Can Humanity be Mapped? Adolf Bastian, Friedrich Ratzel and the Cartography of Culture

Introduction: Image and Science in Early Ethnology

During the second half of the nineteenth century, in German circles linked to anthropology, a movement of scientific systematization arose from the need to cope, scientifically and institutionally, with the great masses of data that had been collected over nearly a century of colonial enterprises and geographical discoveries. The most important German cities—Berlin, Bonn and Leipzig—laid a foundation of museums, learned societies, academies and scientific journals to set the agenda and limits for a new discipline: ethnology. Ethnology was supposed to develop a new knowledge of man as a being capable of culture. Mediating between ethnographic practices and anthropological science, ethnology at this time was difficult to distinguish from physiology and the study of man as a physical being , which were part of the natural sciences. In the struggle to attain the status of “science,” anthropology had credentials as good as any nineteenth century discipline, because of its early commitment to physiology and adoption of statistical tools. But it was also the first human science to question substantially the adequateness of the scientific method and the pretension of objectivity as it involved very unstable research materials focused on human culture and behavior.[1]

This essay will analyze the case of two founders of German anthropology, Adolf Bastian (1826-1905) and Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), and examine the challenges they faced in creating images to use as scientific tools in their ethnological approaches. The absence of descriptive, paradigmatic and documentary image tools in the major ethnology handbooks of the time stands in contrast to the clear awareness of anthropologists of the urgent need to codify a coherent and comprehensive system of representations, and to give a symbolic account of the complex results of their discipline.

This was the central epistemological challenge of the early German anthropologists. The question of the image might appear to be just a limited technical question, but in fact, as I will show, it was fundamental to the theoretical conception and organization of ethnology in its eagerness to be recognized as a science. This article addresses the story of the image before the image, to show the theoretical paths that led to the production of specific tools of representation within the emerging ethnological disciplines.

How might one represent, in an exhaustive and synthetic image, the multiplicity of forms of human life on earth? Among the methods and models already available, the first to be proposed was the genealogical tree.[2] Though suggested in the naturalistic classifications of Linnaeus and developed in the representations of Darwinian evolution, this model was already well-known within humanistic disciplines. In linguistics (Sprachwissenschaft), the phylogenetic tree model made it possible to visualize kinship relations and genetic derivations from the roots of languages. Classical philology used it to develop the stemmatic method (stemma codicum) for reconstituting the sequence of ancient texts by judging the degree of derivation and kinship between manuscripts. The great advantage of this model was that it allowed the cataloging of large masses of ethnographic data framed within groups, species, or categories of belonging, and the ordering these divisions according to derivation and lineage.

Although the evolutionist model was surely the strongest and most seductive for ethnologists, the classification of human-related data posed major problems. Far from a neutral representation of reality, the genealogical tree presupposes indeed very strong theoretical postulates. Applying the tree diagram to the study of different world cultures introduced evaluations that were not merely quantitative and descriptive. In the construction of a family tree—lines of cultural and physical descent—data are ordered according to a specific hierarchical and genealogical purpose. From the determination of the point of origin, which postulates the single or multiple derivation of the branches of culture, to the representation of a continuous progress in time and space without interruptions or regressions, the tree diagram presents the history of culture as a direct route, without hesitations, devoid of breaks or blind spots. In the branches of the tree schema, there is no trace of the important and complex concepts which German anthropological schools began to define at that time: cultural permeability, discontinuous progress, acculturation, exchange and borrowing, colonization, participation, conservation, or cultural oblivion. ​​

In place of trees, a second visual model was offered at the end of the nineteenth century, which was, so to speak, the most natural for ethnographers: the geographic or cartographic model. Ethnography can indeed be considered as a corollary of the great geographical discoveries and colonial enterprises which had brought Western worlds into contact with unknown lands and their inhabitants. As a first scientific act, the western traveler draws a map of the country discovered and gives a naturalistic description: geographical (orography, or the study of mountains, and hydrography), natural historical (botany and zoology), and finally ethnographic (the populations encountered on the terrain, their customs). It was precisely on the cartographic model and its symbolic potential that Bastian and Ratzel would concentrate their efforts.  

