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Dominik Erdmann

E-Mail: erdmann [at] schriftbildlichkeit.de


Ph.D. Project

"Totalansichten aus dem Zettelkasten - Die Schriftbildlichkeit des Entwurfs als Basis der visuellen Poetologien in Alexander von Humboldts Kosmos"



This thesis aims to investigate the production of Humboldt’s last widely applied text Cosmos – Scetch of a physical description of the Universe. The aim of this work is to lead the epistemological foundations of the text as well as the visual poetologies which were created for its easier understanding back to the handed-down structures of the original handwritten texts on which Cosmos was based. For this purpose the handwritten texts taken from Humboldt’s box of notes, the so-called Kollektaneen zum Kosmos (Collected excerpts of literary and scientific works used in Cosmos) which are kept today at the Berlin State Library, are analysed in respect to their relation to Cosmos. The purpose of this study is to find out to what extent these notes are constitutive for the realisation and mediation of Humboldt’s ‘holistic view’ (Totalansicht) of the world.

The overall concept of this thesis is, that these handwritten notes open up a physical dimension in which they develop an operative potential far beyond their function as externalisation of the human memory. They are largely responsible for the provision of what is visualised in the Cosmos. Thus they provide not only the structural depth of those visual poetologies which can be read off the ‘surface’ of the (printed) text but also the fundamental possibility of their existence.

It was Humboldt’s aim through the Cosmos, to produce a text which correlates the totality of all physical phenomena both in the sky and on earth. At the same time he wanted to portray the historical genesis of this knowledge of the world and in particular the more subjective articulations of this knowledge in literature on nature and landscape planning and art. Humboldt intended to clothe this holistic view of nature in a textual robe which reflects nature in an image ‘not of a simple linear arrangement but in a net-like, interwoven way’. It was not his intention to outline nature in a mimetic way, but to convey its structure in textual form to the reader’s eye. The realisation of his intentions is eminently bound to the possibilities offered by the hand-written notes, which the precise analysis of the note box shows. The traces preserved in the handwritten notes clearly show that there is a structural connection between the epistemology of the landscape – of the overall linkage and the general connection – of the poetology - not in a linear but in a interwoven connection – and of the arrangement and editing of the notes in the note box. The operative potential of the note box thus forms the basis of the writing of Cosmos and also proves Humboldt’s intention of looking at nature from a holistic viewpoint.



Curriculum Vitae

Since 10/2011

Ph.D. student at the research training group „Notational Iconicity“ FU Berlin (DFG-studentship)


Certificate as Magister Artium at the HU Berlin in German Literature and German History as well as in History of Sciences and Technologies at the TU Berlin.


Conduct of the seminar „The modern original – Preliminaries of manuscripts of Alexander von Humboldt for the presentation in line with the jubilee of the HU Berlin.



Cooperation with arrangement and accomplishment with the exhibition „Literature in the Foyer: On Alexander von Humboldt’s birthday. Manuscripts from the remains of the State-Library Berlin.



Student assistant at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin (ZfL) by PD Ernst Müller (Project: „Theory and Concept for a interdisciplinary history of ideas“.


Practical training at the department of manuscripts at the State-Library Berlin. Digital opening up of Alexander von Humboldt’s remains as well as Erich Ernst Schwabach’s in the database system Kalliope.

Since 1/2008


Cooperation with the digital edition of Alexander von Humboldt’s manuscripts and postscripts of the Kosmos lectures.

Since 10/2006


Cooperation with the digital edition of Franz Brümmer’s lexicographic remains.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft