Where is world history published?

Published 175 years agoAlexander von Humboldt's world history "Kosmos": compact world knowledge

"I have the great idea to represent the whole material world, everything we know today about the phenomena of heavenly spaces and earthly life, from the nebulae to the geography of the mosses on the granite rocks, everything in one work, which at the same time stimulates in living language and the mind is delighted, "wrote Alexander von Humboldt in 1835 to a writer friend.

A long way to go to publication

The plan to write a history of the development of scientific world exploration had already fascinated him as a young scholar at the end of the 18th century before he embarked on his first big trip to South America. But it would take decades for the idea to take on literary form. The public pressure after his so-called Kosmos lectures, which he held in Berlin from autumn 1827 to spring 1828, contributed significantly to this. The audience was enthusiastic about this first "physical description of the world". Very different notes were soon circulating, and publishers made him lucrative offers. Finally, he signed a contract with the renowned Cotta publishing house, but it took a long time before publication.

The Humboldt researcher Ottmar Ette: "The Kosmos lectures and the first volume of the Kosmos are almost 20 years apart. During this time, when Humboldt also doubted the feasibility of the Kosmos, he succeeded in creating a literary form to find a scientific way to develop this cosmos. "

(Berlin State Library / Carola Seifert) Alexander von Humboldt - The digital estate of a universal scholar
He traveled to England, Russia and America: Alexander von Humboldt. On the way he kept a travel diary. Now parts of his writings are being indexed piece by piece and published digitally.

He had arranged a two-volume publication with Cotta-Verlag. In the course of time and due to Humboldt's never-ending thirst for research, the work had grown to five volumes, the first part of which finally appeared on March 15, 1845.

In his foreword he wrote: "Late in the evening of a busy life, I am handing over a work to the German audience, the image of which, in vague outlines, floated in my mind for almost half a century."

Alexander von Humboldt was 76 years old at the time. The Prussian aristocrat had traveled to many parts of the world, explored the American continent and Europe and even reached the borders of China. He was the first to compare the fundamental knowledge gathered in his unique cosmos with the specialist knowledge of the time and at the same time combined the natural sciences and the humanities.

A promoter of women in science

Ottmar Ette: "For him, it's about bringing together knowledge of the world, from anthropology as well as from geology, in the astronomical field as well as in mathematics. For him, it's about fading in history, including the history of science. to see the natural phenomena in painting, in poetry, in literature. So basically all the different areas, including of course what is of particular interest today, namely questions of climate research, should be presented here. "

Humboldt was a committed and much sought-after communicator and used every opportunity to pass on his knowledge in the social salons. The Kosmos lectures in Berlin and the publication of his main work also served him well. He wanted to reach a larger audience and, above all, women, so Ette:

"Humboldt campaigned very strongly for women, including traveling women, and supported them, partly with his own funds, especially with funds from the Prussian state. It was just important at a time when women were not yet involved the university could give women access to knowledge, not even at the newly founded Berlin university. "

The success of the first volume was sensational. Five editions had to be printed within two years. With the second volume, the audience fought "real battles" to get the book - as publisher Cotta informed the author. There are even said to have been looting of shipping packages and bribery of booksellers. As a young scholar, Alexander von Humboldt could not have imagined that his "attempt to depict nature in a lively way and in its sublime grandeur" would make his cosmos a bestseller in his time