Adolf Bastian and the Map of the Human Soul

In the case of Adolf Bastian— a physiologist and anthropologist— the use of the cartographic model was inspired by the paradoxical requirement to represent something that usually cannot be observed: the organization of human thought. In order to understand human society and the differentiation of man on earth, Bastian was convinced he had to make use of psychology. Starting from a comparative analysis of the thoughts of men of distinct ethnicities, he aimed to draw up a table of the fundamental conceptions, images, and forms of thought of mankind in all times and places.[3] Simply locating the minimal factors (Elementargedanken), the elementary, primary, simple particles of this elemental grammar of the soul, however, required a process of abstraction and reduction from an extraordinarily vast corpus of data.

We see (or meet) Man as such never and nowhere; rather he is each time presented to the view of anthropology only under his somatic coloring; and in ethnology, with the iridescent clothing of folk-thoughts (Volkgedanken), as historical-geographical transformations of social thought (Gesellschaftsgedankens).[4]

Man as such—the human exemplar that would constitute an absolute reference for philosophical anthropology, the Platonic idea of humanity, so to speak—remains a “limit concept,” but men on the earth are many—physically different and culturally diverse—though part of the same humanity. Likewise, the thoughts of men can no longer be seen in their hypothetical original purity. They have been disguised and transformed, passing through centuries of history and migrations that led to their differentiation and stabilization in coherent thought-regions (Gedankenkreise), in peoples, nations, and religions, and in artistic, social, and cultural conceptions.[5]

We meet the elementary ideas under the differentiations of their opposed geographical provinces, in the national costumes of folk-thoughts.… They dance differently, they sing differently, they gesticulate and make speeches each in their own way. But if you remove from them the colorful mask woven from local conditions, then it stands there: the monotonously stereotypical elemental idea, naked, bald and bare. [6]

For this reason, the first attempts to catalogue human thoughts by Bastian resulted in fluid if fairly decipherable lists of concepts. Alas, the equivocal criteria used to isolate these concepts, and the uncertainty involved in organizing them into categories, undermined the completeness and congruence of these lists. Bastian was aware of the extreme difficulties of his task, whose method and principles were strongly criticized by philosophers and psychologists of his time. The harshest criticism came from the psychologist Karl Rosenkranz, who held Kant’s former chair in Philosophy at the University of Königsberg, and  who judged Bastian’s project as follows: “A statistic of thoughts is a tremendous insanity.”[7]

Before he could draw a map of human thought Bastian needed geography to draw the map of humanity as a whole. A advocate of the idea of ​​the unity of human origin (monogenesis), Bastian applied Moritz Wagner’s evolutionist theories of species differentiation (speciation) through migration, or geographical isolation, to human culture. Bastian thus explained human cultural differentiation as a consequence of mobility:

To study the groups of nations presented by history in the various periods, it is necessary, above all, to have a clear view of the map on which they move. To derive origins, one must study hydrography and orography (the science of mountains), even before philology.[8]

At Bastian’s time the theory of climatic and environmental influences on humanity found strong support, including the philosophical authority of Victor Cousin:

Give me the map of a country, its configuration, its climate, its waters, its winds, its natural productions, its flora, its zoology and all its physical geography and, I dare say, I will tell you who will be the man of this country, and what place this country will occupy in history.[9]

This form of geo-climatic hyper-determinism, however, never fully convinced Bastian. Man is, of course, determined by his environment; but that said, he is able to change the environment in turn.

The traditional Klimatheorie was reinterpreted by Bastian and applied to large geographic provinces (climatic, orographic, zoological and botanical)[10]— the physical horizon for a delineation of cultural provinces. In their continuous interaction with different environments, in fact, the Elementargedanken developed into distinct systems of thought. According to Bastian, the specificity of the human species was its capacity for culture. Man is an extremely reactive animal, capable both of responding to conditions given by the milieu and of controlling them. Ethnographic observations testified to this state of things. On the same soil were found very different peoples in terms of habits, technologies, and social organization; each group reacted to the same environment in a different way, perhaps because of a particular past that determined them differently. If, therefore, the cause of cultural difference was not to be found in geography, it was nevertheless through geography that the ethnologist would be able to outline the historical profiles of current configurations of peoples and nations and study the evolution of their thoughts and conceptions [Fig. 1].

