaginable."

Humboldt's publications show that this research process, fed by many sources, helped to review perspectives once developed and, if necessary, to correct them:

“This creates an open, new research and discussion climate that includes new research results and insights as quickly as possible, in which knowledge is understood not as the static possession of an individual, but as a dynamic process of a community. The multitude of different perspectives and views of the objects shown is constantly being enriched by new insights that have been achieved through our own investigations or through the research of others. "

Alexander von Humboldt developed a nuanced counter-image to contemporary perspectives in which the cultures of the American peoples were degraded as primitive. Like his brother, ancient Greek culture served him as a true-to-scale, unattainable model, typical of the new humanist era, but, according to Ette, he succeeded in “working out what was specific to a certain region and relating it to processes that are important for all of humanity . [...] Humboldt's cross- cultural perspective is transareal, but the understanding of cultures themselves is shaped by interculturality. "

Alexander von Humboldt's ability to think and research in a networked way has led to many surprising comparisons in his writings, to a "comparison rage" that is sometimes criticized by outsiders. For example, he related agriculture and population development in Cuba to the corresponding, but completely different conditions, data from the Margraviate of Brandenburg in order to draw conclusions. But for Ette, even in such apparently arbitrary comparisons, there is not a mere excess of the method of worldwide references, but a rhetorical-literary means:

“The bold comparison aims to activate the readership and intends to provoke them to constantly think comparatively. The alien should be consciously alienated through the categories of one's own, the one's own be changed by that foreign in such a way that a kind of external view of one's own arises. Own and foreign are not clearly separated from each other: everything is rather connected with everything. "

Life's work as an open book

It is characteristic of Humboldt's research and writing that it never ends. From the travel report of the American research trip, which covers only about a third of the entire itinerary, to the views of nature , whose planned second volume did not appear, the Relation historique and the Asie centrale to the cosmos , Humboldt did not complete any of his major works. Sometimes people not only regretted this, but chalked him up, but ignored Humboldt's overarching aspects: the Kosmos project was early on and always remained the desired goal and the outstanding sum of all his research activities and scientific contacts. He had to leave some things behind or break them off, and transfer many others. The fact that he was unable to cope with the cosmos beyond the first two volumes, which already contained the outline of the whole, has the inner logic that the author was only too aware of the fundamental inevitability of increasing scientific knowledge.

“Over more than seven decades of book-making, a dense and mobile network of reciprocal intratextual references has emerged, within which each book has its own position, but at the same time also has a specific 'style', a not infrequently experimental production. This overall text, created over several generations of scholars, certainly constitutes something like an intellectual biography of Humboldt, but at the same time - and above all - a whole that is in constant motion that is not held together by a homogeneous structure, but rather by a fractal structure. In each 'fragment' the whole lights up. "

Alexander von Humboldt told Varnhagen von Ense himself about the stylistic features and intentions of his writing :

“The main flaws of my style are an unfortunate tendency to overly poetic forms, a long participle construction and too much concentration of multiple views and feelings in a period structure. I believe that these radical evils, attached to my individuality, are alleviated by a serious simplicity and generalization (floating above observation, if I could say so vainly). A book on nature must give the impression of nature itself. But what I paid particular attention to in my views of nature [...] I have been looking, always true descriptive, indicative, to be scientifically true myself, without getting into the arid regions of knowledge. "

Humboldt himself vividly felt the fragmentary, preliminary research, the non-realization of further projects and the incompleteness of his own writings and brought them up in a statement that probably hovered between satisfaction and melancholy:

"This is the fate of man: you reach the end of your own life and, not without sadness, compare the little that you have produced with everything you would have wanted to do to expand the realm of science."

Pioneer of a globalized science

The current orientation potential emanating from Alexander von Humboldt's way of research in the age of accelerated change in the economy , ecosystems and societies as well as radical globalization is as diverse as it is significant. Ette considers Alexander von Humboldt's conception of science, which crosses all individual sciences, to be "still far from being paid for". Its scientific approach, which is characterized by constant movements between the continents and cultures, languages ​​and specializations, is ideally suited to overcoming sterile tendencies towards isolation, for example between special and basic research.

Andrea Wulf accentuates another programmatic approach by Humboldt by quoting him from a letter to Goethe: “Nature must be felt.” On the one hand, Humboldt carried 42 scientific instruments across Latin America and measured everything imaginable. On the other hand, however, he emphasized that feelings are just as important in dealing with nature.

The worldwide network of corresponding scientists promoted by Humboldt and the speed with which the information obtained was translated into Humboldt's writings testified to the effectiveness of this research concept.

“Humboldt himself does not cover up the rapid changes in his (published) level of knowledge, but rather underlines the character of his book as a 'work in progress' that tries to reflect the latest research and reflection. […] The repeated emphasis on, even staging, the provisional nature and incompleteness of all research results is undoubtedly a sign of intellectual honesty for Humboldt. Beyond that, however, it is not accidental but programmatic in nature. Humboldt gives his readership insights into the development of knowledge and provides snapshots of scientific knowledge processes [...]. "

The popularization and democratization of scientific methods of knowledge were therefore also among the goals pursued by Humboldt in his writings. In addition to various differentiations in the investigation of multi-parameter systems such as climate or mountain formation, Humboldt always endeavored at the representation level to "make complex relationships as simple as possible and in their basic features manageable and comprehensible". It is true that Humboldt's name is not associated with a particular epochal discovery or theory; but for Rüdiger Schaper it is Alexander von Humboldt who offers himself as a "flexible projection figure" when it comes to reflecting on important future issues such as climate change, globalization, human rights or a humane science: "The Humboldt Code is a universal key."

Working on magnetism

Alexander von Humboldt made his first magnetic observations on basalt domes around 1795; In 1796 he discovered the magnetism of the Haidberg in the Fichtelgebirge . In preparation for his American expedition, Jean Charles Borda gave him devices for determining inclination , declination and the intensity of the earth's magnetic field . Borda encouraged him to determine the position of the magnetic equator as precisely as possible. On his return he evaluated the magnetic results in collaboration with Jean-Baptiste Biot in Paris. His results concerned the regional, secular and diurnal changes in the earth's magnetic field. Humboldt proved that the intensity of the earth's magnetic field increases from the equator to the poles and does not decrease, as had been claimed until then.

Humboldt continued his magnetic observations in Berlin in 1806/1807 and during this time he discovered sudden strong magnetic needle excursions, for which he coined the term " magnetic storm ". Shortly after his return, he resumed his measurements from 1828 in an iron-free garden shed in Berlin. In 1826 he met Carl Friedrich Gauß in his Göttingen observatory ; Gauss paid a return visit in 1828 on the occasion of the meeting of the Society of German Natural Scientists and Doctors in Berlin. During this time, the two researchers began working together in the field of magnetism for many years. However, their views on the type of devices to be used differed in part. While Gauß only worked with stationary devices in Göttingen, some of which he had developed himself in collaboration with Wilhelm Weber , Humboldt preferred portable devices such as the Gambey'sche Bussole , which he used on his travels.

In 1826, Humboldt submitted a letter to the Duke of Sussex , then President of the Royal Society , proposing the establishment of a global network of geomagnetic stations in the British Empire that were to measure magnetism under standardized conditions; this proposal was subsequently implemented. During his expedition to Russia in 1829, Humboldt carried out magnetic measurements at 27 locations. An important collaborator in this field in Russia was Adolph Theodor Kupffer , who in 1830 was able to prove Humboldt's conjecture in the Caucasus that the magnetic force decreased with height. In the 1820s, Humboldt suggested synchronous corresponding measurements in Kazan and St. Petersburg from Paris , which were carried out there by Kupffer. During his trip to Russia in 1829 he campaigned for the establishment of a central physical institute in Russia for research in the fields of magnetism and meteorology, which was later established under the direction of Kupffer.

Services for astronomy

Alexander von Humboldt first encountered astronomy in the field of astronomical-geodetic location determination , the methods of which he appropriated in order to determine the geographic coordinates of places in regions that were not or only insufficiently mapped on his travels . After completing his expedition, he evaluated the data in collaboration with Jabbo Oltmanns ; contemporaries praised them for their accuracy.

During his trip to America, he observed intense falling stars in Cumaná on the night of November 11th to 12th , which come from the meteor swarm of the Leonids . Humboldt was among the first to recognize the periodicity of the falling stars. In 1837 he tried in vain to verify his thesis that these could influence the earth's magnetic field through a research program. In the southern starry sky he determined the brightness and color of stars, which made him one of the pioneers of this astronomical method.

The presentation of the astronomical knowledge of that time was one of the focal points in his cosmos . In order to collect data, he was in correspondence with numerous astronomers, especially Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel , Johann Franz Encke and Heinrich Christian Schumacher , who procured the required material for him. Humboldt used his connections to the king and the Prussian government to promote astronomical projects and facilities. First and foremost was the new construction of the Berlin observatory , which was directed by the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences.

Advances in geology and mineralogy

Even before starting his studies at the Bergakademie Freiberg , the 20-year-old Humboldt published his first book in 1790 with the title Mineralogical Observations on some Basalts on the Rhine. With preliminary, absent-minded remarks on the basalt of the ancient and modern writers. Using the example of the Unkel basalts, which he had visited the previous year, he deals with the question of the origin of this rock. He treated the subject against the background of the controversy between Neptunists and Plutonists at the time . The Neptunists were geoscientists who tried to explain the formation of all rocks, including those known today as magmatic , through sedimentation from the sea. The volcanism they took as localized phenomena and suggested the formation of volcanic rocks, for example, as a conversion of sediments under the influence of near-surface coal fires . The Plutonists, on the other hand, assumed a solid earth's surface over an at least partially liquid base. Humboldt discussed the problem on the basis of a broad knowledge of the literature and, as a result, tended towards the Neptunist view that was dominant in Germany at the time. Its most influential and radical representative was Abraham Gottlob Werner , Humboldt's teacher at the Bergakademie Freiberg in 1791/1792.

