Richthofen, Ferdinand Paul Wilhelm von

Richthofen, Ferdinand Paul Wilhelm von


Born May 5, 1833, in Carlsruhe, now Pokój, Opole Województwo, Poland; died Oct. 6, 1905, in Berlin. German geographer and geologist.

Richthofen was educated at the Universities of Breslau (now Wroclaw) and Berlin. He was a professor at the Universities of Bonn (1875–79), Leipzig (1883–86), and Berlin (from 1886), as well as president of the Berlin Geographical Society from 1873 and a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences from 1899. From 1860 to 1862 he traveled in East and Southeast Asia. From 1862 to 1868 he engaged in geological research in California and the Sierra Nevada. From 1868 to 1872 he made numerous trips to China, collected extensive material on the country’s natural features, and proposed the eolian hypothesis for the origin of loess in 1886 he proposed a genetic classification of relief forms and a characterization of the major natural regions of Asia with various relief-forming processes, thus laying the foundations of geomorphology.

Richthofen considered the geographic sciences to be a system consisting of physical geography, biogeography, and anthropogeography. He believed that the main task of physical geography was to study the form, composition, dynamics, and origin of the earth’s surface. In his work on anthropogeography, within which he also classified all of economic geography, Richthofen was a representative of vulgar materialism.

A mountain range in the Nan Shan has been named for Richthofen.


China: Ergebnisse eigener Reisen und darauf gegründeter Studien, vols. 1, 2, 4, Berlin, 1877–83. Vol. 3: Das südliche China, Berlin, 1912.
Aufgaben und Methoden der heutigen Geographic Leipzig, 1883.
Führer für Forschungsreisende. Berlin, 1886.
Geomorphologische Studien aus Ostasien, vols. 1–5. Berlin, 1900–03.