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Blumenbach’s Biography
Family background
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data

J. F. Blumenbach. Mezzotint by Johann Elias Haid. Credit: Wellcome Collection, licence CC BY 4.0 Earliest known portrait of Blumenbach. Click to enlarge.
Family background
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (May 11, 1752–January 22, 1840) came from a well-to-do family of academics and civil servants in Gotha, the capital of the small German duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. His father, Johann Heinrich Blumenbach (1709–1787), was a professor at the Gotha grammar school, the Gymnasium illustre, and its prorector; his mother, Charlotte Eleonore Hedwig Blumenbach (1727–1794), was the daughter of Karl Franz Buddeus (1695–1753), vice-chancellor of the government of Saxe-Gotha, and the granddaughter of the Jena professor of theology Johann Franz Buddeus (1667–1729). Blumenbach had a sister (Charlotte Sophie Henriette, died 1802) and a brother (Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Ernst, died 1806). There were also family ties to another dynasty of scholars at Jena, the Walch family: Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775), a professor of theology at Jena, was the brother-in-law of Blumenbach’s maternal grandfather and therefore Blumenbach’s great-uncle. One of his sons, Johann Ernst Immanuel Walch (1725–1778), was Blumenbach’s teacher in natural history at Jena University, and another son, Christian Wilhelm Franz Walch (1726–1784), became professor of theology at Göttingen University in 1754.
Blumenbach retained his close connection with Gotha in later life. He stayed there for fairly long visits once or twice a year and on these occasions was invited to the duke’s court. He corresponded with several members of the ducal family and with Gotha scientists, especially Franz Xaver von Zach, and contributed to scientific journals published there and to the Almanach de Gotha (Gothaischer Hofkalender). Toward the end of 1814, a breakup with the new duke of Gotha, August, occurred. Two years later, Blumenbach bought the house in Göttingen where he had been living since 1784 – an investment that usually involved the acquisition of the town’s citizenship.
In 1779 Blumenbach married Louise Amalie Brandes (1752–1837), thus establishing family relations with influential circles at Göttingen University and in the administration of the Electorate of Hanover, the territory to which Göttingen belonged. Her father was Georg Friedrich Brandes (1709–1791), the Hanoverian state secretary for university affairs. Louise Amalie was also the sister-in-law of the classical scholar Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729–1812), the central figure of the academic scene at Göttingen, given his influence as director of the University Library and secretary of the Academy of Sciences.

Blumenbach and his wife had four children: Georg Heinrich Wilhelm (1780–1855), who later was a senior civil servant in Hanover and in 1818 married Helene Ludovike Friederike Henriette, née Cleve (1797–1875); Emma Marie Hedwig (1783–1819), who in 1807 married Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Theodor von Jasmund (1782–1847); Charlotte Friederike Adelheid (Adele) (1787–1837); and Carl Ludwig Edmund (1788–1814), lieutenant in the “King’s German Legion” and killed in the Battle of Toulouse.
(For details and reference see Biographical data and Itineray.)
Family background
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data

Göttingen university in Blumen­bach’s time. Coloured lithography (ca. 1830; detail) by Friedrich Besemann (1796–1854). Click to enlarge.
Education and career
From 1759 to 1769 Blumenbach attended the Gymnasium illustre at Gotha, afterwards studying medicine at Jena, the state university of the three Saxe-Ernestine duchies, one of which was Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. In the autumn of 1772 he moved to Göttingen, where the lectures by Christian Wilhelm Büttner inspired his dissertation De generis humani varietate nativa. When Büttner’s vast natural history collections were purchased by the Hanoverian state in order to create an Academic Museum at Göttingen, Blumenbach was hired to catalogue them. In September 1775 he received his doctoral degree with Ernst Gottfried Baldinger as his supervisor, and in February 1776 Blumenbach became associate professor of medicine, prosector, and sub-curator of the Academic Museum, the official director of which was Heyne.
Having been appointed full professor in 1778 and member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences in 1784, when still in his early thirties, Blumenbach’s position in academic Gööttingen was secure and settled, although in later years he was able to expand his influence (1792 member of the Faculty of Medicine; 1812 head of the Academic Museum; 1812 secretary of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences; 1816 “professor primarius” of the Faculty of Medicine).
(For details and reference see Biographical data.)