The exploration of the volcanoes formed the geological focus of Humboldt's Latin American trip, during which he climbed numerous volcanoes (although he did not always reach the summit or the crater rim) and collected rock samples. In the form of volcanoes sitting directly on the primary rock (e.g. granite), he saw geotopes that were unknown to him from Germany. Morphologically , he distinguished three types of volcanoes. Particularly noticeable in both Mexico and the South American Andes was the spatial connection of the volcanoes, their lined up in regular chains. He also recognized a connection between active volcanism and earthquakes . While working through the material, Humboldt realized that a Neptunist interpretation was untenable. He recognized that volcanoes are not locally limited structural forms , but rather “large, deeply rooted phenomena”, the causes of which must lie in the highly tempered interior of the earth. With this paradigm shift, Humboldt found important support from the geologist Leopold von Buch , while Goethe remained attached to Neptunism throughout his life despite the new research results.

At that time Italy was considered an “obligatory place for empirical volcanic studies”. Humboldt and Gay-Lussac inspected there in 1805 a. a. various mineral collections and climbed Vesuvius three times together with von Buch ; on August 12, 1805, they witnessed an eruption of Vesuvius.

As part of the reform of the Berlin Academy, which he himself suggested, in which the members were assigned to certain subjects, he chose the category "Mineralogy and Geognosy" for himself.

Contributions to geography

Alexander von Humboldt's importance for geography is expressed primarily in his monumental travel works, the cosmos and other summarizing representations, but he also provided numerous individual studies. Methodically, his way of working can be described as empirical and “physically comparative” with the pursuit of theoretical generalization. He is considered to be the stimulus for today's climatology and geophysics as well as the founder of geomorphometry as a science of the quantitative recording of the earth's relief; He published his first work on this in 1816 and 1825.

The three-dimensional distribution of geofactors determined his research approach and his method of representation. As early as 1817 he used the isotherms to illustrate the global temperature profile, the deviations of which from the parallelism of the parallels became the starting point for an extensive attempt at interpretation. In addition, Humboldt described the global course of the biogeographical height limits and the snow line . He determined the mean heat decrease with altitude and determined a minimum of the vertical temperature gradient in the Andes at the altitude level of 1000 to 2500 m, for which he recognized the release of latent heat of condensation by the cloud formation at this altitude level as the cause.

The researcher was able to prove the equatorial low pressure belt between the subtropical high pressure areas on both hemispheres by measurements. The observation of the temporal connection between the trade wind weakening and the onset of the tropical rainy season led Humboldt back to the seasonal shift of the wind belt. He also considered the marine circulation, recognized the polar origin of the cold deep waters of the tropical oceans reaching the surface and saw the connection between the low water and air temperatures on the Peruvian coast. He recognized the causal structure of the ocean currents in the drift effect of the wind, the density differences due to the variance of temperature and salinity and in the distracting force of the earth's rotation.

As early as 1831, Alexander von Humboldt formulated a climate term that is currently still widely accepted. He called for a “mathematical consideration of the climate”, which he understood to mean the evaluation of systematically collected measurement data. With this in mind, he advocated the development of large-scale networks of observing meteorological stations, for example the establishment of the Prussian Meteorological Institute (1847). Alexander von Humboldt already described the elementary functions of the forest for the climate. On his travels he had come across negative examples of harmful human interference in functioning ecosystems - first on Lake Valencia in Venezuela. He understood that excessive deforestation or the diversion of water bodies there had had a negative impact on the water balance and the climate. However, he only attached local or regional importance to these phenomena, as well as the effect of the “creation of large steam and gas masses at the centers of industry”. Humboldt's statement of anthropogenic climate and landscape destruction was taken up in France by Jean-Baptiste Boussingault , in Germany by Carl Fraas and in the USA by George Perkins Marsh and Henry David Thoreau . After that, scientific interest in this question ebbed and did not revive until a century later in the 1980s.

Humboldt could not get used to the idea that spread from the 1830s that geological phenomena such as erratic boulders , glacier scrapes or moraines could be explained by extensive ice cover in Northern Europe and the Alps. In contrast to Leopold von Buch, however, he avoided fighting the representatives of this link between geology and climate change.

The breadth of Humboldt's research approach had consequences for the subject of geography : according to Humboldt - especially in the 20th century - geography in Germany became an "interdisciplinary subject with an equal share of historical and social science components alongside the purely scientific parts". The biographer Hanno Beck judges: "Humboldt was demonstrably the greatest geographer of modern times, the most stimulating thematic cartographer and the most important research traveler of his time."

Attitude to natural philosophy

Alexander von Humboldt's work was associated with the contemporary line of thought of natural philosophy , especially since he was in contact with some of its representatives in letters and in person. From 1805, Humboldt exchanged letters with Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling , one of the founders of idealistic natural philosophy, for decades. At first he was very impressed by Schelling's attempt to lay the foundations for a natural philosophy, he encouraged him to develop it even against critical voices, especially since Schelling expressly committed himself to the empirical sciences. Humboldt hoped that natural philosophy would help with the theoretical penetration of empirical material, with the search for natural laws.

The idea of ​​" life force " formed a point of contact with natural philosophy . In his experimental physiological studies, Humboldt shared the mainstream scientific belief of the life force inherent in all organisms and only speculatively tangible , but he gradually came to the view that all expressions of life can be explained by the known laws of nature. This change is recorded in Humboldt's only literary story Die Lebenskraft or the Rhodian Genius , which he wrote for the journal Die Horen published by Friedrich Schiller in 1795.

In the course of time, Humboldt's view changed; he no longer allowed natural philosophy to have an “inspiring effect”. In the Kosmos he repeated formulations about natural philosophy that he had already uttered in 1827 in his "Kosmos lectures". Humboldt counted them among the "disciplines that [...] shroud themselves in darkness", denounced their "adventurous, symbolic language" and a schematism "that is narrower than the Middle Ages ever imposed on mankind". In addition, he now criticized Schelling's mixture of nature, philosophy and Christianity and cited only a few natural philosophers in the cosmos . Nevertheless, Humboldt stayed in contact with some followers of natural philosophy, some of whom held important positions in science with good relations with those in power, such as B. Carl Gustav Carus , and thus part of the Humboldt network. Even more than against Schelling, Humboldt's criticism - without naming him - was directed against Hegel .

External perception and self-perception

Alexander von Humboldt's thirst for activity and creativity was viewed by many of his contemporaries as well as himself as very unusual but characteristic. "Such activity, speed and firmness has never been seen", the poet Adelbert von Chamisso confessed in 1810 after Humboldt's visit to Paris. In societies, such as Rahel Varnhagens ' literary salon , his sudden appearance, his versatile, charming chats and his equally sudden disappearance emanated "a fascinating unrest". When Bayard Taylor visited Humboldt almost half a year before his death in Oranienburger Strasse, he described the behavior of his host as “active to the point of restlessness”. Humboldt spoke quickly and with great ease, “without ever being at a loss for a word in German or English, and in fact did not seem to notice that he changed the language five or six times in the course of the conversation. He did not stay in his chair for more than ten minutes, but often got up and strolled through the room, occasionally showing a picture or opening a book to explain his remarks. "

Humboldt also attested to himself restlessness and being driven by what preoccupied him: "Full of restlessness and excitement, I am never happy about what I have achieved and am only happy when I do something new, three things at once." Not yet 30 years old, he wrote: “I know that I am not up to my great work on nature, but this eternal goings-on in me (as if there were 10,000 pigs) only comes about through the constant direction towards something great and On July 29, 1803, Humboldt confessed in a letter to the astronomer Jean-Baptiste Joseph Delambre , to whom he was closely related: “Every man has the duty to look for the place in his life from which he can help his generation can serve best […] ”. Four hours of sleep was enough for him. “My health allows me to work at night. [...] The necessity of periodic sleep is a prejudice, I often say jokingly. "In 1842 he told his research colleague Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac :" I have never had any illusions about my scientific merit. I stayed way below what I could have been because I couldn't concentrate my strength. My living conditions, the connection with two continents, with famous men for more than half a century, have shaped me far more than my work, which has remained very incomplete. ”Six weeks before his death, Alexander von Humboldt placed an advertisement in the he asked to stop the various mailings (including “models, machines and natural products, inquiries about air-shipping” as well as “offers to look after me at home, to amuse and amuse me, etc.”) so that he could “with any physical and mental decline Kraft “can still find peace and quiet for their own work.

