Chapter

Alexander Von Humboldt and Revolution: A Geography of Reception of the Varnhagen von Ense Correspondence

Rupke Nicolaas

in Geography and Revolution

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780226487335
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226487359 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226487359.003.0012
Alexander Von Humboldt and Revolution: A Geography of Reception of the Varnhagen von Ense Correspondence

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Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) is not commonly depicted as a revolutionary—at least not in the Anglo-American literature on him. Some of his biographers may consider his contributions to plant geography or to meteorology of revolutionary importance, but Humboldt is not seen as a political revolutionary in the way that, for example, his younger contemporary Karl Marx was. Yet precisely this view of Humboldt as a supporter—even an instigator—of political revolutions was taken in the former East Germany, where the account of his life and work was placed in the discursive space of Marxist historiography. There, a biographical narrative was constructed that highlighted Humboldt's friendships with revolutionaries, making him a revolutionary by association. One of these friendships had been with the “revolutionary democrat” Georg Forster, the “great champion of the idea of 1789” who had passionately supported the Jacobins in France, and one of those who, in 1793 in Mainz, had established “the first democratic republic on German soil.”

Keywords: Alexander von Humboldt; political revolutions; geography; Marxist historiography; Jacobins; democratic republic

Chapter.  6246 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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