Fig. 1. From Adolf Bastian, Die wechselnden Phasen im geschichtlichen Sehkreis occidentalischer Kultur, Reimer, Berlin 1900, T. I-IV. Maps of the extension and diffusion of some African kingdoms (I), Polynesian peoples (II), pre-Columbian peoples (III-IV)

Friedrich Ratzel and His Anthropo-Geography

If Bastian implicitly ended the primacy of geography over anthropology, asserting instead the reciprocal interaction between man and environment against geographical or climatic determinism, Friedrich Ratzel took the same position deliberately. Friedrich Ratzel, chair of Geography of the University of Leipzig between 1886 and 1904, is considered the father of modern geography and a theoretician of political geography.[11] For Ratzel, every science was by definition anthropological (and anthropocentric), but geography more than others. Ratzel argued – in a sort of proto-formulation of Brandon Carter’s famous anthropic principle – that the world must be conceived as the abode of man[12]; without man, there would be no geography, because there would be no critical observer and no differences to be observed. Indeed one cannot investigate the different characteristics of the earth without asking about their relationship with humans.[13] For this reason, Ratzel proposed a new, all-encompassing discipline that fused geography and anthropology: Anthropogeography.[14]

If for Bastian the production of a map of universal thought remained a work in progress in its earliest theoretical stage, for Ratzel, on the contrary, creating a synoptic representation of the results of his anthropological research in an ethnological map was the real priority. The cartographic model, however, did not escape the problems faced by the genealogical tree. The hope for an unambiguous and exhaustive ethnographic cartography faced formidable theoretical constraints:

When I consider the concept “Ethnographic Map,” I am confronted with a set of tasks, the solution of which, like a wall, is the great problem of the classification of mankind [Fig. 2]. [15]

Fig.2. From Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, Engelhorn, Stuttgart , vol. II. Classificatory map of humanity in the Oecumene.

Both Ratzel and Bastian started from the assumption, fundamental to their theories, of the basic equality and homogeneity of the intellectual resources and heritage of humanity. In the face of this equality of the “anthropological type,” [16] how can one then explain the diversity and variety visible in the panorama of humanity? Contrary to some contemporary currents in evolutionary anthropology, especially in France, the historical-cultural school of Bastian and Ratzel excluded physiology and race from the list of factors determining historical and cultural development.[17] The study of human physiology, the warhorse of Bastian’s first collaborators, had immediately scaled down the role of physical differences as the result of evolution and heredity, and excluded their possible cultural impact.[18] The “ethnological type” of human being that interested German ethnology—the human being framed in historical and cultural configurations—was a product of history and migration, and therefore a product of demographic evolution—already a richly mixed genetic heritage that was the result of millennia of cultural metissage. For Ratzel, then, the only homogeneity that could be found in a given ethnic group was that of a specific cultural configuration developed in a certain time and place; the only real fundamental differences between different ethnic groups were matters of culture.[19]

But where there is variation and differentiation, the way is open to the comparison, evaluation and judgment of this difference. Both Ratzel and Bastian were aware of a necessity to classify of humanity, but also of the dangers of such a simplification, especially the possible consequences of presupposing a hierarchy of cultures. For this reason, Ratzel’s cartographic project aimed to produce as far as possible a neutral phenomenological description of the relations among human beings, their cultural configurations, and their environments through a formalization of the dynamics of these relations.

The two main vectors through which Ratzel organized the mass of human cultural materials were indeed the most general, already adopted by Kant to delimit the conditions of possibility of human knowledge: those of space and time. Within an ideal Cartesian plane, the where and the when constituted the axes of the anthropic (or human-oriented) structure of the world. Through these two simple vectors, Ratzel opened a Pandora’s box of complexities attached to the study of man, making anthropology an historical science. Having been a static description of the status quo of a specific place and time, Ratzel’s map became a dynamic tool, able to represent the movement, exchanges, tensions, and permeable borders among human beings.

We are actually dealing with two humanities then. Their signs are present and past, they behave like now and then. One is the quantity of individuals existing today, those 1450 million human beings that you see, hear, feel, ask, measure, photograph, and finally dissect; and the other is the merely imaginary humanity of all times and countries, whose fictitious past, or its lower strata, rest in a deep shadow against which no ray of light of the mind has attempted to battle until today. [20]

If we now look at the world map from the dynamic and historical point of view—at movements, the migration of human masses, trade, and cultural exchanges—we will have to interrogate the nature and modes of this movement. And here we cannot avoid a certain degree of abstraction and simplification.

