In 1869, the hundred-year anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt's birth, there were a number of memorial events within German-speaking Europe. In affirming Humboldt's importance, late 19th century liberal natural scientists also promoted their own intellectual pursuits, arguing for the central importance of natural science within both contemporary culture and human history. Humboldt's memorializers used his image to argue for an intimate connection between scientific, moral, and political progress. Within this broad consensus, Humboldt's meaning could be defined in a number of ways, and memorial speakers' own scientific and political commitments shaped their picture of the famous scientist. At the same time that scientists were asserting Humboldt's overwhelming importance for the history of Western culture, however, changes within natural science itself were making it harder to articulate arguments for his universal intellectual significance.
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