Carl Ritter: biography and contributions of this German geographer

Carl Ritter was a German geographer, considered one of the main founders of modern geography along with Alexander von Humboldt. Thanks to them, geography was recognized as a science and it was taught as an academic subject in universities.

For Ritter, geography has made it possible to know the interrelationships between living things and the physical environment in which they live, with a greater emphasis on observation in historical processes and on the life of human beings in different environments. physical than in the simple observation of the physical phenomena of the environment in isolation.

In this Carl Ritter biography we will review the life and the main contributions to the field of geography.

    Brief biography of Carl Ritter

    Karl or Carl Ritter He was born in Quendlinburg, Germany on August 7, 1779 to a well-to-do family. His father, FW Ritter, was a prestigious doctor who died when Carl was only 2 years old, leaving his wife widowed and responsible for 6 children, so the family went through a very difficult time.

    Youth and years of academic training

    From his early years at school, Carl Ritter has always been known to be an applied student with a keen interest in learning.

    A well-known educator by the name of Christian G. Salzmann founded the Schnepfenthal, a school specializing in the study of the natural sciences. He awarded a scholarship to Carl Ritter and one of his brothers, Johannes, under the tutelage of Guths Muths, a German teacher who became famous for his important role in the development of physical education as a school subject. .

    He studied at Schnepfenthal for 11 years, and this period marked him for the rest of his life. Later in his studies he maintained a predilection for new teaching methods, especially those of the German philosopher and theologian Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi. This was reflected in the fact that most of Ritter’s writings are based on the three stages of teaching devised by Pestalozzi (acquisition, comparison and implementation of a general system).

    On the other hand, Ritter was also a follower of the pedagogical foundations of the German theologian Johann Gottfried von Herder on the relationship between human beings and their environment.

    After completing his training at Schnepfenthal in 1878, Ritter met Bethmann Hollweg, a banker from the city of Frankfurt, with whom he agreed to be the guardian of his children. At the same time, Hollwerg paid for Ritter’s studies at the University of Halle.

      Main years of his professional research career

      Carl Ritter he had a long and successful professional career which he developed mainly as a professor of geography at the university and with his work as a researcher and broadcaster on the geography of the different continents.

      Even after graduating from the University of Halle, Carl Ritter continued as guardian of the children of Hollweg, thus becoming for 15 years, during which he accompanied the family on their travels through Europe (Savoie, France, Italy, Switzerland, etc.) while he was in charge of education and childcare.

      In 1814 Ritter moved to Göttingen, where he began to study geography intensively. and during his years in this German city, he fell in love with Lili Kramer, a woman born in Duderstadt, with whom he would marry some time later.

      In 1819, Ritter began working as a history teacher at the Lyceum in Frankfurt, a teaching school where he only spent a year teaching.

      A little after, in 1820, he obtained the first chair of geography at the University of Berlin, which he kept until the day of his death in 1859. In turn, he began to teach at the city’s military school.

      However, despite his busy schedule, he never stopped traveling during this time. So he continued to visit several European countries, which helped him to gather valuable information for doing various written work on geography.

      Later, he founded the Berlin Society of Geography and Comparative Geography with his colleague Humboldt., which triggered the validation of geography as a scientific subject which made it possible to study and make known a series of relationships between the environment and the living beings that live there.

        Carl Ritter’s works and contributions to science

        Carl Ritter’s contributions to science and especially geography are remarkable his most important work, entitled “Die Erdkunde im Verhältniss zur Natur und zur Geschichte des Menschen” (“Earth sciences in relation to nature and human history”), which explains the impact of the environment on human activities, with the aim of exposing the influence of a country’s climate on the longevity of the people who live there, among other related factors.

        This work was never completed; however, he wrote over 20,000 pages, grouped into 19 volumes, which he developed from 1817 to the last days. The first volume deals with the geography of Africa, the work of which has been so recognized that it has enabled him to obtain a teaching post at the University of Berlin. In 1822 he published a revised edition of this first volume. Between 1832 and 1859, the year of his death, he devoted himself to the publication of new volumes of his work mainly on the geography of Asia.

        Other very important works that deserve to be highlighted are the following: between 1804 and 1807, he wrote the first works on the geography of Europe; in 1820, he published “The porch of the history of the European peoples of Herodotus”; finally, in 1838, “The Stupas, or architectural monuments of the way of the Indobacterial king and the colossi of Bamyan”.

        One of the differences between Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter is that von Humboldt was a great explorer of new geographic territories, while Ritter was more of a geography scholar than an explorer, so he had extensive knowledge of the subject.. For this reason, Ritter is more often recognized as a historian of world geography than as an exploratory geographer, and he has devoted much of his work to geographical interpretation throughout history.

        This is why, after his death, he received criticism from certain geographers who considered that in his work geography was interpreted as a secondary element in the story.

        Although there are some differences between the methods used in the work of von Humboldt and Ritter, it should be noted that thanks to the work of both, geography consolidated itself as a modern science and, in addition, Ritter, who was wrong 10 years younger, he always regarded von Humboldt as his teacher and that is why much of his work on geography follows the guidelines of von Humboldt’s ideas.

        In some sources, Carl Ritter is believed to be the discoverer of ultraviolet lightning, which is part of the sun’s energy, reaching Earth in the form of two groups of lightning: UVA and UVB. However, there is a greater consensus that the discoverer of ultraviolet rays was German physicist and chemist Johann Wilhelm Ritter in 1801. Since they have the same last name, it is understandable that this has led to confusion as to what. to the authorship of this discovery.

          Thanks to this geographer

          In the German cities of Leipzig and Berlin there are two foundations established in honor of Carl Ritter, which show the great importance of their contributions to geography and its members are responsible for continuing the work of developing and consolidating research and geographic studies.

          A monument to his memory was built in 1864 in Quendlinburg, the town where Ritter was born.

          In addition, on the moon there is a crater which has been named Carl Ritter, in recognition of his great scientific contributions.

          Bibliographical references

          • The editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2021). Carl Ritter: German geographer. British Encyclopedia.
          • Fernández, T. and Tamaro, E. (December 3, 2021). “Biography of Karl Ritter.” Biographies and Lives: The Online Biographical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
          • Rosenberg, M. (2021). Carl Ritter. Thought Co.

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