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Alexander von Humboldt

A Metabiography

Nicolaas A. Rupke

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 Humboldts tell us as much about the biographers as about Humboldt 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.
Contents: The Several Lives of Alexander von Humboldt – Liberal Democrat before the Empire Period – Wilhelmian and Weimar Kultur Chauvinist – Aryan Supremacist of National Socialism – East Germany’s Antislavery Marxist – West Germany’s Cosmopolitan Friend of Jews – Today’s Green Supranationalist – Humboldt forever.