We cannot represent on a map all the men who in every moment are crisscrossing the sea, traversing deserts, or climbing mountains, to make in this way the link between the separated parts of humanity.[21]

As a textbook of geography, Ratzel’s work undertook operations that were far more abstract and epistemological than merely descriptive. Ratzel was aware that simply describing elements of physical geography (landforms, seas, rivers, plateaus, etc.) would never exhaust their anthropic implications. His description of physical geography was rather a systematic modeling aimed at recognizing the anthropic dynamics of interest to a particular geographical arrangement.[22] This is why, for example, Ratzel studied coasts, seas, lakes, or rivers, not as particular objects of physical geography, but as such—as paradigmatic networks and models on which to study the dynamics of human interaction with the landscape. In Ratzel’s Anthropogeography, readers will not find descriptions of the specific coasts, lakes, and particular rivers of Africa or America, but instead a systematic study of possible approaches to different kinds of coasts, the dynamics of exchange and communication that may develop around a network of lakes, as well as the roles played by large rivers, as waterways and as geographical and political boundaries.

Furthermore, to evaluate from both a static and a dynamic point of view the distribution of man on the earth it was necessary to investigate the different modes of this inhabitation. Ratzel delineated several typologies of occupation of the territory on the basis of temporal and spatial criteria. An occupation can be continuous, without discrete moments or gaps, or sporadic like the oases in the desert; it can be centralized, radiating from a strong center (like Rome) or instead peripheral and bordering, as in the occupation of the coastal areas by the Carthaginians. One can find a diffuse and scattered occupation organized in autonomous centers, as in Renaissance Italy or ancient Greece. The dynamics of migration and penetrations of populations in different territories and demographic contexts can be unitary, or again sporadic; it can be rapid, as a conquest, or gradual and progressive, as an infiltration. To these different typologies of movement correspond very different typologies of cultural transfer, acculturation, and cultural exchanges, the description of which is the final ambition and real target of the anthropo-geographer.

In an anthropic map, the elements created by man—such as routes of communication, whether material (roads, paths, canals) or ideal (maritime routes, aerial paths, symbols and directions)—are much more important than physical geography. These simple lines, which, strictly speaking, should not even appear, as they are inconsistent on the cartographic scale, nevertheless organize entire geographical systems and are capable of connecting seemingly very distant and autonomous networks. We must conceive of the formalized abstraction of Ratzel’s anthropic map, however, in all its symbolic potential. This kind of abstraction is not a simplification of complex dynamics, but rather an open acknowledgement of this complexity. A desert with a road is not an uninhabited place; it is also part of the Oecumene—a place open to traffic, traveled by men, who can thus radiate from this route their action on a whole territory.[23]

In any case, we must not forget that an abstraction that sees points in the places where people live, lines in the routes of commerce… sometimes gets too far away from the truth to be of any scientific use. For anthropogeography is as little concerned with lines and points as climatology and oceanography; on the contrary it deals with spaces (part of the earth or places), flows, bands.… If traffic routes are not mathematical lines, but broad bands, we cannot consider well-defined areas of the earth as points of arrival or intersection, but rather whole regions.… Since flows of traffic are always looking for new destinations, we will not see an arterial system of traffic with a heart at its center, but instead a network where each crossroads may give rise to a local heart, which is in turn capable of action. [24]

Each geographical map is in fact a set of pulsating zones and bands, amplified and restricted currents, networks and nerve centers.

Fig. 3     Navigation chart (rebbelib), probably 19th century C.E., wood, shell, 67.5 x 99 x 3 cm, Marshall Islands, Micronesia © Trustees of the British Museum.

A perfect example of what Friedrich Ratzel had in mind can be observed in the nautical maps of Polynesian peoples, which began to appear in German ethnographic museums during Ratzel’s time. These maps are not at all descriptive: they contain ropes and knots that create nodes and triangles. They are exemplary visual embodiments of the relations between directions, vectors, and currents, all of which can inform a route by means of very few formal factors such as direction, travel time, and orientation [Fig. 3].[25] Even in Ratzel’s case, the apparently static and two-dimensional image of the geographical map was actually a symbolic representation of an incessant movement, of a three-dimensional relation between history, man, and nature that can be rendered graphically only at the cost of a certain degree of abstraction and formalization.