Reception aspects

Alexander von Humboldt (bust of Christian Daniel Rauch , 1857)

In the 21st century, Alexander von Humboldt has become “a very important figure in public discourse” in the most varied of “areas of knowledge and science” as well as with a broad audience, according to Ottmar Ette. In many other countries there was “a continuous presence” of Humboldt in the general consciousness, whereas in the German-speaking countries diverse efforts were required “ to take note of the buried traditional lines of his research and his designs for science and business, culture and conviviality . "

Among contemporaries

Wilhelm von Humboldt made his brother Alexander appear to his wife Caroline in his outward orientation as the opposite of himself. Alexander is too happy to show what he can and know. “Just in order to create a large sphere of activity for himself, he does a lot of things that must appear to others to be vanity, digs out his knowledge, tries to dazzle people, sometimes to win them over. If I had so much knowledge myself, I would never show it that way, it would always be more important to me to train it myself than to apply it directly to others. "

Among the Weimar classics , it was originally Friedrich Schiller to whom Alexander von Humboldt was more personally drawn than to Goethe. But Schiller had little understanding for the ambitions of the younger of the Humboldt brothers: “I have not yet made a correct judgment about Alexander; but I fear that in spite of all his talents and his restless activity he will never achieve anything great in his science. [...] It is the bare, cutting mind that wants to have shamelessly measured nature, which is always incomprehensible and in all its points venerable and unfathomable, and with an impudence that I do not understand, its formulas, which are often only empty formulas and are always only narrow concepts, makes them their standard. In short, he seems to me to be a far too coarse organ for his subject, and at the same time a far too limited intellectual person. "

For three and a half decades, the contacts between Alexander von Humboldt and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe extended in loose succession and with varying intensity in a relationship characterized by the greatest mutual respect. In exchange with Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe's first draft of a general introduction to comparative anatomy, based on osteology , was created in 1795 . Goethe's questions about the archetype and wholeness exerted the greatest influence on Humboldt; But in their methodical approach, Goethe noticed a striking difference: while he himself starts from the shape and the whole, with Humboldt it is the element or the part. There were differences of opinion between the two not only with volcanism - for Goethe the "damned junk room of the new world creation" - but also with regard to Goethe's theory of colors , which Humboldt rejected. Regardless of such differences, which were not carried out in public, Goethe described Alexander von Humboldt to Eckermann as a "fountain with many tubes, where you only need to maintain vessels and where it always flows refreshingly and inexhaustibly towards us."

One of the personalities influenced by Humboldt was Charles Darwin , who also familiarized himself with Humboldt's travelogue from the tropics in preparation for his Beagle expedition. In Darwin's travel diaries, a great similarity was noted both in the way in which he viewed nature and in the writing. Humboldt's view of Emil du Bois-Reymond as a “pre-Darwinian Darwinian” has recently been contradicted, because Humboldt, who was based on empirical methods of natural research, made statements on the problem of the origin and change of species , which was also often discussed before Darwin for speculative-inadmissible and she refused.

On July 1, 1859, the Academy of Sciences in Berlin commemorated Alexander von Humboldt - who had forbidden his bust to be placed in the academy next to that of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz while he was still alive . The commemorative speech was given by the philologist and historian August Böckh , who stated among other things: “A shining star in the realm of the spirit has gone out for this world. [...] it remains undisputed in general recognition the first scientific greatness of its age. [...] By placing his bust near Leibnizschen, we honor ourselves more than him, who deserves not a bust in this darkly vaulted hall, but a statue under the open vault of heaven of the divine cosmos next to the benefactors of the fatherland Natural scientist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg also emphasized that "a new epoch in the view of the earth and the world" began with Humboldt's writings. Ten years later, Rudolf Virchow and other celebrities got involved in the erection of a national monument for Alexander von Humboldt. It was not until 1874 that Wilhelm I allowed a monument to be built for the Humboldt brothers at the entrance to the university campus, but with the stipulation that the figures must not be as high as the nearby statues of Generals Bülow and Scharnhorst . The inauguration of the two Humboldt monuments took place on May 28, 1883.

Humboldt's life's work has also received exceptional recognition in many places abroad. In Paris, where Humboldt worked for many years, he was seen by his research colleague Claude-Louis Berthollet , with whom he met at the Société d'Arcueil , as a man who united “an entire academy”. The Paris Academy of Sciences subsided Humboldt's death a commemorative coin for him, "the greatest scholars of his century" with the nickname "The new Aristotle". Simón Bolívar called him the real “discoverer of the New World”, who gave America better “than all the conquistadors”. In Mexico, President Benito Juárez declared in a decree of June 28, 1859 Humboldt “benefactor of the fatherland” and suggested the erection of a marble monument for him.

The hundredth birthday of Alexander von Humboldt - a good ten years after his death - was celebrated internationally with enthusiasm and great effort. The celebrations stretched from Melbourne and Adelaide , via Moscow and Alexandria to Buenos Aires and Mexico City - with the largest events in the USA . "From San Francisco to Philadelphia and from Chicago to Charleston there were street parades, banquets and concerts." In New York , thousands followed the bands to honor a man who the New York Times wrote that no nation could claim his fame. The largest German celebration took place in Humboldt's hometown Berlin, where “despite torrential downpours, eighty thousand people gathered. All offices and authorities were closed that day. "

However, the appreciation and reception of Alexander von Humboldt in Germany were already partly limited and partly distorted during his lifetime and so to this day. In addition to the long-term “hereditary enmity” between the Germans and the French, popular editions of Humboldt's writings contributed to this, which had been edited very freely and sometimes inappropriately by the respective compilers. The various newer editions of the original writings by Alexander von Humboldt can, among other things, serve to counteract a misguided reception.

Newer and current

Humboldt was first described as the “first ecologist” in 1985 by Pierre Bertaux . Matthias Glaubrecht turns against an uncritical glorification of Alexander von Humboldt . Humboldt, for example, did not adequately appreciate Jean-Louis Giraud-Soulavie as an important precursor of his own research in plant geography and marginalized the zoological approach of Eberhard August Wilhelm von Zimmermann and in parts ignored it. For Glaubrecht, the “cosmic approach” of Humboldt's understanding of nature was not sustainable and his worldview was “long out of date”.

Benedikt Vallendar , who dealt with the reception of Humboldt's American research trip to Germany against the background of the respective intellectual currents and political framework conditions in the 19th and 20th centuries from a social-psychological point of view, summed up that it is not “gaining knowledge” but rather interpretation and instrumentalization that is common the driving forces in the history of reception were: "The combination of scientific documentation and narrative style was a suitable place for many authors to use Humboldt for their own purposes." According to Vallendar, Humboldt's travel reports were received in Germany during the 19th century predominantly determined by a negative to hostile mood towards France. In the era of the German Empire there were voices attesting that Humboldt had shown himself to be a proud German despite his long stays abroad. At the beginning of the Weimar Republic, however, the cosmopolitan Humboldt, because of his advocacy of humanity and progress and because of his critical distance from dictatorial regimes, “became a role model for the public humiliated by the lost war”, “which tried to deal with the burdens of the past . ”In the time of National Socialism , Humboldt was staged, among other things, as a“ fighter ”who asserted himself in the jungle struggle for survival and as a“ pioneer in the world as a whole ”.

Anniversary exhibition in the Reinickendorf Museum on the occasion of Alexander von Humboldt's 250th birthday

The two world wars of the 20th century severely dampened Humboldt enthusiasm, especially among Germany's opponents of the war, beginning with the USA entering the war in 1917. In Cincinnati , for example, all German publications were removed from the shelves of public libraries and "Humboldt-Street" in Renamed "Taft Street". During the German two-state period from 1949 to 1989, there were different interpretive interests and claims on both sides.

For Alexander von Humboldt's 250th birthday in 2019, numerous thematic events took place in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin . The venues were, among others, the Humboldt Library, neighboring Tegel Castle, and the Reinickendorf Museum . A cultural institution based on the ideas of Alexander von Humboldt is the Humboldt Forum, which is not yet completed in 2019, contrary to planning, in the museum center of the capital of reunified Germany. According to Rüdiger Schaper, Alexander von Humboldt had already thought of a universal museum for the Berlin collections as early as 1807 - including the art chamber of the palace whose rebuilt parts now create the framework for the Humboldt Forum - which then did not materialize. "The Humboldt-Forum now wants to pursue this connection between nature and culture more than two hundred years later." Understanding is a broad goal and leaves a lot of scope for different interpretations. "


Plaque commemorating Humboldt's honorary membership in the Danzig Natural Research Society near the Motława River in Danzig
Bronze bust of Alexander von Humboldt on the campus of the University of Havana . The Erfurt theater sculptor Christian Paschold created the original . He gave a copy of this bust to the mining museum of the “Morassina” mine in Schmiedefeld (Saalfeld-Rudolstadt district).

Membership in scholars' associations

Alexander von Humboldt was a member of numerous domestic and foreign academies, including the Academy of Charitable Sciences in Erfurt (1791), the Leopoldine-Carolinian Academy of Natural Scientists (1793 with the academic surname Timaeus Locrensis under the matriculation number 970 ), the Prussian Academy of Sciences (1800), the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (1808), the Royal Society of Edinburgh , the Academy of Arts (Berlin) (1829), the Russian Academy of Sciences (1829), the Académie des Sciences (1804), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1822), the American Philosophical Society (1804) and the Société cuvierienne (1838).

Honorary doctorate

Alexander von Humboldt received honorary doctorates from the universities of Frankfurt (Oder) (1805), Dorpat (1827), Bonn (1828), Tübingen (1845), Prague (1848) and St. Andrews (1853).

Awards during his lifetime

Alexander von Humboldt was awarded these medals and decorations :

Statues and monuments

Postage stamps, coin and medal

On the first day of issue on September 5, 2019, Deutsche Post AG issued a special postage stamp with a face value of 80 euro cents on the occasion of Alexander von Humboldt's 250th birthday . The design comes from the graphic designers Horst F. and Gerda M. Neumann from Wuppertal. On the same day a 20 euro commemorative coin appeared ; the edge of the coin bears the embossed inscription “EVERYTHING IS INTERACTION”.

