Kant portrait


Herder portrait


Herder’s Notes from Kant’s
Physical Geography Lectures

General Introduction ] [ Metaphysics ] [ Moral Philosophy ] [ Physical Geography ] [ Logic ] [ varia ]

How to Interpret the Physical Geography Transcription

Manuscripts: We have grouped the manuscripts first by their format (8° and 4°) and then by topic (Introduction, Oceans, Land, etc.) and these groups of manuscripts are accessed by clicking on the red-links in the light yellow window at the top of the page (e.g., 8°:[Oceans]).

Explanatory Notes / Textual Notes: There are two windows with notes: explanatory and textual. The text in those windows on this page explains what you will find in them.

Introduction ] [ Overview of the Physical Geography Lectures ] [ Kant’s Sources ]
List of Manuscripts ] [ Ordering of Manuscript Pages ]


The physical geography notes are second only to the metaphysics notes in terms of length, consisting of 98 manuscript pages (21 4° and 77 8°) with an additional 72 pages of a handwritten copy of which the original has since been lost. The 4° pages are the most polished of all Herder’s lecture notes, although many of the original sheets (both 4° and 8°) have been lost, and much of this text is available only in the form of the handwritten copy. We have arranged these notes by format and then by the order of topics followed in Kant’s lectures.

The notes appear to stem from two separate semesters (some of the 8° notes cover the same material), and the only semesters that Kant presumably lectured on physical geography during Herder’s studies in Königsberg were winter 1763-64 and summer 1764.

The 8° sheets (mostly in ink, but some in pencil) appear to have been written in the lecture hall, while the 4° sheets are fair copies prepared at home with very few abbreviations. One finds in the 4° pages passages from Kant’s Diktattext[1] not found in the 8° pages – as though Herder, while re-working his notes, had access either to Kant’s text or to sources quoted by him.

Herder’s revised notes (the 4° sheets) cover only the first six sections of the first part of the course of lectures (see the outline below), closely following the structure (and section titles) of the Diktattext. The 8° notes cover the nine sections of part one with varying levels of completeness; in part two, the first section on human beings is discussed well, some animals are briefly presented, but notes on the plant and mineral kingdoms are missing entirely; in part three, we find only eight pages on Asia, and nothing on the other three “parts of the world.”

Herder is reported to have lectured on physical geography in Riga (after leaving Königsberg), suggesting the possibility that the re-worked 4° notes were prepared at that time (and possibly incorporating additional material other than what was presented by Kant). Three pages of 4° notes from XXV.44a (signature 1) appear to come from a separate set of lectures; the content is on oceans, but also brief discussions of springs and rivers; these might also have come from Herder’s own teaching activity.

A comparison of Herder’s notes with the Diktattext makes it clear that Kant was not reading his text to the class, but was instead guided by the text’s structure, adding new material as he came across it in his readings (which were, as it turns out, often extensive). This manner of presentation is in keeping with what has been reported about his lectures in general

See the online materials (on the BBAW website) of other sets of notes from Kant’s lectures on physical geography, including a page facilitating comparison of Herder’s notes with the Holstein-Beck notes.

Overview of Kant’s Physical Geography Lectures [top]

Kant lectured on physical geography nearly every semester during his years as a lecturer, and then every summer semester thereafter, lecturing from his own notes since there was no standard textbook available. These notes – prepared between 1757 and early 1759 and dubbed the Diktattext by Adickes – have been lost, but were preserved in a copy, the Holstein-Beck notes, which has corrections and additions (amounting to some 1100 words) in Kant’s own hand. The presence of this Diktattext makes the lecture notes on physical geography unlike those from any of Kant’s other lectures, since copies of the Diktattext circulated and found their way into thirteen of the sets of notes currently available to us (and as Adickes discovered, not by way of an oral lecture, but through copying written texts).

We know of thirty-six sets of notes with thirty-two available at least in part. They fall into ten groups representing the temporal span of the lectures – from Holstein-Beck (1757-59; AA 26:7-320) and Herder (1763-64) to Vigilantius (1793). Many of the notes are compilations from more than one source, although five clearly are single source: Herder (1763-64), Hesse (1770), Dönhoff (1781), Reicke (1787), and Vigilantius (1793) – although we have only scattered fragments of these last two. Several of the compilations are predominantly grounded in one semester, with discernible additions from another.