Conclusions and Perspectives

Looking more closely at the cartographic projects of both Bastian and Ratzel, we might ask: Where is geography in these projects? Physical geography remains a starting point for Ratzel, but only insofar as it defines the possible interactions that humans have with it. At the end of his analysis the physical objects—the natural limit, the river, the lake, the mountain—all disappear, submerged beneath the mass of interactions that man has built with them. Although initially decisive, physical geography will be nearly eroded under the force of political and anthropic geography. What difference is there between an extended plateau and a lake, if both can be crossed in the same amount of time? Or between a mountain and a ravine, if the first can be perforated by a tunnel and the second surmounted by a bridge? To Ratzel what counts is to determine as clearly as possible the different forms of cartographic abstraction which can symbolically delineate dynamics and contexts that are not directly representable.

Ratzel’s geographical modeling makes it possible to consider the earth as an abstract, mathematical space, acted upon by forces, limits and conditions, but potentially open to the greatest possible freedom of movement. The lines which are constantly traced and retraced across this surface— directions, confines, zones of influence— would make it possible to visualize virtually all variations of human activity on the planetary soil. However, in the absence of an interactive multimedia map (well beyond the reach of nineteenth century representational technology), Ratzel’s cartographic production remains an abstract study, much like the chimerical cartography of Adolf Bastian. It would take a million maps to show what has happened on Earth over thousands of years, in terms of mass movements, conquests and explorations, cultural and commercial relations, or (as Bastian tried to do) the heritage of concepts and thoughts.

Fig. 4. Friedrich Ratzel, Politische Geographie, Oldenbourg, Leipzig 1897, p. 521. The divergence between the political and linguistic map of Central Europe and Germany.

This is because no map—and on this point, both Ratzel and Bastian are very clear—can be simply superimposed on another: a map of the ethnic groups of a continent, for example, will never correspond to that of the languages ​​spoken on the same continent, nor to that of the religions professed, nor to that of the activities and practices diffused [Fig. 4]. So mixed and complex is the panorama of culture and so intimately differentiated are its dynamics and logics.

What remains, finally, of the project of a cartography of humanity conceived by Bastian and Ratzel? The history of their disciplines, anthropology and geography, has in many ways proved them right. Many different paths can be recognized which took the theories of these authors as their point of departure. Two of the most important anthropological currents of the second half of the nineteenth century, the Anglo-Saxon diffusionist school (W.H.R. Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith) and the American cultural anthropological school of Franz Boas, can be considered as direct descendants of the historical-geographical methods of Adolf Bastian and Friedrich Ratzel.[26]

As for the production of scientific tools for representing the results of anthropological research, Ratzel’s lesson and his aspiration to draft an anthropic map of the whole world was taken up in the first instance by one of his most controversial—and self-proclaimed—disciples, Leo Frobenius (1873–1938), with his titanic project of an Atlas Africanus [Fig. 5],[27] followed by a never-accomplished universal atlas of world culture.[28]

Leo Frobenius, Atlas Africanus, Beck, München 1922, Heft 3, Blatt 13, n. C VII. Maps of the diffusion of the snake cult in Africa.

The Institute of Cultural Morphology founded by Frobenius in Frankfurt aimed to summarize a huge amount of cultural materials issued from field work or indirect investigation—including protocols and ethnological inquiries completed by foreign correspondents of the institute—in a series of geographical maps. These maps, of which copies still exist, visualized the different exchanges, the degrees of penetration, the borrowing routes, and cultural variations over large areas through different colors or signs that were supposed to identify areas of influence and spaces for the diffusion of culture on both historical and geographical bases.

An even more daring graphic solution—operating at a meta-level of abstraction in comparison to the geographical strategies and solutions aired by Ratzel and visualized by Frobenius—was that of Fritz Graebner (1877–1934) and Wilhelm Schmidt (1868–1954). These anthropologists, spokesmen for the German historico-cultural method and the Anthropological School of Vienna, applied to cartography the more abstract symbolic requirements Ratzel had already put into question. If Graebner, like Frobenius, drew from his own archives the data to implement his maps [Fig. 6], Schmidt used Frobenius’ and Graebner’s maps as if they were his own personal database.