Humboldt as the namesake

Numerous biological taxa were named after Alexander von Humboldt , as well as geographical objects, places, schools and institutions, scientific awards and other things. In 1969 it was determined that no other places were named after any other person. The number of names is now four digits.

Fonts (selection)

Single issues

Travel works

Vues des Cordillères et Monuments des Peuples Indigènes de l'Amérique. 1810-1813. on-line

  • German translations:
    • Picturesque views of the cordillera and monuments of American peoples. Cotta, Tübingen, 1810. Text and picture book. On the Internet: Photo book at the University of Potsdam
    • Views of the Cordilleras and monuments of the indigenous peoples of America. Translated by Claudia Kalscheuer. (= The Other Library ). Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-8218-4538-4 .

Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent: fait en 1799, 1800, 1801, 1803 et 1804. (together with Aimé Bonpland) online

Examination critique de l'histoire de la geographie du Nouveau continent. "1. ptie., 4th section “of the Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland .

  • German translation:
    • Critical research into the historical development of geographical knowledge of the New World and the advances in nautical astronomy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Translated from the French. by Jul. Ludw. Ideler . Berlin, Nicolai, 1836 and 1852. Google
    • New edition under the title: The Discovery of the New World - Critical Inquiry into the Historical Development of Geographical Knowledge of the New World and the Advances in Nautical Astronomy in the 15th and 16th Century . Edited from the French translation by Julius Ludwig Ideler and with an afterword by Ottmar Ette. Insel, Frankfurt am Main, 2009, ISBN 978-3-458-17435-6 .

Central-Asia (together with Wilhelm Mahlmann) 2 volumes Berlin, Klemann, 1844 online

  • New edition: Central Asia. Investigations into the mountain ranges and comparative climatology . With a selection from Alexander von Humboldt's travel letters and Gustav Rose's travel report. According to the translation of Wilhelm Mahlmann from 1844. Revised. and ed. by Oliver Lubrich. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 2009, ISBN 978-3-10-029004-5 .

Writings on nature with general topics

Views of nature. 1st edition, Cotta'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung , Tübingen 1808 ( BSB , Google Books )

  • Views of nature (= The Other Library. 17). Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-8218-4741-7 . (Reprint)

Cosmos - Draft of a physical description of the world. 1845-1862

Fonts with a special topic (selection)

  • Mineralogical observations on some basalts on the Rhine. Braunschweig 1790 ( online ).
  • Florae Fribergensis specimen plantas cryptogramicus praesertim subterraneas exhibens. 1793 ( online ).
  • Aphorisms from the chemical physiology of plants. Leipzig 1794 ( )
  • Experiments on the irritated muscle and nerve fibers together with conjectures about the chemical process of life in the animal and plant world. 2 volumes. Posen, Berlin 1797. ( Volume 1  - Internet Archive , Volume 2  - Internet Archive ).
  • About the underground types of gas and the means to reduce their disadvantage. A contribution to the physics of practical mining science. Friedrich Vieweg, Braunschweig 1799 ( GDZ , MDZ ).
  • Experiments on the chemical decomposition of the air cycle and on some other subjects of natural science . Vieweg, Braunschweig 1799 ( MDZ ).
  • Observations on the electric eel of the new world . Tübingen 1808.
  • About the structure and the mode of action of the volcanoes in the different stretches of the earth. In: Views of nature with scientific explanations . Volume 2, JG Cotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stuttgart / Tübingen 1826, pp. 125-186 ( online ).
  • Essai politique sur l'île de Cuba . Paris 1826 ( online ).

Kosmos lectures / lecture cycle (1827/1828)

  • Anonymous: Alexander von Humboldt's lectures on physical geography and prolegomens on the position of the stars. Berlin in the winter from 1827 to 1828. [Berlin], [1827/28]. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Prussian cultural property, signature: Ms. germ. Qu. 2345. Digitized and full text in the German text archive
    • Printed edition of this postscript (greatly modified by the editors): Alexander von Humboldt's lectures on physical geography and prolegomens on the position of the stars. Berlin in the winter from 1827 to 1828. First (unchanged) publication of a collegiate postscript owned by the publisher. Miron Goldstein, Berlin 1934.
  • Gustav Parthey : Alexander von Humboldt [:] lectures on physical geography. Novmbr. 1827 to April, [!] 1828. Copied by G. Partheÿ. [Berlin], [1827/28]. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Prussian cultural property, signature: Ms. germ. Qu. 1711. Digitized and full text in the German text archive
  • Anonymous: The physical geography of Mr. Alexander v. Humboldt, presented in the semestre 1827/28. [Berlin], [1827/28]. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Prussian cultural property, map department, holdings " Society for Geography ", shelf mark: 8 ° GfE O 79. Digitized and full text in the German text archive
  • Karol Libelt : [Transcript of Alexander von Humboldt's 'Kosmos Lectures' in the Berlin University, November 3, 1827– April 26, 1828.] Biblioteka Jagiellońska Kraków , signature: Manuscript 6623 II. Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive [fragment, title page and text part lost until the end of the 23rd or the beginning of the 24th lecture hour]. [sl], [1827/28].
  • Ludwig Lohde : Physical geography. A lecture by Mr. A. v. Humboldt [,] held in [winter] 1827. Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage, signature: Ms. germ. Qu. 2400. online .
  • Friedrich Adolf von Willisen : Humbold's [sic!] Lectures. [Fragment] [Berlin], [1827/28]. Digitized and full text in the German text archive
  • Henriette Kohlrausch: Physical geography. Presented by Alexander von Humboldt. [Berlin], [1827/28]. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Prussian cultural property, signature: Ms germ. Qu. 2124. Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive ; printed editions:
    • Alexander von Humboldt: About the Universe. The Cosmos Lectures 1827/28 in the Singakademie. Edited by Jürgen Hamel and Klaus-Harro Tiemann. Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig 1993, ISBN 3-458-33240-5 .
    • Alexander von Humboldt / Henriette Kohlrausch: The Kosmos lecture at the Berlin Sing-Akademie . Ed .: Christian Kassung, Christian Thomas. 1st edition. Insel, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-458-36419-1 .
    • Anonymous copy: Phÿsikalische Geographie [.] Presented by Alexander von Humboldt. Beginning on the 6th Xbre 1827. Copy of the notebook of Mrs. Privy Councilor Kohlrausch. [Berlin], [approx. 1828/29]. Private ownership Geir Stenmark, Norway. Digital images online: digilib server of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences , URN: urn: nbn: de: kobv: b4-2019011104 .
    • Otto Hufeland: Lectures on physical geography by A. v. Humboldt. [G] written in the summer of 1829 by Otto Hufeland. [Berlin], [approx. 1829]. Private ownership of Celâl Şengör , Istanbul, Turkey. Digitized and full text in the German text archive (= copy of anonymous: Phÿsikalische Geographie […] [Berlin], [approx. 1828/29])

Collected Writings

Letter editions (selection)

Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research

  • Horst Fiedler, Ulrike Leitner: Alexander von Humboldt's writings. Bibliography of independently published works . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research . 20). : Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2000.
  • Ilse Jahn , Fritz G. Lange (Ed.): The youth letters of Alexander von Humboldt . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 2). Berlin 1973
  • Kurt-Reinhard Biermann (ed.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauß . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 4). Berlin 1977
  • Kurt-Reinhard Biermann (ed.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Heinrich Christian Schumacher . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 6). Berlin 1979
  • Kurt-Reinhard Biermann (Ed.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 7). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1982, DNB 830695303 .
  • Kurt-Reinhard Biermann (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. Four decades of science funding. Letters to the Prussian Ministry of Culture 1818–1859 . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 14). Berlin 1985, DNB 850880513 .
  • Herbert Pieper (Ed.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and CG Jacob Jacobi . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 11). Berlin 1987
  • Ulrike Moheit (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. Letters from America, 1799–1804 . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 16). Berlin 1993
  • Hans-Joachim Felber (Ed.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 10). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-05-001915-8 .
  • Ingo Schwarz, Klaus Wenig (eds.): Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Emil du Bois-Reymond . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 22). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-05-003037-2 .
  • Ingo Schwarz (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt and the United States of America. Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 19). Berlin 2004
  • Ingo Schwarz among colleagues. v. Eberhard Knobloch (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt - Samuel Heinrich Spiker . Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 27). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-05-004283-1 .
  • Ulrike Leitner among colleagues. v. Eberhard Knobloch (ed.): Alexander von Humboldt and Cotta . Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 29). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-05-004598-6 .
  • Eberhard Knobloch, Ingo Schwarz, Christian Suckow (eds.): Alexander von Humboldt - Letters from Russia 1829 . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 30). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-05-004596-2 .
  • Ulrich Päßler among colleagues. v. Eberhard Knobloch (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt - Carl Ritter . Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 32). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-05-004676-1 .
  • Oliver Schwarz, Ingo Schwarz (ed.): Alexander von Humboldt - Johann Franz Encke . Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 37). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-05-006083-5 .
  • Kerstin Aranda, Andreas Förster, Christian Suckow (eds.): Alexander von Humboldt and Russia: a search for traces . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 31). de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 2014, ISBN 978-3-05-004634-1 .
  • Ulrich Päßler and Thomas Schmuck (eds.): Alexander von Humboldt - Jean-Baptiste Boussingault . Correspondence . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 41). de Gruyter, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-035193-4 .
  • Ingo Schwarz, Oliver Schwarz with the assistance of Eberhard Knobloch (ed.): Alexander von Humboldt and Friedrich Argelander : Correspondence . ( Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research , 46). de Gruyter, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-11-064470-8 .

