Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (May 11, 1752 Gotha; † January 22, 1840 in Göttingen ) was a German anatomist, zoologist and anthropologist. He is regarded as a key founder of zoology and anthropology as a scientific discipline. Significantly, he was also an opponent of the preformation theory, as a representative of vitalism and as a race theorists.

  • 5.1 Biographical Notes
  • 5.2 letters
  • 5.3 On the Reception


Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was the son of the Gotha Gymnasium professor Heinrich Blumenbach (1707-1787) in the house Fritzelsgasse born 1 in Gotha. His mother was Charlotte Eleonore Hedwig Buddeus (1727-1794), a daughter of the Gotha Vice Chancellor Karl Franz Buddeus ( 1695-1753 ).

After high school he studied from 1769 Ernestinum medicine at the University of Jena Carl Friedrich Kaltschmied and after his death Johann Ernst Neubauer. In 1772, he continued his studies at the University of Göttingen and in 1775 with the work of De generis humani varietate nativa ( German: About the natural differences in the human race ) doctorate. 1776, he was associate professor of medicine and inspector of the natural history collection in Göttingen, in 1778 a full professor.

He was as a student and as a professor member of a student Order, the Göttingen very influential for a short time ZN- Order, and even in 1784 the senior.

Almost 60 years he held his listeners attended by all nations lectures on natural history, comparative anatomy, physiology and medical history and was hailed as the master Germaniae by the Friends of Natural History. He went into retirement in 1835 and died in 1840. His final resting place Blumenbach on the Albani Cemetery in Göttingen.


Blumenbach is considered essential founder of zoology and anthropology as a scientific discipline. He worked primarily in the field of comparative anatomy. His "Manual of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology" (Göttingen 1804, 3rd edition 1824) has been translated into almost all European languages ​​.

He was also one of the most important critics of the prevailing belief in the spontaneous generation and the preformation and took instead the theory of epigenesis. Partly as a result of observations of the development of the embryonated hen's egg, and the human embryo (where he was based on the study of miscarriages ) he pointed to ( as before him Caspar Friedrich Wolff) that the offspring of animals and people do not already from the beginning preformed in the bud ( preformed ), and only have to grow, but that their shape only gradually formed ( epigenesis ).

Influential he was also as a representative of vitalism by he postulated that all living things have a " formative impulse " ( Nisus formativus ) feature, which distinguishes them from inanimate bodies and their development and reproduction brings about.

In his work De Generis Humanis varietate Nativa (1775 ) Blumenbach described in the following Linnaeus and at the same time with Immanuel Kant's Of the various races of men four " varieties " of man. In contrast to the soon to gain in popularity view that each race was created separately, he took a single origin of mankind from a "generic " to. The main argument for this, he argued that all the properties of the varieties showed gradual transitions and that it was impossible to draw firm boundaries.

In his system is the "white" or " Caucasian " the master or middle race, the " Ethiopian " as extremes on the one hand, on the other hand, the " Mongolian " face. Blumenbach coined the term " caucasian " to refer to European populations. In order to define the respective transitions, he added the force until then quartering a fifth race, the " Malay " or "brown ", added. Blumenbach's choice of the Caucasian race as a root-race based it solely on aesthetic sensations.

In massive form Blumenbach turned against his Frankfurt colleagues Samuel Thomas Soemmerring who believed to be able to say after the autopsy of several bodies of African people that blacks were an inferior race of men the Europeans. Even the racist theses of his Göttingen colleagues Christoph Meiners, who entered open to the retention of slavery and strove for racial differences as a justification, Blumenbach came towards. His interest in Africa went beyond mere anthropology. He worked closely with British researchers such as Sir Joseph Banks and gave young African researchers such as Friedrich Conrad Hornemann and Johann Ludwig Burckhardt to the African Association, who had gone to the exploration of Africa south of the Sahara to the task.

He was a paleontologist of the describer of the woolly mammoth and the rhinoceros wool (1799 ).


During his lifetime,

  • Admission to the Royal Society on April 11, 1793
  • Elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1813
  • Knight of the Order of Guelph
  • Designation of Loasaceen genus Blumenbachia 1825 by Heinrich Adolph Schrader.
  • Designation of the chicken bird Blumenbach or Rotschnabelhokko ( crax blumenbachii ) 1825 by Johann Baptist von Spix.
  • Election as a member of the Leopoldina in 1825


Writings (selection )

A comprehensive bibliography can be found in: Frank PW Dougherty: bibliography of the works and writings of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, together with their translating and digitizing. Edited by Norbert Klatt, Göttingen 2009 ( Small contributions to Blumenbach research 2 ) (PDF ) and Claudia Kroke: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Bibliography of his writings. In collaboration with Wolfgang Böker and Reimer Eck. ( = Schriften zur Göttingen University History 2 ) Göttingen: University Press, 2010 (online).. Here, including the digital versions of Blumenbach's writings.

  • De generis humani varietate nativa. 1st edition, Friedrich Andreas Rosenbusch, Göttingen 1775 -. Dissertation About the natural differences in the human race. After the third edition and the memories of the author translated, and with a few additions and explanatory notes published by Johann Gottfried Gruber. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1798 ( online; digitized and full text in German Text Archive ).
  • Rudiments of physiology. Translated from the Latin, and with additions increased by Joseph Eyerel. Christian Frederick Wappler, Vienna 1789 (online at Google Book Search ).
  • Decas collectionis suae craniorum diversarum gentium. In: Commentationes Societatis Scientiarum Regiae Gottingensis. Göttingen from 1791 to 1820. Volume 10, Johann Christian Dieterich, Göttingen 1791, pp. 3-27 (online).
  • Volume 11, Johann Christian Dieterich, Göttingen 1793, pp. 59-71 (online).
  • Volume 12, Johann Christian Dieterich, Göttingen 1796, pp. 38-51 (online).
  • Volume 14, Johann Christian Dieterich, Göttingen 1800, pp. 35-48 (online).
  • Volume 16, Heinrich Dieterich, Göttingen 1808, pp. 199-216 (online).
  • Volume 18, Heinrich Dieterich, Göttingen, 1820, pp. 159-174 (online).