Kant explained his basic approach to the course and its structure in the pamphlet announcing his courses for summer semester 1757 (West Winds, 1757):

The reports that serve this purpose [viz., for presenting a physical geography] are scattered throughout numerous and weighty tomes and there is no available textbook by means of which this science could be made more apt for academic use. For this reason, at the beginning of my academic lectures, I decided to present this science in special lectures in a summary outline. This I have done for one semester to the satisfaction of my audience. Since that time I have broadened my plan considerably. I have drawn from all sources, sought out all information, and besides the information contained in the works of Varenius, Buffon, and Lulofs[2] concerning the general foundations of physical geography, I have gone through the most thorough descriptions of various lands by the best travelers, the Allgemeine Historie aller Reisen, the Göttingische Sammlung neuer Reisen, the Hamburgische Magazin, and the Leipziger Magazin,[3] the writings of the Academies of Science of Paris and Stockholm, and other materials. From all of that which pertains to this purpose I have made a system. I offer here a short outline of this material. One should be able to decide whether it is possible to be ignorant of such things without doing injury to the title of scholar. [AA 2: 4]

The usual order of topics in the notes consists of a brief introduction to mathematical geography, followed by three major parts: (1) a physical geography (properly so-called), i.e., an account of the land, the rivers, oceans, and so on, (2) natural histories organized by kingdom (animal, plant, mineral), and (3) ethnographies grouped by geographic sections (Asia, Africa, Europe, America).

The Holstein-Beck text has the following structure:

I. General

§1: History of the oceans. [8°: Oceans / 4°: Oceans]

§2: History of lands and islands. [8°: Land / 4°: Land]

§3: Earthquakes and volcanoes. [8°: Earthquakes / 4°: Earthquakes]

§4: History of springs and wells. [8°: Springs / 4°: Springs]

§5: History of rivers. [8°: Rivers / 4°: Rivers]

§6: History of wind-currents. [8°: Winds / 4°: Winds]

§7: On the relationship between the weather and the seasons.[4]

§8: History of the great changes that the earth has suffered, and is still suffering. [8°: History]

§9: On seafaring.[5]

II. The Three Kingdoms

§1: On human beings (differences in culture and skin coloration). [8°: Humans]

§2: The animal kingdom. [8°: Animals]

§3: The plant kingdom.

§4: The mineral kingdom.

III. The Four Parts of the World: Asia, Africa, Europe, America. [8°: Asia]

This outline is identical to that given in Kant’s 1757 lecture announcement pamphlet (West Winds, 1757), except that items I§3 and III are omitted:

Physical geography considers only the natural constitution of the globe and what is on it: the seas, the solid land, the mountains, the rivers, the wind-currents, human beings, animals, plants and minerals. But all this not with that completeness and philosophical accuracy in its details that is the business of physics and natural science, but with the the reasonable curiousity of a traveller, who seeks out everywhere the strange, the unusual, and the beautiful, comparing his gathered observations and reflects on their organization. [AA 2: 3]

These three parts are given roughly equal space in Holstein-Beck, but this ends in the early 1770s after Kant begins lecturing on anthropology every winter semester. In the Kaehler physical geography notes of 1774, for instance, we find a relatively long introductory section (9% of the content), a much expanded first part (58%), and much smaller second (23%) and third (10%) parts, and this last is now limited to discussions of non-European peoples.

Kant’s Sources [top]

Kant’s physical geography lectures were based on a now-lost manuscript (christened by Adickes as the Diktattext) and of which we have a close copy in the Holstein-Beck notes. About four-fifths of the Diktattext (as understood through Holstein-Beck) consists of excerpts from other books and journal articles. Kant offers a brief overview of these sources in his 1757 lecture announcement quoted above. To reiterate:

I have drawn from all sources, sought out all information, and besides the information contained in the works of Varenius, Buffon, and Lulofs concerning the general foundations of physical geography, I have gone through the most thorough descriptions of various lands by the best travelers, the Allgemeine Historie aller Reisen, the Göttingische Sammlung neuer Reisen, the Hamburgische Magazin, and the Leipziger Magazin, the writings of the Academies of Science of Paris and Stockholm, and other materials.

Familiarity with these sources will aid in understanding Herder’s notes.

Part 1

Varenius 1650:

Buffon 1750:

Lulofs 1755:

Part 2: Animals

Pontoppidan 1753-54

Halle 1757

Part 2: Minerals

Justi 1757

Part 3: Asia

Salmon 1731:

Gmelin 1751:

Part 3: Africa

Ludolf 1684-94:

Colbe 1745:

Salmon 1748:

AHR 1749-1751: vols. 2-5, 8:

Part 3: Europe

Keyßler 1704:

Büsching 1754:

Part 3: America/Polar Sea

AHR 1751-59: vols. 9, 12, 13, 16, 18:

Müller 1758:






List of Manuscripts [top]

The manuscripts are found in two Berlin locations – the Akademie-Archiv (Nachlass Kant, #15a; Nachlass Adickes, #4) and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Nachlass Herder: XXV.44, 44a, 46a) – and are of three formats: (1) 77 8° pages (about 10 x 17 cm) that appear to be notes taken down in the classroom, (2) 21 4° pages (about 17 x 20 cm) with wide margins and neater handwriting, and which are re-worked notes, and (3) a set of sheets with text copied by Paul Menzer[6] (and two others) around 1900, of which 72 pages have text for which the originals are now missing.