Fig. 6. Fritz Graebner, Ethnologie, in Kultur der Gegenwart, vol. 3 [Anthropologie], Teubner, Leipzig 1923, p. 519. Map of the genealogy of cultural forms: patriarchal cultures.

Fig. 7. Wilhelm Schmidt, The Culture Historical Method of Ethnology, Fortuny’s, New York 1939, p. 192. The separation of two sets of culture carriers (A1-A2) is effected through the penetration of foreign cultures (B)

Relying on data that was already ordered and organized within the horizontal and vertical (that is, geographical and historical) coordinates of Frobenius’s geo-historical maps, he could thus soar even farther into symbolic abstraction. Schmidt analyzed graphs constructed out of intersecting lines, in which the frequency of lines, the quantity of their crossings, and their possible gaps symbolized the effective degrees of cultural penetration and acculturation, making it possible to establish the type of cultural diffusion (sporadic or continual, progressive or regressive) [Fig. 7].

The frescoes traced in Ratzel’s anthropic geography and Bastian’s cartography of thought can be considered as another wave of the dream of modern philosophers, of Leibniz among others, to attain a mathesis universalis, a systematization of universal knowledge.[29] They can also be considered as major steps in the history of what today is called data management. Frobenius’ project—a collection and catalogue of the formal heritage of images, myths, and cultural and social practices—anticipates by only a few decades the ambitious project of Bert Kaplan and Irving Hallowell for a world database of dreams, concepts and myths, both methodologically and theoretically.[30] None of these projects were completed, due to the enormous challenges they posed in selecting and ordering a huge quantity of diverse materials. Although the technical means were not yet up to the task, the premises were already in place. We could also mention among the heirs of this tradition the very latest applications of genetic research in the anthropological field, which visualize genetic kinship and routes of prehistoric migrations on the basis not of genealogical schemes and evolutionary trees, but of geographical maps of the spread of the human genome—and here we re-encounter, in a new form, the biologically and racially essentializing element of many of the late 19th century’s attempts to map (and divide) humanity.[31] But even the most up-to-date graphic solutions applied in the human sciences—multimedia and historical maps showing demographic and social statistics—must be seen as branches on a tree of intellectual and representational genealogy that also includes the work of these scholars.

Translated and edited by John Tresch

[1]  Such a strategy will be familiar to readers of Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, MIT Press, 2007. On the intellectual and political contexts of late 19th century German ethnology, see Penny, H. Glenn, and Matti Bunzl, eds. Worldly Provincialism: German Anthropology in the Age of Empire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010.

[2] For a modern use of this model in anthropology, see Carlo Severi, Le Principe de la chimère: Une Anthropologie de la mémoire, Editions Rue d’Ulm-Musée du quai Branly, Paris 2007.

[3] See Köpping, Klaus-Peter, Adolf Bastian and the Psychic Unity of Mankind : The Foundations of Anthropology in Nineteenth Century Germany, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia / London, 1983; M. Fischer, P. Bolz, S. Kamel (Ed.), Adolf Bastian and His Universal Archive of Humanity: The Origins of German Anthropology, Olms, 2007.

[4] Adolf Bastian, Die humanistischen Studien in ihrer Behandlungsweise nach comparativ-genetischer Methode auf naturwissenschaftlicher Unterlage. Prolegomena zu einer ethnischen Psychologie, Dümber, Berlin 1901, p. III.

[5] The contribution of the Völkerpsychologie of Heymann Steinthal and Moritz Lazarus is decisive on this point.

[6] Adolf Bastian, Die Denkschöpfung umgebender Welt aus kosmogonischen Vorstellungen in Cultur und Uncultur, Berlin, Dümmler 1896.

[7] «Eine Gedankenstatistik ist ein ungeheuerlicher Wahn» (K. Rosenkranz, Psychologie, oder, die Wissenschaft vom subjektiven Geist, Bornträger, Königsberg 1863). Bastian acknowledged the rightfulness of Rosenkrantz’s criticism, but defended his project by arguing that it sought a much more comprehensive understanding of man’s mind and thinking than the simplifications of statistics. See Bastian, Die Kulturländer des alten Amerika, Weidmann, Berlin 1878, II, p. VIII.

[8] Adolf Bastian. Die Stellung des Kaukasus innerhalb der geschichtlichen Völkerbewegungen, „Zeitschrift für Ethnologie“, 1872, n. 4, p. 2

[9] Victor Cousin, Cours de philosophie, Pichon et Didier, Paris 1828, leçon VIII, p. 17.

