Exploring the
Hidden Kosmos

Explore Alexander von Humboldt's Kosmos-
lectures from 1827/28.

Humboldt's
Kosmos-Lectures

In his Kosmos-lectures Alexander von Humboldt shared the knowledge of his time at the university and in a public lecture in the neighboring Sing-Akademie. Thereby he shared the knowledge not only with non-academics but also with women who could not regularily enrole at universities at that time. There was huge demand for the lecture tickets; contemporaneous newspapers describe angry students trying to enforce their entry to the lectures. The public lecture also had to refuse hearers since the Sing-Akademie only held 800 seats.

Cosmic
variability

Alexander von Humboldt did not leave a script of the lectures. His later Kosmos-book series seems to be based on later notes that he constantly improved. Yet, the first steps would be lost. Luckily, some people who attended the lectures, left notes so that we can follow the earlier stages of von Humboldt's research. 10 handwritten transcripts from the 62 university lectures and the 16 public lectures were digitized by Humboldt-University's "Hidden Kosmos" project. These transcipts are as multifaceted as the the people who wrote them.

A Path through
the Kosmos

The diversity of the audience reflects the versatile interests of the period. Moreover, the transcripts provide interesting views into the various backgrounds of their writers. Comparative reading of the texts could provide the insight advisable to appreciate the variability in the topics and the writers. The 3600 pages of the transcipts are available in the deutsches Textarchiv, yet, not in a format to compare the texts. Our website provides a tool that allows for that comparision. You will see that even in the same presentation the transcipts largely vary.

„Da öffentliche Vorträge ein leichtes und entscheidendes Mittel darbieten, um die gute oder schlechte Verkettung einzelner Theile einer Lehre zu prüfen, so habe ich viele Monate lang erst zu Paris in französischer Sprache und später zu Berlin in unserer vaterländischen Sprache fast gleichzeitig in der großen Halle der Singakademie und in einem der Hörsäle der Universität Vorlesungen über die physische Weltbeschreibung, wie ich die Wissenschaft aufgefaßt, gehalten.“

Alexander von Humboldt, Vorwort zum Kosmos Bd. 1, S. IX/X

Textual comparison

Same presentation, different writers: Here you can compare transcripts from different authors. Alas, the texts are taken from their original form, that is from German. You find out which author attended which lectures in the table.

In case of missing texts, unclear passages and other questions consult the original texts at the Deutsches Textarchiv.

First author:
Lecture number:
Second author:

first author second author

„Anstatt der Definition des Wortes Naturgeschichte will ich es versuchen, ein Bild der Natur selbst zu entwerfen.“

First sentence from Otto Hufeland's transcipt of the first public lecture

Overview of the authors

Overwiew of the transcripts from the Kosmos-Lectures available from various authors. Not every author attended every lecture.

„Ein Versuch, die Natur lebendig und in ihrer erhabenen Größe zu schildern, in dem wellenartig wiederkehrenden Wechsel physischer Veränderlichkeit das Beharrliche aufzuspüren, wird daher auch in späteren Zeiten nicht ganz unbeachtet bleiben.“

Alexander von Humboldt, Vorwort zum Kosmos Bd. 1, S. XVI.

Inspiration

The huge demand reflects how interested Berlin people were in scientific research. Yet, in their analogue life they were restricted by place. In our digital world we now can overcome those restrictions. We invite you to explore von Humboldt's Kosmos digitally!

Be inspired by the island Sabrina in the Azores

Alexander von Humboldt mentioned the example of Sabrina (our German Wikipedia-Article), an island that emerged due to the eruption of an underwater vulcano. The emergance of vulcanic islands fascinates people until today. Moreover, like many topics von Humboldt discussed, it is highly relevant. We experiment here with various ways to engage with von Humboldt's topics and update and extend them digitally:

(Links open in a new window)