Edition humboldt digital


  • Ludmilla Assing (Ed.): Letters from Alexander von Humboldt to Varnhagen von Ense from the years 1827 to 1858. Leipzig 1860 ( digitized version )
  • Alexander von Humboldt: In the Urals and Altai. Correspondence between Alexander von Humboldt and Count Georg von Cancrin from the years 1827–1832. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1869, Reprint Bremen 2009, ISBN 978-3-86195-084-4 .
  • Ernst Werner Maria von Olfers (Ed.): Letters Alexander v. Humboldt's to Ignaz v. Olfers , General Director of the Kgl. Museums in Berlin . Nuremberg and Leipzig [1913]
  • Conrad Müller (ed.): Alexander von Humboldt and the Prussian royal house. Leipzig 1928
  • Ingo Schwarz (Ed.): Letters from Alexander von Humboldt to Christian Carl Josias Bunsen . New edition. Rohrwall, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-9806685-6-8 .
  • The Humboldt Library. A catalog of the Library of Alexander von Humboldt. With a bibliographical and biographical memoir by Henry Stevens . London 1863 ( online ).

Diary editions

  • Margot Faak (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. Travel through Venezuela. Selection from the American travel diaries . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 12). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-05-002777-0 .
  • Margot Faak (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. Journey on the Río Magdalena, through the Andes and Mexico. From his travel diaries . 2 parts. (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 8, 9). 2nd Edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2003, Part 1: Texts, ISBN 978-3-05-003885-8 ; Part 2: Translation, Notes and Registers, ISBN 978-3-05-003886-5 .
  • Ulrike Leitner (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. From Mexico City to Veracruz. Diary . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 25). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-05-004136-6 .
  • Bernd Kölbel and Lucie Terken (eds.): Steven Jan van Geuns. Diary of a trip with Alexander von Humboldt through Hesse, the Palatinate, along the Rhine and through Westphalia in autumn 1789 . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 26). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-05-004321-0 .
  • Ulrike Leitner, Piotr Tylus and Michael Zeuske (eds.) With the collaboration of Tobias Kraft: Isle de Cube. Antilles en général . In: edition humboldt digital. Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin. Version 5 dated September 11, 2019.
  • Ulrike Leitner, Carmen Götz (eds.) With the collaboration of Sandra Balck, Ulrich Päßler, Linda Kirsten, Eberhard Knobloch, Oliver Schwarz, Laurence Barbasetti and Regina Mikosch: Voyage d'Espagne aux Canaries et à Cumaná Obs. astron. de Juin to Oct. 1799 [= Diaries of the American Journey I] . In: edition humboldt digital. Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin. Version 5 dated September 11, 2019.
  • Dominik Erdmann and Christian Thomas (eds.) With the assistance of Florian Schnee: Reise. 1790. England [= Alexander von Humboldt's English travel journal] , [approx. 1790]. In: edition humboldt digital . Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin. Version 5 dated September 11, 2019.



  • Richard Bitterling: Alexander von Humboldt - Paths of Life in Pictures , Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich, Berlin 1959. [1]
  • Markus Breuning: General Bibliography on Alexander von Humboldt , 4th edition, Bern 2020 ( PDF edition online )
  • Horst Fiedler, Ulrike Leitner: Alexander von Humboldt's writings. Bibliography of independently published works. (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 20). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-05-002792-4 .
  • Tobias Kraft, Katharina Einert: Humboldt Digital - Bibliography of the Humboldt digital copies available online . Direct references to independently published writings by Alexander von Humboldt (ordered according to the decadal numbering of Fiedler / Leitner)
  • Ulrike Leitner, Ingo Schwarz (greeting): Alexander von Humboldt's dependent writings - directory . ( online )

Biographical literature

Further literature

  • Horst Albach, Erwin Neher (ed.) (On behalf of the order Pour le mérite for sciences and arts): Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin: two revolutionaries against their will . With a foreword by Federal President a. D. Horst Koehler. Wallstein, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8353-0966-1 .
  • Kurt-Reinhard Biermann: Happy encouragement from the academic community. Alexander von Humboldt as a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 17) Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-05-001957-3 .
  • Werner Biermann: "The dream of my whole life". Humboldt's American journey. 4th edition, Rowohlt, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-87134-601-9 , table of contents.
  • Andreas W. Daum: Nation, Nature Research and Monument: Humboldt Monuments in Germany and the USA. In: Martin Baumeister (ed.): The art of history. Historiography, aesthetics, narration. Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-525-36384-3 , pp. 99-124.
  • Andreas W. Daum: The irony of the untimely. Notes on Alexander von Humboldt. In: Journal for the history of ideas. 4, 2010, pp. 5-23, (online).
  • Andreas W. Daum: Social Relations, Shared Practices, and Emotions: Alexander von Humboldt's Excursion into Literary Classicism and the Challenges to Science around 1800, in: Journal of Modern History 91 (March 2019), 1–37.
  • Andreas W. Daum: How Humboldt hunted the plague. Alexander von Humboldt tracked down infectious diseases in South America and Europe . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 20, 2020 (online). (Print version under the title: Measurement of the epidemic. Alexander von Humboldt already tracked infectious diseases in: Süddeutsche Zeitung , No. 113, May 16-17, 2020, p. 33).
  • Herrmann Dietmar: 200 years ago in the Fichtelgebirge : Alexander von Humboldt visited the mines. In: The Seven Star . Volume 61, 1992, pp. 221-224.
  • Ottmar Ette, Ute Hermanns, Bernd M. Scherer, Christian Suckow (eds.): Alexander von Humboldt - Departure into Modernity. (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 21). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-05-003602-8 .
  • Ottmar Ette, Walther L. Bernecker (ed.): Views America. Recent studies on Alexander von Humboldt. (= Latin America Studies. Volume 43). Vervuert, Frankfurt am Main 2001.
  • Ottmar Ette (ed.): Alexander von Humboldt manual. Life - work - effect . JB Metzler, 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-04521-8 ( doi: 10.1007 / 978-3-476-04522-5 ).
  • Alfred Gebauer: Alexander von Humboldt: his week in Tenerife 1799. Beginning of the trip to South America. His life - his work. Updated and supplemented by Verena Zech. Zech, Santa Ursula 2009, ISBN 978-84-934857-6-4 .
  • Wolfgang-Hagen Hein : Alexander von Humboldt and pharmacy. (= Publications of the International Society for the History of Pharmacy e.V .; NF Volume 56.) Wissenschaftliche Verlags-Gesellschaft, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-8047-0984-2 , table of contents.
  • Frank Holl (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt - There is a hustle and bustle in me. Discoveries and Insights . dtv, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-423-13739-3 . (Collection of quotations, the references of which are shown in the appendix)
  • Frank Holl, Eberhard Schulz-Lüpertz: "I made such big plans there ..." Alexander von Humboldt in Franconia. (= Franconian history. Volume 18). Schrenk ,. Gunzenhausen 2012, ISBN 978-3-924270-74-2
  • Ilse Jahn : On the trail of life. The biological research of Alexander von Humboldt. Urania Verlag, Leipzig 1969.
  • Hans Walter Lack : Alexander von Humboldt and the botanical exploration of America . Munich, London, New York, 2nd, updated edition 2018 (original edition 2009) ISBN 978-3-7913-8414-6 .
  • Oliver Lubrich (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. The complete graphic work. 3. Edition. Lambert Schneider, Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-650-40132-8 .
  • Volker Mehnert (text), Claudia Lieb (illustrations): "Alexander von Humboldt or The Longing for Far Away". Gerstenberg Verlag , Hildesheim 2018, ISBN 978-3-8369-5999-5 .
  • Dorothee Nolte : Alexander von Humboldt. A picture of life in anecdotes . Eulenspiegel Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-359-01374-7 .
  • Werner Richter , Manfred Engshuber: Alexander von Humboldt's measurement technology - instruments, methods, results. epubli Verlag, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-8442-8969-5 .
  • Robert Steudtner: “Alexander von Humboldt. Til the end of the world". Feature with original interview, music and noises. Headroom sound production, Cologne 2011.
  • Benedikt Vallendar : The reception of Alexander von Humboldt's South American journey in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dissertation FU Berlin 2005.
  • Rudolf Vierhaus : The Humboldt Brothers. In: Etienne François , Hagen Schulze (ed.): German places of memory , Volume 3, Beck, Munich 2001. ISBN 978-3-406-47224-4
  • Petra Werner: Heaven and Earth. Alexander von Humboldt and his cosmos . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 24) Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-05-004025-4 .
  • Michael Zeuske : father of independence? Humboldt and the transformation to modernity in Spanish America. In: Ottmar Ette et al. (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt - Departure into Modernity. (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 21). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2001, pp. 179–224.
  • Michael Zeuske: "Real time": Humboldt and Cuba 1801 and 1804. In: Michael Zeuske: Black Caribbean. Slaves, Slavery Cultures, and Emancipation. Rotpunktverlag , Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-85869-272-7 .
  • Krzysztof Zielnica: Polonica with Alexander von Humboldt . (= Contributions to Alexander von Humboldt research. 23) Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-05-003867-5 .