The manuscript pages are often given a different ordering in the transcript than how they were archivally numbered – typically in pencil at the bottom of each page, often by sheet, in which case we use the ‘r’ (recto/front) and ‘v’ (verso/back) convention to denote pages. To make the transcriptional presentation more clear, these page sequences are given below in the manuscript descriptions (along with the content area represented by each manuscript). An asterisk (*) means that only part of the page belongs with that section.

(1) Notes taken in the classroom, octavo format (8°)

At the Akademie-Archiv in Berlin, Nachlass Kant:

#15a (8°): Two signatures, with sheets numbered continuously. Pages of text: 5 pp.

(1) 4 pp. (10 x 17.5 cm). [Humans: 6r] [Animals: 6v, 7r, 7v]

Ink. Text on all pages. A folded sheet, making two sheets/four pages. The sheets are numbered ‘6’ and ‘7’. [photos 13-16]

(2) 1 p. (10 x 17.5 cm). [Animals: 8r]

Ink. Sheet folded into thirds, making six pages. Text only on one side (4/5 full). Two lines of Latin text are at the the top of a later page. The page with text bears an ‘8’ (likely intended as a sheet number). [photo 17]

At the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nachlass Johann Gottfried Herder:

XXV.44 (8°): Four signatures, with sheets numbered continuously. Pages of text: 15 pp.

(1) 8 pp. (10.25 x 16.25 cm). [Humans: 1r, 1v, 2r, 2v, 3r, 3v, 4r*] [Animals: 4r*, 4v]

Ink. A single large printer’s sheet folded twice, making 8 pp. Text on all pages.

(2) 2 pp. (13 x 20.5 cm). [Asia: 5r, 5v]

Ink. Text on both pages.

(3) 3 pp. (11 x 17.5 cm). [Asia: 6r, 6v, 7r]

Ink. Four page signature, last page is blank.

(4) 2 pp. (13 x 20.5 cm). [Asia: 8r, 8v]

Ink, with some pencil. The top 2/3 of the first page is in ink, the bottom 1/3 in pencil. The top 1/4 of the second page is in pencil, the rest is blank.

XXV.46a (8°): Seven signatures in three groups. Pages of text: 57 pp.

Apart from notes on metaphysics, physics, and logic, this collection includes seven signatures on physical geography.

(1) 14 pp. (10 x 15.5 cm). [Intro: 5, 6] [Oceans: 1, 2, 7, 8, 3, 4, 13, 14, 9, 10, 11, 12*] [Land: 12*]

Pencil; 14 pp. of a 20 pp. signature, of which there are 18 pages of text: the 14 pages on Physical Geography, and pp. 15-18 on Physics. The last two pages (unnumbered) are blank. Paginated 1-18. [photos 23-40]

(2) 15 pp. (11 x 17.5 cm). [History: 16, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9] [Humans: 10, 11, 13, 14, 12]

Ink. A 16 pp. signature; page 15 consists of notes on metaphysics (blank on the bottom 1/4). Paginated 1-16. [photos 71-86]

(3) 28 pp. (10-10.5 x 16.5-17 cm) Five signatures of 8, 8, 4, 4, and 4 pp., ink, no margins (although some indentation with lists), paginated continously 1-28 (although this pagination differs from the order of presentation here, and presumably from that followed in Kant’s lectures). [Land: 7, 8, 13, 14] [Earthquakes: 9, 10, 3, 4, 5, 6*] [Springs: 6*, 15, 16, 11, 12, 1, 2] [Rivers: 17, 18, 19*] [Winds: 19*, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 23, 24]

(2) Re-worked notes, quarto format (4°)

At the Akademie-Archiv in Berlin, Nachlass Kant:

#15a (4°): Three signatures, with sheets numbered continuously. Pages of text: 10 pp.

(1) 4 pp. (16 x 20.5 cm). [Earthquakes: 4r, 4v, 5r, 5v]

Ink. Text on all pages.

(2) 2 pp. (17 x 21.5 cm). [Rivers: 3v, 3r]

Ink. Text on all pages.

(3) 4 pp. (17 x 20 cm). [Winds: 1r, 1v, 2r, 2v]

Ink. Text on all pages.

At the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nachlass Johann Gottfried Herder:

XXV.44a (4°): Three signatures, with sheets numbered continuously. Pages of text: 11 pp.