Family background
Education and career
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data
Blumenbach’s home in Göttingen. Historical photograph from D. Koch: Das Göttinger Honoratiorentum vom 17. bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1958, table VIII. Blumenbach moved into this house in 1784 and bought it in 1816. The present-day name of the street is “Neustadt.” The historical buildings of this part of the town, including Blumenbach’s house, were demolished around 1970.
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Like Christian Gottlob Heyne and Carl Friedrich Gauß, Blumenbach devoted his entire academic life to Göttingen University. For several decades his lectures on natural history attracted students from all over Europe and from a range of social strata. In return, the Georgia Augusta provided him with excellent working conditions, generous funding, and exceptional intellectual freedom to carry out research and make his ideas public by means of lecture courses and published writings.
Although the scope of Blumenbach’s research was global, he never left Göttingen for long. Except for summer sojourns in nearby spas (Pyrmont; Driburg), excursions with students to the Harz Mountains, and visits to Gotha and Weimar (where he saw Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), he undertook only two major scientific journeys: to Switzerland (April–October 1783) and to London (November 1791–April 1792). The main purpose was to establish contact with scientific institutions and their leading representatives.
Blumenbach enjoyed similar opportunities when in September 1807 he took part in a diplomatic mission to Paris on behalf of Göttingen, which at the time belonged to the Napoleonic satellite kingdom Westphalia (1807–1813). Because of his international reputation and diplomatic skill, Blumenbach, together with the Göttingen jurist and diplomat Georg Friedrich von Martens (1756–1821), was entrusted with pleading the case of his town and university when during the Napoleonic Wars the French army was closing in on Göttingen. Also, in October 1813, after Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Leipzig, Blumenbach’s ambassadorial expertise was called upon when he was sent to the temporary headquarters of the anti-Napoleonic coalition in Heiligenstadt in an effort to prevent military damage to his town and university. In recognition of Blumenbach’s services, the city in 1824 granted him a twenty-year exemption from all communal property taxes.
Blumenbach is buried in Göttingen’s former Albani Cemetery (today Cheltenham Park). The grave still exists.
(For details and reference see Biographical data.)
Family background
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data

J. F. Blumenbach at age 71. Engraving by Ludwig Emil Grimm, 1823 (detail). Click to enlarge.
Blumenbach and the Göttingen Academy of Sciences
Blumenbach’s career is closely connected with the Göttingen Academy of Sciences (at the time called “Society of Sciences”). His first publications were based on papers read at its 1773 and 1774 sessions when he was twenty-one and twenty-two years of age respectively, and before he had obtained his doctoral degree. In 1784, Blumenbach was elected a member of the Academy and from 1786 onward regularly contributed to its Commentationes. This outlet also served him as a publication platform for a long-term project in the field of physical anthropology, the Decades collectionis suae craniorum diversarum gentium illustratae, a series of seven papers with images and descriptions of human skulls from all over the world, published between 1790 and 1828. Additionally, Blumenbach wrote more than 400 articles for the Academy’s reviewing journal, the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen.
The key position in the Academy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the office of secretary. It was a permanent appointment, whereas the position of director rotated on an annual basis. When Heyne, who had been secretary for more than forty years, died in 1812, Blumenbach succeeded him and retained the post for the rest of his life, which earned him critcism in later years.
However, the Academy profited from Blumenbach’s innumerable professional and private contacts with scholars and scientists, especially in the evolving field of the natural sciences, as well as with people in politics and society at large. By around 1820, he was a member of more than forty, and toward the end of his life some seventy academies and scientific societies in Europe and in the United States. More than 2,200 of the letters he wrote or received are known, documenting a network of correspondence that included the centers of the academic world of his time, like Paris and London, but also its outposts – for example, in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in South Africa, and in Indonesia.
(For details and reference see Biographical data.)
Family background
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Biographical literature
Biographical data

Fragment of the iron meteorite from Krasno­jarsk. In 1779 Blumenbach was given a sample of this meteorite, which had been found 1772. Click to enlarge.
Scientific collections
Blumenbach explored the natural world primarily by collecting, not so much by traveling or experimenting in a laboratory. He gained access to nature on a global scale by bringing together a large collection of natural history specimens, requesting correspondents, colleagues, friends, and students to send him minerals, fossils, meteorites, anatomical specimens, cultural artifacts, and even living animals. Especially fruitful were Blumenbach’s contacts with London, the center of the British Empire, and with Saint Petersburg, from where the tsarist government organized the exploration of its territories in Central and Northern Asia, Siberia, and Alaska. Former students who set off on journeys of scientific exploration, among whom Alexander von Humboldt, Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, and Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied, contributed to his collections.