Web links

Wikisource: Alexander von Humboldt  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Alexander von Humboldt  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


Digital copies


  1. ^ Ottmar Ette : Alexander von Humboldt and globalization: Das Mobile des Wissens , 2009, p. 13.
  2. To the story of the day. In:  (Imperial Royal Silesian) Troppauer Zeitung , May 10, 1857, p. 3 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / okf
  3. Monthly reports of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin . Ferd. Dümmler's Verlagbuchhandlung , Berlin 1860, p. 546 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed August 18, 2020]).
  4. The assumption of this house as the birthplace of Alexander von Humboldt is not certain; in addition: Sebastian Panwitz: The Humboldt-Mendelssohn-Haus Jägerstrasse 22. A source discovery . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 15, No. 29 (2014).
  5. ^ Family tree for Alexander Georg von Humboldt
  6. ↑ Family tree for Marie-Elisabeth von Humboldt
  7. ^ Website: von Humboldt
  8. Kurt-R. Biermann: Was Alexander von Humboldt a “Freiherr” (or “Baron”)? In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 12, No. 23 (2011).
  9. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, Munich 2019, p. 13 .
  10. Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 80. Meyer-Abich sees the reasons for this "educational misjudgment" in the age difference of the brothers, in Alexander's sickness during his youth and in the material presented by the private tutors, which corresponded to Wilhelm's circle of interests. but not to Alexander. (Ibid.)
  11. Schaper 2018, pp. 28 and 30.
  12. Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller: Alexander von Humboldt . In man for man. A biographical lexicon . Frankfurt am Main 2001.
  13. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, Munich 2019, p. 17-19 .
  14. During his stay in England, Humboldt met Sir Joseph Banks , President of the Royal Society , who had traveled with Captain Cook . Banks presented his extensive plant collection to Humboldt, with species that came mainly from the South Pacific (M. Nicolson: Alexander von Humboldt and the Geography of Vegetation. In: A. Cunningham, N. Jardine (ed.): Romanticism and the Sciences. Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. XVI). This science-oriented friendship lasted until Banks' death in 1820. In addition to the exchange of collected plant samples, there was an extensive exchange of letters.
  15. In 1790 in London he met the doctor and chemist Christoph Girtanner , who came from Göttingen and who made him aware of the dominant role of natural sciences in France, especially Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier's anti-inflammatory new chemistry.
  16. Three years were normally planned for the workload.
  17. with the authorization to prepare official reports
  18. the present-day exhibition mine in Morassina
  19. The Goldkronach Gold Mining Museum and the Kleiner Johannes Nature Park Information Center in Arzberg are reminders of this .
  20. Wilhelm Kießling: Alexander von Humboldt - A guest in our city . Ed .: Friedrich Wilhelm Singer. Arzberg 1999.
  21. ^ A b c Rudolf Endres : Alexander von Humboldt and Franconia . In: Uta Lindgren (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. World view and effect on the sciences . (= Bayreuth Historical Colloquia, Volume 4), Böhlau Verlag Cologne, Vienna 1990 ISBN 3-412-18689-9 , pp. 40–59, here pp. 51–54.
  22. Ursula Klein: The Prussian Mining Officer Alexander von Humboldt . In: Annals of Science . tape 69 , no. January 1 , 2012.
  23. ^ Ernst H. Berninger: Humboldt's technical inventions and innovations for mining . In: Uta Lindgren (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. World view and effect on the sciences . Cologne, Vienna 1990 ISBN 3-412-18689-9 , pp. 133-150.
  24. ^ Humboldt to Karl Free Life: Youth Letters . Bayreuth October 20, 1794.
  25. Alexander von Humboldt said in a letter to his confidante Karl Freileben about his time in Goldkronach: “… with the mining industry, things are moving fast here. In Goldkronach in particular, I am happier than I dared to believe. ” (Humboldt to Karl Freiesleben: Jugendbriefe, p. 532 f. Bayreuth October 18, 1796. )
  26. ^ Humboldt to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia: Youth letters . Bayreuth March 26th 1795.
  27. ↑ species marked with Humboldt's author abbreviation
  28. ^ Kurt-Reinhard Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. 3. Edition. Leipzig 1983, p. 23.
  29. Ilse Jahn : On the trail of life. The biological research of Alexander von Humboldt. Urania Verlag, Leipzig 1969, pp. 22-23.
  30. Jahn 1969, pp. 29, 39 and 50.
  31. Jahn 1969, p. 51 f.
  32. Alexander Stöger: Alexander von Humboldt's methods of representation in his experiments on the irritated muscle and nerve fibers .
  33. ^ Kurt-Reinhard Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. 3. Edition. Leipzig 1983, p. 29.
  34. Jahn 1969, p. 65 f.
  35. Jahn 1969, p. 69 f.
  36. Jahn 1969, p. 71.
  37. Jahn 1969, pp. 71-72.
  38. Jahn 1969, pp. 117-119.
  39. ^ Ulrich Stottmeister : Environmental thoughts on Alexander von Humboldt. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 18, No. 35, (2017).
  40. BBAW: The dependent writings of Alexander von Humboldt. Chemistry .
  41. ^ Herbert Pieper: Alexander von Humboldt's election to the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 9, No. 16 (2008).
  42. Herbert Pieper: "Tremendous depth of thinking, unattainable insight and the rarest speed of combination". On the election of Alexander von Humboldt to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin 200 years ago. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 1, No. 1 (2000).
  43. a b Hanno Beck: final consideration . In: Uta Lindgren (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. World view and effect on the sciences . Cologne, Vienna 1990 ISBN 3-412-18689-9 , pp. 187–202, here pp. 188–189.
  44. See z. B. Lubrich / Nehrlich (Eds.): Complete Writings (2019), Vol. IX, pp. 125–137.
  45. Kurt-R. Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. Leipzig 1983, p. 53.
  46. ^ Rüdiger Schaper: Alexander von Humboldt. The Prussian and the new worlds. Siedler, Munich 2018 (limited preview, ).
  47. Alexander von Humboldt to the editor [di Karl von Moll ] from Corunna on June 5, 1799. In: Jahrbücher der Berg- und Hüttenkunde, Vol. 4 (1799), pp. 399-401, here p. 400 . Digitalisat and full text in German text archive .
  48. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 101.
  49. Gerhard Kortum : Humboldt the seafarer and his marine chronometer. A contribution to the history of nautical and marine science . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 2, No. 3 (2001).
  50. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , pp. 86–91.
  51. Andrea Wulf: Alexander von Humboldt and the invention of nature. Munich 2016, p. 79.
  52. Nature research - with leisure or effort? by Maria-Theresia Leuker, 2016.
  53. Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 66.
  54. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 178 f.
  55. Quoted from Scurla, 11th edition 1985, p. 143 f .; Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 80; Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My busy life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 181.
  56. Quoted from Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, pp. 142 f .; Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 80; Frank Holl quotes a similar description of complications during the journey on the Orinoco: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 167 f.
  57. Humboldt visited Mutis in July 1801 in Santa Fe de Bogotá during his expedition to America. Bartolomé Ribas Ozonas: José Celestino Mutis, amistad y colaboración con A. v. Humboldt. Pp. 151-172, online at .
  58. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 204.
  59. ^ Georg Petersen, Hartmut Fröschle : The Germans in Peru . In: Hartmut Fröschle (Ed.): The Germans in Latin America. Fate and achievement . Erdmann, Tübingen 1979, ISBN 3-7711-0293-6 , pp. 696-741, here p. 701.
  60. NASA : Seven Century Catalog of Mercury Transits: 1601 CE to 2300 CE .
  61. Bärbel Rott: Alexander von Humboldt brought guano to Europe - with undreamt-of global consequences In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 17, No. 32 (2016).
  62. ^ Franz Tichy : Alexander von Humboldt's journey to Mexico 1803-1804. In: José Manuel López de Abiada, Titus Heydenreich (Ed.): Iberoamérica - Homenaje a Gustav Siebenmann . Wilhelm Fink, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-7705-2154-4 , Volume 2, pp. 963-988.
  63. Andreas W. Daum: How Humboldt hunted the plague. Alexander von Humboldt tracked down infectious diseases in South America and Europe. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. May 20, 2020, accessed May 25, 2020 .
  64. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl. P. 182 f.
  65. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 184.
  66. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 185.
  67. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 234.
  68. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 114 f.
  69. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 200. “The truly unique reception that Humboldt and his friend Bonpland received in Paris - of the highly sensational way in which this journey of discovery was started and carried out at the time - was completely apart from that - quite different reasons. "(Ibid.)
  70. Scurla, 11th edition 1985, p. 204. “It was now a matter of sifting through what had been seen, collected and noted, to process, critically process and publish [...] It was clear to Humboldt from the outset that his strength not sufficient to cope with such a task; He also set his ambition to win outstanding scholars to collaborate in his enormous project of making use of the best resources, libraries, research institutes and printing companies that existed at the time. Such a company could only be located in the city in which these requirements were met. That was Paris, only Paris. ”(Ibid.) Similar to Ette 2009, p. 101 f.
  71. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 261.
  72. ^ David Blankenstein, Bénédicte Savoy: Frontal presence. On an unknown portrait of Alexander von Humboldt in the possession of the French Conseil d'État. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 16, No. 31 (2015).