(1) 3 pp. (16.5 x 20.5 cm). [Oceans: 1r, 1v, 2r]

Ink. 8 pp. signature. Pages 1-3 on physical geography; p. 4 consists of only four lines of text at the top on logic (possibly from one of Kant’s logic lectures); pp. 5-7 are blank; p. 8 consists of a list of names and amounts of money written next to each (perhaps Herder’s students at the Collegium Fridericianum). These pages appear to belong to a separate set of notes, and discuss topics on the oceans, but also springs and rivers.

(2) 4 pp. (16 x 20.5 cm). [Springs: 3r, 3v, 4r, 4v] [Rivers: 4v]


(3) 4 pp. (16 x 20.5 cm). [Winds: 5r, 5v, 6r, 6v]


(3) The Menzer copy

At the Akademie-Archiv in Berlin, Nachlass Adickes:

#4 (4°): 72 pages of transcribed text. [Intro: 157r, 157v, 158r* (3 pp.)] [Oceans: 158r*-166r (17 pp.)] [Land: 167r-178v (24 pp.)] [Earthquakes: 185r*-186r (3 pp.)] [Springs: 186v-191v* (11 pp.)] [Rivers: 199v-202r, 206r, 202v-203v (11 pp.)] [Winds: 206r-207v* (4 pp.)]

This is a copy prepared by Paul Menzer and two others (c. 1900) and includes occasional corrections by Erich Adickes. Menzer copied all of the original 4° sheets that were available to him and nearly all of the extant 8° sheets; about one-half of the original 4° sheets are now missing – corresponding to 72 pages of the Menzer copy. Those 72 pages are included in this transcription.

Menzer’s copy is transcribed here only when the original is no longer available. A comparison of Menzer’s transcription against the original notes that still exist shows that the Menzer copy: (1) indicates neither the page-breaks nor line-breaks of the manuscript, (2) reproduces much but not all of the underlining, and also introduces some underlining, (3) replicates some of the abbreviations, but not in any reliable way, and tends to fill them in (the small symbol for ‘etc’ is rendered as ‘etc’, (4) only sporadically retains the distinction in script (Sutterlin vs Latin), (5) does not indicate deletions or corrections in the original manuscript (any deletions or corrections in the copy are simply the copyists own errors or corrections), (6) often retains the general outline format of the notes, (7) retains dashes that (normally) indicate words in the line above to be inserted in the text, and approximately in the correct location (for determining the textual insertion), and (8) leaves spaces in the text where a word is illegible and will note with a ‘?’ any questionable readings.

Passages from the physical geography notes published in Menzer [1911]: pp. 75-76 (8°-History, 9-10), 79 (4°-Introduction, 1), 109-10 (8°-Humans, 3), 125-28 (8°-Humans, 7-11).

Ordering of Manuscript Pages in the Transcription [top]

The numbers in parentheses refer to pencilled librarian numbers on the manuscripts, either by page or by sheet; if the sheets are numbered, then an ‘r’ (= recto/front side) or ‘v’ (= verso/reverse side) is added. An asterisk (*) means that only part of the page belongs with that section.

Intro: 46a1(5, 6)

Oceans: 46a1(1, 2, 7, 8, 3, 4, 13, 14, 9, 10, 11, 12*)

Land: 46a1(12*), 46a3(7, 8, 13, 14)

Earthquakes: 46a3(9, 10, 3, 4, 5, 6*)

Springs: 46a3(6*, 15, 16, 11, 12, 1, 2)

Rivers: 46a3(17, 18, 19*)

Wind: 46a3(19*, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 23, 24)

History: 46a2(16, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Humans: 46a2(10, 11, 13, 14, 12); 15a1(6r); 44.1(1r, 1v, 2r, 2v, 3r, 3v, 4r*)

Animals: 44.1(4r*, 4v); 15a1(6v, 7r, 7v); 15a2(8r)

Asia: 44.2(5r, 5v); 44.3(6r, 6v, 7r); 44.4(8r, 8v)

Intro: Menzer(157rv, 158r*)

Oceans: Menzer(158r*v, 159rv, 160rv, 161rv, 162rv, 163rv, 164rv, 165rv, 166r); 44a1(1r, 1v, 2r)

Land: Menzer(167rv, 168rv, 169rv, 170rv, 171rv, 172rv, 173rv, 174rv, 175rv, 176rv, 177rv, 178rv)

Earthquakes: 15a1(4r, 4v, 4r, 5v); Menzer(185r*v, 186r)

Springs: Menzer(186v, 187rv, 188rv, 189rv, 190rv, 191rv*); 44a2(3r, 3v, 4r, 4v)

Rivers: 44a2(4v); Menzer(199rv, 200rv, 201rv, 202r*); 15a2(3v, 3r); Menzer(202r*v, 203rv)

Winds: Menzer(206rv, 207rv*); 15a3(1r, 1v, 2r, 2v); 44a3(5r, 5v, 6r, 6v)