This article is part of the feature „Great guys. Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt

Our two name-givers

2 min read

A glacier, a penguin, schools, a famous tall ship – many things all over the world have been named after the Humboldts. However, what made the Humboldt brothers such role models? Why are their ideas and findings still relevant today, more than 250 years after they were born? And which of the topics and exhibits provided by our name-givers will the Humboldt Forum feature in future?

As a researcher and intrepid traveller of the world, Alexander cut his way through the dense vegetation of the Amazon rainforest, whilst Wilhelm the statesman and educational reformer attacked the jungle of Berlin’s bureaucracy with equal fervour. Both brothers are famous – each in their own way – for viewing the world as a connected whole. They demonstrated how the world can be experienced with an inquisitive mind and a sense of responsibility, and without prejudice. Providing access to art and education – for everyone! – was also of fundamental importance to them. Alexander held his free “cosmos” lectures in Berlin, and Wilhelm founded the university as a place not of dour teaching by rote but of enthusiastic research and open discussion.

This dossier is a collection of a number of perspectives on and contributions to the different personalities and interdisciplinary work of the two Humboldts. Immerse yourself in a world of sounds and symbols on the trail of Wilhelm. Explore the flora and fauna of South America with Alexander, and experience how the brothers still inspire contemporary scientists and artists all over the world today, and how they adapt their ideas and bring them to life in performances, installations and exhibitions.

The lives of Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt were shaped by numerous contradictions as well as commonalities. Together, they form what might be called the “Humboldt credo”, writes Hartmut Dorgerloh, the Humboldt Forum’s general director, in his introductory contribution to this dossier. They define the Humboldt Forum as well as, already, our work on its programme.