Blumenbach not only enlarged the collections of the Academic Museum but also accumulated substantial private collections. Upon his death in 1840, these were bought for, and added to, the museum. Prominent among Blumenbach’s private objects of natural history was his collection of human skulls. When he died, it contained some 240 specimens, among these the skulls of pre-Columbian inhabitants of Peru, ancient Romans and Germans, artificially deformed skulls from Anatolia, and skulls from Polynesia, South Asia, and Australia. Blumenbach used them to validate his doctrine that all human “varieties” belong to a single biological species. Many of the objects studied by Blumenbach can be found in today’s research and teaching collections at Göttingen University.
Family background
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical data

Bronze medal celebrating J. F. Blumenbach’s doctoral jubilee in 1825, with his portrait by Heinrich Gube. Bronze. Private collection. Further information.
Biographical literature about Blumenbach
Autobiographical texts        Contemporary biographical accounts        Modern biographical studies
There are three autobiographical texts by Blumenbach:
Handwritten Latin CV, on the occasion of the conferral of the doctorate (Göttingen, Universitätsarchiv, Medizinische Fakultät, Dekanats- und Promotionsvorgänge und -urkunden für das Jahr 1775). First published in Baldinger, Ernst Gottfried: Tertio indicit octo candidatis doctissimis gradum doctoris medicinae contulisse ordinem medicorum. Göttingen: Dieterich, 1775, p. 29–33 (with concluding remarks by Baldinger about the doctoral examination procedure); annotated edition in Dougherty, Frank William Peter: The correspondence of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Rev., augm. and ed. by Norbert Klatt. Band 1 (1773–1782). Göttingen: Klatt, 2006 (Brosamen zur Blumenbach-Forschung; 2), p. 27–33. – The text informs about Blumenbach’s family background and his academic teachers at Jena and Göttingen.
Biographical sketch for the Allgemeine geographischen Ephemeriden (letter to Friedrich Justin Bertuch, 28 Februar 1810; Weimar, Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv, GSA, Nachlass Bertuch 06/189, Nr. 20). Printed in Allgemeine geographische Ephemeriden Bd. 32, 2. Stück (Juni 1810), p. 214–217: „Einige biographische Notizen zu Hrn. Hofraths Blumenbach in Göttingen Portrait (Auszug eines Schreibens an d. H.)“.
A short depiction by Blumenbach about his education until 1778, when he was appointed professor at Göttingen, is published in Marx, Karl Friedrich Heinrich: Zum Andenken an Johann Friedrich Blumenbach: eine Gedächtniss-Rede gehalten in der Sitzung der Königlichen Societät der Wissenschaften den 8. Februar 1840. Göttingen : Druck und Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung, 1840, p. 4–6.
Contemporary biographical accounts of Blumenbach’s academic career with lists of publications, information about portraits and about his lectures can be found in Göttingen university’s semi-official chronicle Versuch einer academischen Gelehrten-Geschichte von der Georg-Augustus-Universität zu Göttingen (volumes 2–4, 1788–1838; information was possibly supplied by Blumenbach) and in two volumes of P. Callisen’s Schriftsteller-Lexicon, published in 1833 and 1838.
Pütter, Johann Stephan: Versuch einer academischen Gelehrten-Geschichte von der Georg-Augustus-Universität zu Göttingen. Zweyter Theil von 1765. bis 1788. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1788, p. 148–149.
Pütter, Johann Stephan; Saalfeld, Friedrich: Versuch einer academischen Gelehrten-Geschichte von der Georg-Augustus-Universität zu Göttingen. Dritter Theil von 1788 bis 1820. Hannover: Helwingsche Hofbuchhandlung, 1820, p. 303–307.
Pütter, Johann Stephan; Saalfeld, Friedrich; Oesterley, Georg Heinrich: Versuch einer academischen Gelehrten-Geschichte von der Georg-Augustus-Universität zu Göttingen. Vierter Theil von 1820 bis zur ersten Säcularfeier der Universität im Jahre 1837. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1838, p. 421–424; here also details about the celebration of the Blumenbach’s doctoral jubilee in 1825.