  73. Alexander von Humboldt: Treatises based on lectures at the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin.
  74. Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, p. 114.
  75. Timeline. In: Ottmar Ette. (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 295.
  76. Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, p. 138.
  77. Quoted from Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, p. 172.
  78. ^ Karl Heinrich Panhorst: Simón Bolívar and Alexander von Humboldt. Ibero-American Archives Vol. 4, No. 1 (1930), pp. 35-47.
  79. ^ Charles Minguet: Las relaciones entre Alexander von Humboldt y Simón de Bolívar. In: Alberto Filippi (ed.): Bolívar y Europa en las crónicas, el pensamiento político y la historiografía. Ediciones de la Presidencia de la República, Caracas 1986, Volume 1, pp. 743-754.
  80. Humboldt Chronology
  81. Humboldt "attached importance to the statement that the 'sphere of his knowledge' extends ... not to mathematics." (Kurt-R. Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. 3rd edition, p. 94).
  82. Wulf 2016, pp. 299-300.
  83. Wulf 2016, pp. 211 f., 216, 221 f. and 227.
  84. "His first work refers to a herbarium specimen collected by Humboldt and Bonpland in the area of ​​today's Venezuela, is entitled" From the Angostura bark "and was already on October 18, 1802 [...] before the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin presented. "(Lack, 2nd edition 2018, p. 37 f.)
  85. ^ Lack, 2nd edition 2018, p. 51.
  86. Lack, 2nd edition 2018, p. 65. Up to the present day there can still be surprises when dealing with the expedition yield: “For example, it was spectacular to realize that in 2007 a newcomer from the area of ​​today's state of Colombia for the science discovered up to ten meters high tree from the nightshade family was found 206 years before by Humboldt and Bonpland. For at least a century and a half, a document collected by them lay indefinitely and undetected in the Muséum in Paris ”. (Ibid., P. 99)
  87. Biermann, Jahn, Lange 1983, p. 49.
  88. Andrea Wulf: Alexander von Humboldt and the invention of nature. Munich 2016, p. 236.
  89. For Rüdiger Schaper an almost typical company: "Wherever Humboldt is, there is the scientific-intellectual avant-garde, he uses his body as a test object." (Schaper 2018, p. 12)
  90. today Maxim Gorki Theater
  91. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Alexander von Humboldt . CH Beck, Munich 2019, p. 87-88 .
  92. On the background of the Kosmos lectures and the history of transmission of this transcript and the identification of the writer, see the foreword by Christian Kendung and Christian Thomas in: Humboldt / Kohlrausch: Die Kosmos-Vorlesung an der Berliner Sing-Akademie , 2019.
  93. Schaper 2018, p. 17.
  94. Tobias Kraft: The Russian-Siberian Travel Work. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 61.
  95. "Geognosy" as an earlier term for "geology"
  96. † Humboldt's servant. In:  community newspaper / community newspaper. Independent, political journal , May 9, 1877, p. 3 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / acc
  97. Johann Seifert. In: edition humboldt digital. September 11, 2019, accessed September 25, 2019 .
  98. Alexander v. Humboldt's valet in Pressburg. In:  Die Presse , December 15, 1874, p. 3 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / maintenance / apr
  99. Tobias Kraft: The Russian-Siberian Travel Work. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 64.
  100. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 321.
  101. Tobias Kraft: The Russian-Siberian Travel Work. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 70.
  102. Ottmar Ette: A life in motion. In the S. (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 16.
  103. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 275.
  104. Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, pp. 114 and 126 f. “As a result, the Prussian ambassador in Paris, Heinrich Wilhelm von Werther, was only seen as an 'envoy', Humboldt, however, as a 'skillful one'.” Quoted from: Zeittafel. In: Ottmar Ette. (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 296. (Ibid)
  105. Detailed description in Scurla, 11th edition 1985, especially p. 301 f.
  106. Ottmar Ette: A life in motion. In the S. (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 16 f.
  107. Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, p. 116.
  108. Illustration of the tent room at
  109. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 315.
  110. Meyer-Abich, 19th edition 2008, p. 128 f.
  111. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 346 f. According to Frank Holl, it is characteristic of Humboldt that during the revolution in 1848 he was able to take part in the rebels' meetings on the one hand and to have dinner with the king as usual on the other. (Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My Much Moved Life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 352.)
  112. Ottmar Ette: A life in motion. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, pp. 17 and 298.
  113. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 354.
  114. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, pp. 368-370.
  115. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 371 f.
  116. Kurt-R. Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. 3. Edition. Leipzig 1983, p. 92.
  117. Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 132 f. and 171.
  118. ^ Kurt-Reinhard Biermann: Alexander von Humboldt. 3. Edition. Leipzig 1983, pp. 89-90.
  119. Ludmilla Assing (Ed.): Letters from Alexander von Humboldt to Varnhagen von Ense from the years 1827 to 1858 . 2nd Edition. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1860, p. 20 .
  120. A. von Humboldt: Kosmos (1845–1862), Volume 1, p. [V]. ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  121. a b Ingo Schwarz: “A limited intellectual person without imagination”. Comments on Friedrich Schiller's judgment on Alexander von Humboldt In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 4, No. 6 (2003).
  122. A. von Humboldt: Kosmos (1845–1862), Volume 1, pp. 5f. ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  123. A. von Humboldt: Kosmos (1845–1862), Volume 1, p. 17. ( Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive )
  124. A. von Humboldt: Kosmos (1845–1862), Volume 1, p. 36 (italics blocked in the original). ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  125. Wulf 2016, pp. 310-312. However, Humboldt did not profit financially from these translation sales until 1849, as Wulf notes, since there was no copyright until then . (Ibid., P. 312)
  126. ^ Andreas Daum: Science popularization in the 19th century. 2nd Edition. Munich 2002, pp. 273-286.
  127. Ette 2009, p. 193.
  128. Ette 2009, p. 18.
  129. Ottmar Ette: On the way in all cultures. Ancient American Studies to Zoology: What moved the “nomad” Alexander von Humboldt with his travels. In: Der Tagesspiegel . September 25, 2015, p. 28.
  130. Ette 2009, p. 260.
  131. Ette 2009, p. 16 ff.
  132. Ette 2009, p. 32.
  133. "Knowledge has the property that it wanders and creates a suction effect, and data generates currents." This is Humboldt's modernity. (Schaper 2018, p. 21.)
  134. A. von Humboldt: Kosmos (1845–1862), Volume 2, p. 398 f .; quoted n. Ette 2009, p. 248 f.
  135. Ette 2009, p. 16.
  136. Ette 2009, p. 28.
  137. Kurt-R. Biermann: Who were Alexander von Humboldt's most important correspondents? In: NTM series for the history of natural sciences, technology and medicine, 18th year 1981, pp. 34–43. Biermann estimates the number of Humboldt letters at 50,000, the number of letters addressed to Humboldt at over 100,000. Of these, only around 3,300 are traceable because Humboldt destroyed most of the letters that had survived.
  138. Ette 2009, p. 19.
  139. Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 138.
  140. Ette 2009, p. 250 f.
  141. Ette 2009, p. 218 f.
  142. Ette 2009, p. 153 f.
  143. Ette 2009, p. 405 f.
  144. Quotation from Ette 2009, p. 377.
  145. Asie centrale, Volume II, p. 439 f. ; quoted n. Ette 2009, p. 327.
  146. Ette 2009, p. 359 f. Here Ette turns against Hans Blumenberg's assessment, who interprets Alexander von Humboldt's entire conception of science as an "anachronism" and refers to his loneliness after Goethe's death. (Hans Blumenberg: Die Legbarkeit der Welt. Frankfurt am Main 1986, p. 296; quoted in Ette 2009, p. 375)
  147. Andrea Wulf in an interview with Fritz Habekuß: "He would be pretty shocked." The cultural historian Andrea Wulf portrayed Alexander von Humboldt masterfully. She suspects what the great natural scientist would say about the ecological crises of the present. In: Die Zeit , February 21, 2019, p. 32.
  148. Ette 2009, p. 252.
  149. Ette p. 360.
  150. Schaper 2018, pp. 246 and 252.
  151. Ingo Schwarz (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt Chronology.
  152. a b Heinz Kautzleben : A scholar of universal education. In: spectrum 15 (1984), pp. 9-11.
  153. Kurt-R. Biermann: “What kind of a man is that!” In: Wissenschaft und progress 34 (1984), pp. 96–99, here p. 97.
  154. ^ A b Nicolaas Rupke : Carl Friedrich Gauß and the geomagnetism. In: Elmar Mittler (Ed.): "As lightning strikes, the riddle has been solved". Carl Friedrich Gauß in Göttingen. Göttingen 2005, pp. 188–201, here pp. 188–190.
  155. BBAW: The dependent writings of Alexander von Humboldt. Magnetism .
  156. a b c Kurt-R. Biermann: From the history of Alexander von Humboldt's request in 1836 to the President of the Royal Society to set up geomagnetic stations (documents on the relationship between A. v. Humboldt and CF Gauß). In: Alexander von Humboldt on the web. Volume VI, No. 11 (2005), pp. 92-122, here pp. 96-98. The house was on Abraham Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's property in Leipziger Strasse .
  157. Elena Roussanova: Russia has always been the promised land for magnetism: Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Friedrich Gauß and the study of geomagnetism in Russia. In: Alexander von Humboldt on the web. XII, 22 (2011), pp. 56-83, here pp. 72-74.
  158. ^ Menso Folkerts : Humboldt and Oltmanns . In: Uta Lindgren (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt. World view and effect on the sciences . (= Bayreuth Historical Colloquia, Volume 4), Böhlau Verlag Cologne, Vienna 1990 ISBN 3-412-18689-9 , pp. 103-131.
  159. Oliver Schwarz: Alexander von Humboldt as an astronomical worker, discussion partner and source of ideas. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume XV, No. 29 (2014).
