Carl Ritter

John Florens | Jan 15, 2024

Table of Content


Carl Ritter, also Karl Ritter, († September 28, 1859 in Berlin) is considered, along with Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of scientific geography.


Carl Ritter was born in 1779 in the now defunct house Steinbrücke 15 in Quedlinburg. He was a student of Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths in Schnepfenthal at the Schnepfenthal Saltman School from 1785. In 1795 he met the Frankfurt merchant Johann Jakob Bethmann-Hollweg, who enabled him to study at the University of Halle and brought him to Frankfurt am Main in 1798 as a tutor for his children.


Ritter attended the Frankfurt Gymnasium for a time with his students to complete his knowledge of Latin and Greek. At the same time, he also taught geography, history and natural history there. From 1810 to 1812 he lived with his pupils in Geneva. From 1813 to 1818 he worked in Göttingen on his main scientific work Die Erdkunde im Verhältnis zur Natur und Geschichte des Menschen, oder allgemeine vergleichende Geographie als sichere Grundlage des Studiums und Unterrichts in physikalischen und historischen Wissenschaften. In 1819, he became a professor at the Frankfurt Gymnasium for a short time, succeeding Friedrich Christoph Schlosser.

Academic career

In 1820, he was appointed to the chair of "Geography, Countries, Peoples and States" at Berlin University. His lectures were very popular and were attended by contrasting personalities such as Otto von Bismarck, the later Prussian Minister of War Albrecht von Roon, who himself wrote several works on geography along Ritter's lines, and Karl Marx. In Berlin in 1824, Ritter met the Swiss geographer Gerold Meyer von Knonau, with whom he maintained a long-lasting pen friendship. Ritter's research focus, however, was not in the field of physical geography, but rather, in the spirit of Romanticism, on the relationships between the natural environment on the one hand and man and his culture on the other, whereby he admittedly did not indulge in mystical speculation, as is often found in contemporary natural philosophy. Ritter's approach rather created the basis for a cultural ecology in the long run; admittedly still in a kind of "cultural climatology", which established connections between human characteristics and climatic zones since antiquity. Moreover, Ritter was very much concerned with historical geography. He was one of the co-founders of the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin. He formed a group of reformers, including Theodor Freiherr von Liechtenstern and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who carried into the schools the development of geography into a modern science that had been taking place since the turn of the century.

Research activity

Carl Ritter was very interested in the non-European world, especially Africa, to which he dedicated the first volume of his multi-volume work on geography (1817, extended edition 1822). His preoccupation with Africa made him a radical opponent of slavery and the slave trade, which linked him to Alexander von Humboldt. Ritter paid special attention to the colony of Liberia, from which he expected a civilizing impulse for the entire continent. In this respect, Ritter was entrenched in traditional, Christian occidental categories of thought, but unlike many contemporaries, he was not convinced of the innate superiority of whites. Ritter relativized and partially rejected the Calvinist-influenced doctrine of predestination that was popular in his time. Through his empirical studies he sees in the internationally thinking and acting human being the possibility to change a regional condition. In his view, the natural resources of the individual regions, which man must deal with, are the "dowry" of God. Therefore, the small continent of Europe has become "the (cultural) ruler over the whole world". For various reasons, Carl Ritter promoted African research.

One of his best-known students until 1844 was the future African explorer Heinrich Barth, who, through the mediation of Carl Ritter and the Prussian legation in London, signed a contract with the London Foreign Office in 1849 as a participant in the Sahara Sudan expedition. After Barth's return from Africa in 1855, the Carl Ritter Foundation was established at his instigation. Barth's attempt to continue Ritter's cultural-historical research paradigm as an associate professor of geography at the University of Berlin failed due to geography's turning away from historical questions and toward a natural-scientific orientation, i.e., physical geography, as it was successfully propagated by Georg Gerland and Oscar Ferdinand Peschel from about 1870 and established at the University of Strasbourg, among others.

Another student of Carl Ritter who gained importance in the history of exploratory voyages was the later China explorer Ferdinand von Richthofen.

One of his best-known students and enthusiastic supporters was the Swiss-American Arnold Henri Guyot. Guyot heard lectures by Ritter and Humboldt and became professor of physical geography at the College of New Jersey (today's Princeton University) in 1854 until his retirement in 1880.


Ritter was a founder and real member of the Wetterauische Gesellschaft für die gesamte Naturkunde, founded in Hanau in 1808 In 1820 he was elected a corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. In 1822 he became a full member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and in 1842 he was awarded the Order pour le mérite for Science and Arts. In 1836 he became an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. The Bavarian Academy of Sciences accepted him as a foreign member in 1848, and in the same year the Austrian Academy of Sciences made him an honorary member. In 1849 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1855 to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. In 1853, he received the Bavarian Order of Maximilian for Science and Art.

The Carl Ritter Medal was awarded by the Society for Geography until the 1980s.

In Quedlinburg, a monument was erected to Carl Ritter in 1865 at the entrance to Brühl. His birthplace Steinbrücke 15 was demolished around 1955. Another monument in Mummental depicts Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths and Carl Ritter as teacher and student. The Bildungshaus Carl Ritter has borne his name since 1990.

The Ritter Mountains in China were named in his honor by his student Ferdinand von Richthofen. Also bearing his name are the lunar crater Ritter and Mount Ritter in California.

In the Bismarck Archipelago, Ritter Island, later made famous by a devastating volcanic eruption, was named after him.

His grave is located at St. Marien and St. Nikolai Cemetery I in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin.


  1. Carl Ritter
  2. Carl Ritter
  3. ^ Lindgren, Uta. "Ritter, Carl Georg, Geograph, * 7.8.1779 Quedlinburg, † 28.9.1859 Berlin" (in German). Deutsche Biographie. Retrieved December 4, 2023.
  4. Hans-Hartmut Schauer, Quedlinburg – Fachwerkstadt, weltkulturerbe, Verlag Bauwesen Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-345-00676-6, Seite 20
  5. Hans-Dietrich Schultz: „Heldengeschichten“ oder: Wer hat die Geographie (neu) begründet, Alexander von Humboldt oder Carl Ritter? In: Bernhard Nitz, Hans-Dietrich Schultz, Marlies Schulz (Hrsg.): 1810–2010: 200 Jahre Geographie in Berlin (= Berliner Geographische Arbeiten, 115). Berlin 2010, S. 1–45, hier S. 18
  6. Jürgen Osterhammel, De metamorfose van de wereld, 2022, p. 861-862
  7. Carl Ritter, Montblanc, Mahler Verlag, Stühlingen, 2008
  8. ^ [a b] Find a Grave, omnämnd som: Carl Ritter, läs online, läst: 9 oktober 2017.[källa från Wikidata]
  9. ^ [a b] Aleksandr M. Prochorov (red.), ”Риттер Карл”, Большая советская энциклопедия : [в 30 т.], tredje utgåvan, Stora ryska encyklopedin, 1969, läst: 28 september 2015.[källa från Wikidata]
  10. ^ List of Royal Society Fellows 1660-2007, Royal Society, s. 302, läs online.[källa från Wikidata]

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?