Callisen, Adolph Carl Peter: Medicinisches Schriftsteller-Lexicon der jetzt lebenden Aerzte, Wundärzte, Geburtshelfer, Apotheker und Naturforscher aller gebildeten Völker. Band 2. Kopenhagen: Selbstverlag, 1830, S. 345–356; Band 26. Kopenhagen: Selbstverlag, 1838, 334–339 (Nachträge).
Modern biographical studies
Marx, Karl Friedrich Heinrich: Zum Andenken an Johann Friedrich Blumenbach: eine Gedächtniss-Rede gehalten in der Sitzung der Königlichen Societät der Wissenschaften den 8. Februar 1840. Göttingen : Druck und Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhandlung, 1840. – K. F. H. Marx (1796–1877) was Blumenbach’s physician and confidant. He probably had access to some of Blumenbach’s private papers, which he cites – alongside his personal recollections – in his obituary. The style of the „Gedächtniss-Rede“ is sometimes almost hagiographic. It is important, because it has information about Blumenbach’s personality, which is not available elsewhere. It also illustrates the reception history of Blumenbach, showing the assessment of Blumenbach’s achievements around 1840. Cf. by contrast e.g. the short, critical account of Blumenbach in the memoirs of the diplomat Piter Poel (1760–1837), who had no personal or professional connection with Blumenbach: Bilder aus vergangener Zeit, nach Mittheilungen aus großentheils ungedruckten Familienpapieren. Erster Theil (1760–1787). Hamburg: Agentur des Rauhen Hauses, 1884, p. 267–270.
Ehlers, Ernst: Göttinger Zoologen. In: Festschrift zur Feier des hundertfünfzigsten Bestehens der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. [Teilband 3] Beiträge zur Gelehrtengeschichte Göttingens. Berlin: Weidmann, 1901, S. 391–494 (also published separately). – Information about Blumenbach’s academic career and his colleagues at Göttingen University and about the history of his collections after his death.
Commercium epistolicum J. F. Blumenbachii. Aus einem Briefwechsel des klassischen Zeitalters der Naturgeschichte. Katalog zur Ausstellung im Foyer der Niedersächsischen Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, 1. Juni–21. Juni 1984 / von F. W. P. Dougherty. Göttingen: Arbeitsstelle zur Edition des Blumenbach-Briefwechsels in der Niedersächsischen Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, 1984. – Short introductory remarks, extracts from letters and other historical documents, and a list of biographical data.
Cf. the biographical studies in the series Kleine Beiträge zur Blumenbach-Forschung von Norbert Klatt (Online-Ressourcen).

Family background
Education and career
Blumenbach and Göttingen
Academy of Sciences
Scientific collections
Biographical literature
Biographical data
Clicking on the symbol  i  opens a pop-up window with references.
Family/private life        Education/career        Awards and honours (selection)
Family/private life
1752 11. Mai: Geburt J. F. Blumenbachs in Gotha im Haus seiner Eltern in der Fritzelsgasse 1; Foto.
1772–1776 Wohnung im Haus von Rudolf Augustin Vogel (1724–1774), Professor der Medizin, in Göttingen, Jüdenstraße 17, 3. Stock  i  .
1776–1780 Ab Ostern (7. April) 1776 Wohnung im Haus von Christian Wilhelm Büttner, Professor der Philosophie, in Göttingen, (heutige) Prinzenstraße 2  i  .
1778 Ende März: Lebensbedrohliche Erkrankung Blumenbachs  i  .
1779 19. Okt.: Heirat mit Louise Amalie Brandes  i  .
1780 Ab ca. 26. März: Wohnung im Haus Speckstraße 9 in Göttingen  i  .
1780 21. Sept.: Geburt von Blumenbachs Sohn Georg Heinrich Wilhelm (gest. 30. Mai 1855)  i  .
1783 26. Nov.: Geburt von Blumenbachs Tochter Emma Maria Hedwig (gest. 17. Mai 1819)  i  .
1784 Ostern (11. April): Umzug in das Haus „Neustadt 12“ in Göttingen, das Blumenbach am 12. Aug. 1816 kaufte und bis zu seinem Tod bewohnte  i  .
1787 25. Juli: Geburt von Blumenbachs Tochter Charlotte Friederike Adelheid („Adele“) (gest. 24. Febr. 1837)  i  .
1788 23. Nov.: Geburt von Blumenbachs Sohn Carl Ludwig Edmund (gest. 10. April 1814)  i  .