[10] Klimatheorie can be traced back to Hippocrates and was advanced by in the eighteenth century by Montesquieu and Buffon. It also influenced German poets such as Herder and Goethe, who explained the difference between the ancient and the modern, the Greeks and the Europeans, by recalling the different skies and suns under which they lived. See Sara Miglietti, John Morgan, and Rebecca Taylor. “Geographies of Man: Environmental Influence from Antiquity to the Enlightenment.” Environment and History 20, no. 04 (2014): 593-597. Bastian’s theory of geographical provinces is a variant of the more famous theory of the macro-climatic regions of Wladimir Köppen, which is still applied today in Geography.

[11] Friedrich Ratzel is probably best known as the first geographer to develop the concept of Lebensraum, which was misinterpreted and misused as foundational source for a key term of imperial and Nazi geopolitics (See Bassin, Mark. “Imperialism and the Nation State in Friedrich Ratzel’s Political Geography.” Progress In Human Geography, 11, No. 4 (1987): 473-495).

[12] Santini, Carlotta., “At the Origins of Modern Geography. The Oecumene: an Anthropogeographical Pattern,” in History of European Ideas, 43(2017) 560-569.

[13] Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, Engelhorn, Stuttgart 1899, I, p. 81.

[14] Michel Korinman. Quand l’Allemagne pensait le monde. Fayard, Paris 1990.

[15] Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, cit., II, p. 730.

[16] Adolf Bastian, Zur alten Ethnologie, in „Zeitschrift für Ethnologie“, 1, 1869, p. 204-232

[17] Rudolf Virchow, Ueber die Methode der wissenschaftlichen Ethnologie. Eine Antwort an Herrn de Quatrefages, in ‘Zeitschrift für Ethnologie’, 4, 1872, pp. 300-319.

[18] See the report of the conference of the Natural History Society in Boston on skulls and racial comparison (15/4/68) by M. O. Fränkel, Ueber Schädelmessung und Rassenschädel, in “Zeitschrift für Ethnologie”, 1, 1869, pp. 252-255.

[19] On the “liberal” aspect of late 19th century German ethnology, see essays in Penny and Bunzl, eds., Worldly Provincialism, notably, Penny, “Bastian’s Museum: on the Limits of Empiricism and the Transformation of German Ethnology,” 86-126.

[20] Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, cit., II, p. 615

[21] Friedrich, Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, cit., II, p. 529.

[22] See Carlotta Santini, “One Sea, One Humanity. Modeling the Man-Sea Relationship in Friedrich Ratzel’s Anthropogeographical Project,” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History of Ideas, 6, 12, 4, 2017, 1-24.

[23] See Santini, Carlotta, “At the Origins of Modern Geography. The Oecumene: an Anthropogeographical Pattern,” in History of European Ideas, 43(2017) 560-569.

[24] Friedrich Ratzel, Anthropogeographie, cit., II, p. 466-469.

[25] Woodward, David. and G. Malcolm Lewis. The History of Cartography: Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies, II, 3, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1998.

[26] Franz Boas was indeed one of Bastian’s last students.

[27] Frobenius, v. Wilm, Atlas Africanus. Belege zur Morphologie der afrikanischen Kulturen herausgegeben im Auftrage des Forschungs-Institutes fur Kulturmorphologie, Heft I, 11, III. Oskar Beck, 1921 München.

[28] One can consult Frobenius’s ambitious plans for these atlases in his archive in Frankfurt.

[29] See Paolo Rossi, Clavis Universalis, Florence: Ricciardi, 1960; Simon Schaffer et al., eds. Aesthetics of Universal Knowledge. Palgrave: Cham, Switzerland, 2017.

[30] Rebecca Lemov, Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity, Yale University Press, New Haven 2016.

[31] Reardon, Jenny, and Kim TallBear. “‘Your DNA Is Our History’: Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property.” Current Anthropology 53, no. S5 (2012): S233-S245.

Carlotta Santini: contributions / website /


  1. Warren Morgan Thompson

    December 10, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    This is fascinating work. Thank you!

  2. Excellent work! I read it with great pleasure. And it helped my with some ideas while writing an article where it will be cited.

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