Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography

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Overview

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) is one of the most celebrated figures of late-modern science, famous for his work in physical geography, botanical geography, and climatology, and his role as one of the first great popularizers of the sciences. His momentous accomplishments have intrigued German biographers from the Prussian era to the fall of the Berlin wall, all of whom configured and reconfigured Humboldt’s life according to the sensibilities of the day.
This volume, the first metabiography of the great scientist, traces Humboldt’s biographical identities through Germany’s collective past to shed light on the historical instability of our scientific heroes.
 
“Rupke’s study . . . will doubtless become a standard reference for the Humboldt industry and for writers of scientific metabiographies to come.”—Isis
 
“Engaging. . . . Rupke’s meticulous analysis is fascinating on many scores.”—Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)
 
“A study borne of considerable scholarship and one with important methodological implications for historians of geography.”—Charles W. J. Withers, Progress in Human Geography
 
 

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Editorial Reviews

Nature
Rupke is right to draw attention to the fact that shifting biographical traditions make one person have many lives, and his metabiography helps us to appreciate the historical instability of any scientific life, not just one as complex as Humboldt’s. . . . Rupke has given us a Humboldt just right for our own less certain and more self-conscious times—fractured, multiple and unstable.”

— Steven Shapin

Isis

“Rupke’s study . . . will doubtless become a standard reference for the Humboldt industry and for writers of scientific metabiographies to come.”
Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)
Engaging. . . . Rupke’s meticulous analysis is fascinating on many scores.”

— John Meurig Thomas

Progress in Human Geography
A study borne of considerable scholarship and one with important methodological implications for historians of geography.”

— Charles W. J. Withers

Annals of Science
“The book examines how Humboldt has been portrayed in the biographical literature by his fellow Germans. . . . With each major shift in politics, a new image of Humboldt was created. . . . A marvelously fascinating book.”
British Journal for the History of Science
“A detailed, rewarding, and well-illustrated account.”
Nature - Steven Shapin
“Rupke is right to draw attention to the fact that shifting biographical traditions make one person have many lives, and his metabiography helps us to appreciate the historical instability of any scientific life, not just one as complex as Humboldt’s. . . . Rupke has given us a Humboldt just right for our own less certain and more self-conscious times—fractured, multiple and unstable.”
Times Higher Education Supplement (UK) - John Meurig Thomas
“Engaging. . . . Rupke’s meticulous analysis is fascinating on many scores.”
Progress in Human Geography - Charles W. J. Withers
“A study borne of considerable scholarship and one with important methodological implications for historians of geography.”
Isis
“Rupke’s study . . . will doubtless become a standard reference for the Humboldt industry and for writers of scientific metabiographies to come.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226731490
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Pages: 316
  • Sales rank: 1,344,361
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicolaas A. Rupke is professor of the history of science and director of the Institute for the History of Science at Göttingen, Germany. He is the author of several books, including Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist.
 
 
 

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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Prefaces
Chronology of Alexander von Humboldt's Life

Introduction: The Several Lives of Alexander von Humboldt
     The Humboldt Phenomenon
     Appropriating Humboldt
     Fashioning Himself

Chapter 1: Liberal Democrat before the Empire Period
     National Hero of the "Forty-Eighters"
     The Long Shadow of Bismarck
     Kosmos and Volksbilding
     Literary Face of German Science
     Subversive Democrat at the Prussian Court

Chapter 2: The Wilhelmian and Weimar Kultur Chauvinist
     Identity Changes
     Kultur Nationalist
     Special Envoy to Latin America
    
Chapter 3: The Aryan Supremacist of National Socialism
     Nazification
     Kosmos and German Idealism
     Certification of Aryan Purity
     Friend of Faupel

Chapter 4: East Germany's Antislavery Marxist
     The Academy's Socialist
     The GDR as Humboldt's Rightful Heir
     Denazification  — East
     Nearly a Miner
     Between Forster and Marx
     The Great Abolitionist
     "Our Man in Havana"
    
Chapter 5: West Germany's Cosmopolitan Friend of the Jews
     Westernization
     Fraternity Member
     Denazification — West
     Cosmopolitan Liberal
     Friend of the Jews
     "... Almost an American"
    
Chapter 6: Today's Pioneer of Globalization
     Free Market Victorious
     Globalization "Wessie"
     A Green Humboldt
     Anglification
     Postmodernist Cracks
     Outing Humboldt

Conclusion: Humboldt Forever
     Humboldt and Germany
     Institutional Embeddedness
     Political Regimes and Biographical Truths
     Metabiographical Reflections

List of Institutions and Political Parties
A Note on Citation
Printed Sources
Index   

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