  160. Eberhard Knobloch : "It would be impossible for me to live like him for just six months": Encke, Humboldt and everything we always wanted to know about the new Berlin observatory . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 14, No. 26 (2013).
  161. a b c Wolf von Engelhardt : Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt - Construction and history of the earth . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 2, No. 3 (2001).
  162. a b Herbert Pieper: The geognosy of the volcanoes . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 7, No. 13 (2006), pp. 74–81.
  163. Cettina Rapisarda: Lava memoriae deodati dolomieu. Alexander von Humboldt's rock studies in Naples . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 18, No. 35, (2017).
  164. Herbert Pieper: "Tremendous depth of thinking, unattainable insight and the rarest speed of combination". On the election of Alexander von Humboldt to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin 200 years ago. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 1, No. 1 (2001).
  165. The term "geography" is used here roughly as it was in Humboldt's time. In the meantime, some sub-areas have become independent or have been assigned elsewhere, for example meteorology or oceanography .
  166. BBAW: The dependent writings of Alexander von Humboldt: Geography .
  167. a b c Hermann Flohn : Problems of the geophysical-comparative climatology since Alexander von Humboldt . In: Reports of the German Weather Service 59 (1959), pp. 9–31, here pp. 9–14.
  168. Stefan Rasemann: Geomorphometric structure of a mesoscale geosystem. Dissertation Bonn 2003, pp. 29, 36.
  169. a b Hermann Flohn : Problems of geophysical-comparative climatology since Alexander von Humboldt . In: Reports of the German Weather Service 59 (1959), pp. 9–31, here pp. 20–21.
  170. ^ Hermann Flohn : Problems of the geophysical-comparative climatology since Alexander von Humboldt . In: Reports of the German Weather Service 59 (1959), pp. 9–31, here p. 29.
  171. a b c d Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt and climate change: Myths and facts. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 19, No. 37 (2018).
  172. “The land there had become barren through deforestation, the water level of the lake had fallen, and after the shrubbery disappeared, heavy rains had washed the soil from the surrounding mountain slopes. Humboldt was the first to point out that the forest can enrich the atmosphere with moisture and cool it - and spoke of the great importance of trees for water storage and protection against soil erosion. "He warned that people could have unpredictable consequences for" coming genders ”to interfere with nature. (Wulf 2016, p. 24.)
  173. ^ The thesis that Humboldt was the first to warn of global climate change , which Wulf (2016) advocates, rejects Holl (2018) because of this spatially limited view. Holl (2018) objects to the fact that Wulf (2016) and others refer to his publications for this thesis.
  174. ^ Hanno Beck: Alexander von Humboldt and the Ice Age. In: Humboldt on the Net. Volume 20, No. 38 (2019).
  175. Vallendar 2005, p. 79.
  176. a b c Petra Werner: Agreement or Contrast? On the contradicting relationship between A. v. Humboldt and FWJ Schelling. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 1, No. 1 (2000).
  177. Jahn 1969, p. 52.
  178. Alexander von Humboldt: The life force or the Rhodian genius .
  179. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Social Relations, Shared Practices, and Emotions: Alexander von Humboldt's Excursion into Literary Classicism and the Challenges to Science around 1800 . In: Journal of Modern History . tape 91 , 2019, p. 1-37 .
  180. a b Friedrich Herneck : Hegel and Alexander von Humboldt. In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 17, No. 33 (2016).
  181. There is no evidence of correspondence or personal contact with Hegel, although they lived close together from 1827 to 1831.
  182. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 9.
  183. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 360 f.
  184. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 268.
  185. Lettre de Monsieur A. de Humboldt. Au Citoyen Delambre, Membre de l'Institut National In: Annales du Muséum national d'histoire naturelle , Volume 3, 1804, p. 231 ( online ).
  186. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , pp. 9 and 327.
  187. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 10.
  188. Quoted from Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , p. 365.
  189. Ottmar Ette: Foreword. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. VII.
  190. Quoted from Dorothee Nolte : Wilhelm von Humboldt. A picture of life in anecdotes. Berlin 2017, p. 54 f.
  191. Thomas Schmuck: Goethe. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 225 f.
  192. Quoted from Ette 2009, p. 305.
  193. Thomas Schmuck: Goethe. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 225 f.
  194. Thomas Schmuck: Goethe. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 224.
  195. Wulf 2016, pp. 274–295.
  196. Wulf: 2016, p. 285. A personal encounter between Darwin and Humboldt on January 29, 1842 in London, however, was disappointing for Darwin because of Humboldt's very monologizing way of communicating with him. (Ibid., P. 303 f.) After his own research trip, however, Darwin showed himself again as a Humboldt admirer: he had always admired him, but now "I adore him". (Werner Biermann: “The dream of my whole life”. Humboldt's American journey. 4th edition, Berlin 2017, p. 350.) Shortly before his own death, according to Herbert Scurla, Darwin praised Humboldt as the greatest scientific traveler of all. (Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 13)
  197. Thomas Schmuck: Humboldt, Baer and evolution . In: Humboldt im Netz Volume 15, No. 29 (2014).
  198. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, pp. 382-384.
  199. Frank Holl : The history of the Humboldt monument is a real Berlin farce. In: Der Tagesspiegel , August 26, 2019; accessed on September 16, 2019
  200. Werner Biermann: "The dream of my whole life". Humboldt's American journey. 4th edition, Berlin 2017, p. 337.
  201. Scurla, 11th ed. 1985, p. 7.
  202. Meyer-Abich 19th edition 2008, p. 109.
  203. Frank Holl: Alexander von Humboldt - My much-moved life. A biographical portrait presented by Frank Holl , pp. 272 ​​and 370 (accompanying footnote 19).
  204. Wulf 2016, p. 25 f.
  205. O. Ette spans an arc of negative views about Humboldt from the verdict of Friedrich Schiller to Daniel Kehlmann's most recent satire novel (Ette 2009, p. 312 f .: “The measurement of the world can be understood from the perspective of the history of reception as the result of an intensive cannibalization of Science: The novel has incorporated a small library not only of Humboldt blends, but also of older literature on Humboldt, carefully scouring for narrative usable things. "It is to be feared that" some of the stereotypes that one had long thought to have been used up, will now circulate happily in public again. ")
  206. Frank Holl: “Human nonsense that disrupts the natural order.” Alexander von Humboldt and global warming: How the global scholar founded climate research. In: Der Tagesspiegel , June 4, 2019, p. 25.
  207. ^ Matthias Glaubrecht: "Un peu de geographie des animaux". The beginnings of biogeography as "Humboldtian science". In: edition humboldt digital, ed. v. Ottmar Ette. Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Berlin. Version 5 of September 11, 2019. Online version ; accessed on September 18, 2019.
  208. ^ Matthias Glaubrecht: Overrated universal scholar. A new biography transfigured the natural scientist. But Humboldt was wrong about some things, and his influence on modern science is manageable. In: Der Tagesspiegel , December 28, 2016. Online version ; accessed on September 18, 2019.
  209. Vallendar 2005, p. 25 f.
  210. Vallendar 2005, p. 178.
  211. Vallendar 2005, p. 72.
  212. Vallendar 2005, p. 69.
  213. Vallendar 2005, p. 85.
  214. Vallendar 2005, p. 11.
  215. Vallendar 2005, p. 90.
  216. ^ According to Schaper, the GDR was faster than the Federal Republic in naming the Humboldt University . “She grabbed Humboldt for reputation, while Bonn began to develop a new foreign policy under the name of Goethe. Humboldt and Goethe were supposed to be guarantors for a different, respectively new Germany after the Second World War. "(Schaper 2018, p. 255 f.)
  217. ^ District office Reinickendorf of Berlin: 250th birthday of Alexander von Humboldt.
  218. Schaper 2018, p. 259.
  219. Sandra Rebok: Humboldt exhibitions. Occasion, motives, topics. In: Ette (Ed.): Alexander von Humboldt-Handbuch 2018, p. 288.
  220. A. v. Humboldt became a member of this academy on July 7, 1791, a few days after his brother Wilhelm had become the son-in-law of President Karl Friedrich von Dacheröden .
  221. ^ Johann Daniel Ferdinand Neigebaur : History of the Imperial Leopoldino-Carolinian German Academy of Natural Scientists during the second century of its existence. Friedrich Frommann, Jena 1860, p. 240 (
  222. ^ Leopoldina: Alexander von Humboldt .
  223. BBAW: Alexander von Humboldt .
  224. BAdW: Alexander von Humboldt .
  225. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed December 22, 2019 .
  226. ^ Academy of the Arts: Members
  227. ^ Académie des Sciences: Members .
  228. ^ AAAS: Members .
  229. AmPhilSoc: Humboldt .
  230. ^ Société Cuvierienne, p. 190.
  231. Alexander von Humboldt Chronology
  232. Heribert Rau : Alexander von Humboldt: Kulturhistorisch-Biographischer Roman in six parts. Meidinger Sohn publishing house, from part 5: Theodor Thomas, Frankfurt am Main 1860.
  233. ^ Andreas W. Daum: Nation, Nature Research and Monument: Humboldt Monuments in Germany and the USA. In: Martin Baumeister (ed.): The art of history: Historiography, aesthetics, narration. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-525-36384-3 , pp. 99-124.
  234. ^ Special postage stamps 250th birthday of Alexander von Humboldt
  235. Federal Ministry of Finance: 20 euro commemorative coin “250. Birthday of Alexander von Humboldt "
  236. ^ Frank N. Egerton: Roots of Ecology . Berkeley 2012, p. 121 (quoted from Wulf 2016, p. 27).
  237. Alexander von Humboldt: From my life. Autobiographical confessions compiled and explained by Kurt-R. Beer man. 2nd edition, Leipzig 1987, p. 7.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on April 4, 2005 .