Neujahrsblatt für Kinder und Jugendliche
Johann Gottfried Ebel (1764-1830) was born in Prussian Silesia. He obtained his M.D. at Frankfurt (Oder) but never had a regular practice. Like many of his enlightened contemporaries, he was suspected of sympathies for the French Revolution. He lived in Frankfurt (Main), Paris and Switzerland, where he was awarded a citizenship in 1801 and where he had close relations with members of the reform movement. His later years were spent in Zurich.
Ebel became especially known as the author of travel handbooks and of studies of Swiss customs and institutions. In 1808, he published the two volumes of his «Bau der Erde in dem Alpengebirge», the very first, and for a long time the only, attempt at a geological synthesis of the Alps and their foreland. They contain a map, cross-sections and panoramas.
Ebel's theoretical base was derived from the teachings of Abraham Gottlob Werner and Peter Simon Pallas. His data were derived from his own observations and those of his numerous correspondents. Among his published sources, the writings of Horace-Benedict de Saussure and of Hans Conrad Escher were the most important ones. His «system» may be described as follows:
Earth's astronomical parameters must have had a decisive impact on the distribution of climates.
In order to accommodate the «facts» (observations) to his theory, Ebel is of course obliged to stretch the evidence, in some cases quite outrageously so. His volumes have been severely criticized by contemporaries, especially by Escher and largely ignored by modern geologists and historians. The most obvious weakness of Ebel's system is his failure to understand the importance of tectonic deformations, unlike de Saussure, Escher and Leopold von Buch. He does not seem to have been aware of James Hutton's work.
Nevertheless, this early, perhaps premature venture to formulate a genetic theory of the Alps conveys an interesting picture of early 19th century geognosy
Our paper is mainly based on published documents, except for chapters 4.2 and 4.3, which show Ebel as a controversialist shortly after the publication of his volumes and as a mentor of younger scientists toward the end of his life, and for which manuscripts in various archives have been consulted. Quotations are italics, present interpretation of ancient terms in [square brackets].
Ausgegeben am 31. Dezember 2000; ISSN
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