1805 Ende Nov./Anf. Dez.: Mehrwöchige schwere Ischias-Erkrankung, die Blumenbach daran hindert, Briefe zu schreiben oder das Haus zu verlassen  i  .
1816 12. Aug.: Kauf des Hauses „Neustadt 12“, in dem Blumenbach seit April 1784 wohnte  i  .
1840 22. Jan.: Tod J. F. Blumenbachs.
Education/career
1759–1769 Ab 29. Sept.: Besuch des „Gymnasium illustre“ zu Gotha  i  .
1769 10. Okt.: Immatrikulation als Student der Medizin in Jena  i  .
1772 19. Okt.: Immatrikulation als Student der Medizin in Göttingen (Matrikelnr. 9273)  i  .
1775 18. Sept.: Promotion zum Dr. med. aufgrund der Dissertation De generis humani varietate nativa (Datum der Disputation: 16. Sept.)  i  .
Anm.: Die Gedenkmedaille zum 50. Jubiläum der Promotion nennt (irrtümlich?) als Datum der Promotion den 19. Sept. („doct. creato Gottingae d. 19. Sept. 1775“).
1775 31. Okt.: Beginn der Vorlesungstätigkeit  i  .
1776 24. Febr.: Ernennung zum Außerordentlichen Professor der Medizin, sowie zum Prosektor in der Anatomie und zum Unteraufseher des Academischen Museums der Georgia Augusta (durch Reskript König Georgs III. von England vom 9. Febr.)  i  .
1778 13. Nov.: Ernennung zum Ordentlichen Professor der Medizin  i  .
1782 5. Mai: Ernennung zum Außerordentlichen Beisitzer der Medizinischen Fakultät der Universität Göttingen  i  .
1784 13. Nov.: Wahl zum Mitglied der Königlichen Societät der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen  i  .
1788 13. Aug.: Ernennung zum Hofrat  i  .
1792 19. März: Ernennung zum Ordentlichen Mitglied der Medizinischen Fakultät der Universität Göttingen  i  .
1812 ca. Juli/Aug. (nach dem Tode Christian Gottlob Heynes am 14. Juli): Interimistischer Sekretär der Königlichen Societät der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen  i  ; ab 9. Jan. 1813 Übernahme des „beständige[n] Secretariat[s] der physischen und mathematischen Classe“ (die Regierung des damaligen napoleonischen Königreichs Westphalen hatte eine Teilung des Sekretariats verfügt)  i  ; ab Juni/Juli 1814: alleiniger „beständiger Sekretär“ der Societät  i  .
1814 24. Dez.: Ernennung zum Mitglied der Bibliothekskommission der Universität Göttingen  i  .
1816 „Professor primarius“ der medizinischen Fakultät  i  ; 9. Dez.: Ernennung zum Königlich Großbritannischen und Hannoverschen „Ober-Medicinalrath mit Geheimen Justizraths Rang“  i  .
Awards and honours (selection) 1793 April 11: Wahl zum Fellow der Royal Society in London  i  .
1794 27. Mai: Wahl zum auswärtigen Mitglied der American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston  i  .
1798 20. Apr.: Wahl zum auswärtigen Mitglied der American Philosophical Society  i  .
1808 Ernennung zum auswärtigen Mitglied der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
1812 8. Nov.: Ernennung zum Ritter des Ordens der Westphälischen Krone des Königreichs Westphalen  i  .
1814 Ernennung zum auswärtigen Mitglied der Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien in Stockholm.
1815 Ernennung zum Ritter des Guelphen-Ordens des Königreichs Hannover.
Die Gründung des Guelphen-Ordens wurde am 12. Aug. 1815 proklamiert, die Ernennungen der Ritter und der höheren Ordensränge und der Aufbau der Ordensorganisation fand in den folgenden Monaten statt. Die förmliche „Investitur“ der bereits 1815 ernannten Ritter fand erst am 1. Jan. 1816 statt  i  . Blumenbach gehörte zu den 1815 ernannten Rittern  i  .
1821 Ernennung zum Kommandeur des Guelphen-Ordens des Königreichs Hannover  i  .
1826 Ernennung zum Ehrenmitglied der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu St. Petersburg.
1829 Ernennung zum Ritter des Königlich Baierischen Civil-Verdienst-Ordens.
1830 Ernennung zum Mitglied der Accademia delle scienze zu Bologna und zum Associé étranger de l’Académie des sciences, Paris.
1837 Ernennung zum Ritter der französischen Légion d’honneur.
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