Alexander von Humboldt

Article

July 5, 2022

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (September 14, 1769 in Berlin; † May 6, 1859 there) was a German explorer whose field of activity extended far beyond Europe. In his complete works, which he created 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. Several years of research trips 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. 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 his own character. In Germany, Alexander von Humboldt achieved extraordinary popularity, above all with his works Views of Nature and Cosmos. Even during his lifetime, he enjoyed a high reputation at home and abroad and was regarded as "the greatest naturalist [of his] time". The Academy of Sciences in Berlin honored him as "the first scientific greatness of his age", whose world fame even surpassed that of Leibniz. 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 referred 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 which the insight applied: "Everything is interaction".

Career and work

Family background

Alexander von Humboldt's father, Alexander Georg, who came from Pomerania, was a Prussian officer and was made chamberlain to the Princess of Prussia for his services in the Seven Years' War. In 1766 he married the widow Marie-Elisabeth von Holwede, née Colomb, daughter of a wealthy family, partly of Huguenot origin, who had received a significant fortune from her first marriage, including Tegel Castle and the Berlin town house. The second marriage produced two sons, Wilhelm and Alexander. Sometimes Alexander von Humboldt is referred to as "Freiherr" (French or English "baron"). This happened during his lifetime, and Humboldt did not object to it, rather he used the Freiherr title himself on rare occasions. However, it could be proven that after his grandfather had been ennobled as "von Humboldt", it was only the descendants of his brother Wilhelm in 1875 that were legitimately granted the title of baron. Most of the time, Alexander von Humboldt even signed without the “von” part of 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, the chamberlain von Humboldt, who had been relieved of his previous duties, was able to withdraw to private life at the Tegel estate and castle. His main focus now was the best possible upbringing and education 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 tutor and educator, from 17