Friedrich Ratzel

Having published more than 1200 papers and books, not including book reviews, Ratzel represents an exceptional academic and a rather abundant writer. A big part of his oeuvre dates back to his earlier years when he worked as a journalist for the Ko?lnische Zeitung. In order to help finance his academic education, he had begun to write popular natural scientific reports of his travels and field excursions. Since his journalistic activity proved to be successful, he soon started to work full time for the newspaper, and in 1873 he was sent for 2 years as a correspondent to North and Central America. The popularity his travelogs enjoyed with their academic and indeed nonacademic readership at least partly stemmed from a remarkable gift for prose composition, revealing Ratzel’s passion for artistic beauty and esthetics more generally. From his days as a journalist up to his death, he devoted himself to the depiction of nature and landscape, trying to reconcile scientific reasoning with esthetic philosophy.

Despite his success in writing journalistic, popular scientific texts, Ratzel (Figure 1) resigned from the Ko?lnische Zeitung in 1875, taking up an academic career in the then young discipline of geography. After his return from the Americas, he was appointed at the Technical University of Munich; in 1886, he followed Ferdinand von Richthofen on the chair of geography at the University of Leipzig, where he remained professor until his death in 1904. As several commentators have noted, it had been his travels which had turned Ratzel into a geographer. Especially the 2 years that he spent in the United States, Cuba, and Mexico had a deep impact on his thinking and writings. His analyses of the rapid development of North American society indicate the shift of interest in his writings from the natural world to the human realm. This shift, which is constitutive of Ratzel’s Anthropogeographie, is embodied in the three academic publications which are widely regarded as his core contributions to the development of modern geography.