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Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography

Biography / Memoir

By: Nicolaas A Rupke (Author)

320 pages, 9 b/w photos

University of Chicago Press

Paperback | Jun 2008 | #173196 | ISBN-13: 9780226731490
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £15.99 $20/€18 approx
Hardback | Dec 2005 | #163911 | ISBN: 3631539320
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £50.50 $62/€56 approx

About this book

Alexander von Humboldt is one of the most celebrated figures of late-modern science. In Germany, his renown has generated continuous biographical interest from late-Prussian times through the Empire Period, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, the divided Germany of 1949 to 1990, to the reunified Germany of today. In this first metabiography of Humboldt, the author leads us through the twists and turns of German political history, stopping to point out the Humboldt identity that was created to match the moment, ultimately showing us not one Humboldt but many. As he makes clear, these diverse Humbolds tell us as much about the biographers as about Humbolt himself. One need only look behind a given Humboldt representation to identify the institutional and socio-political interests that engendered the Humboldt of any one epoch. Provoked by the post-modernist challenge to the practice and writing of history, Nicolaas A. Rupke examines how the partisan and polemical moments of Humboldt biography shed light on issues that command our attention in today's world.

"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, Nature

"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."
- John Meurig Thomas, 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

"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."
- Annals of Science

"A detailed, rewarding, and well-illustrated account."
- British Journal for the History of Science


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
     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
     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
     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

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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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