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The Humboldt brothers

Denkmal Alexander von Humboldts vor dem Hauptgebäude der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Reinhold Begas: 1883; Foto: Humboldt-Universität, Heike
Statue of Alexander von Humboldt in front of the main building of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Reinhold Begas: 1883; photo: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Heike Zappe
Statue of Wilhelm von Humboldts in front of the main building of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Paul Otto, 1883; photo: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Heike Zappe
Statue of Wilhelm von Humboldts in front of the main building of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Paul Otto, 1883; photo: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Heike Zappe

With their open-mindedness, worldliness, and willingness to explore uncharted ground, the brothers Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt perfectly encapsulate the ethos that pervades the Humboldt Forum.

The choice of name for the Forum is inspired by the thirst for learning and spirit of discovery that drove both brothers. As a Prussian politician in Berlin, Wilhelm (1767–1835) played an active role in the foundation of the university and museums. The Berlin University that he cofounded in 1810, known today as the Humboldt-Universität, embodied his ideal of a union between research and teaching in all disciplines. In addition he made a pioneering study of the structure of non-European languages. Alexander (1769–1859) set off as a young man to conduct seminal research on the American continent. He traveled down little-known rivers and climbed the Chimborazo in the Andes, thought to be the highest mountain in the world at the time. The critical assessment of this journey was to occupy him for the rest of his life and brought him international fame. He was even celebrated by some as the ‘true discoverer of America’ (Simon Bolivar). In his most important work ‘Cosmos’, he attempted to present an overall view of nature and the multitudinous relationships between humankind and its environment. He was also one of the few figures of his day to publicly rail against racism and slavery.