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WWI Photography Catalog

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Gabriel Finkelstein

Please note that the picture was taken ca. 1845, not 1855, which makes it a very early daguerrotype indeed. The physicist Gustav Karsten can be seen at the top left holding a watch to time the exposure. For more on this club and its founder, see my biography "Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany" (Cambridge; London: The MIT Press, 2013):


You can also listen to a podcast interview about Emil du Bois-Reymond here:


Du Bois-Reymond is the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century.

By the way those interested in photography might be interested to hear that he knew Julia Margaret Cameron. He was a member of a committee that awarded her the Berlin Prize Medal. In gratitude she sent him six photographs. Du Bois-Reymond remarked to his wife that Cameron "composes the most wonderful pictures, things that Leonardo and Luini and Raphael and Reni could not have painted better.”

John F. Ptak

Thanks for all of this feedback. Although it seemed logical for me to assume that this image was made at the founding of the society in '45 it just seemed to be "too early" in my head for rather squishy non-researched reasons. (For a mid-'40s Daguerreotype it just felt like the poses were too relaxed, and that there were too many sitters for the portrait...the failure of one person to keep a steady pose for a long period of time could have ruined the portrait for the others. And so I guessed that it would not have been later than '55. But as I said, this is seat-of-the-pants, and I didn't research this part.

I do agree with you on du Bois-Reymond--he's a significant figure and probably flies under the RADAR of most. I met him by accident reading the correspondence of von Helmholtz.

Thanks again for all of your insight.

Gabriel Finkelstein

A good reproduction of the photograph can be found in the first volume of Ernst Brücke's letters to du Bois-Reymond (ed. Hans Brücke et al., Graz, 1978). There you can clearly see the date of 14 June 1845. Also, by 1855 everyone in the photo but du Bois-Reymond had left Berlin. Striped waistcoats and plaid pants had given way to marriages and careers.

I understand your reasoning about dating this to the 1850s. German intellectuals frequently seem more advanced than their counterparts in France or England. Du Bois-Reymond was among the first Germans to decorate his apartment in the Victorian style; he was the among first Germans to rediscover Voltaire and other heroes of the French Enlightenment; he was the first German scientist to teach Darwin's theory; he was among the first scientists to reject the inheritance of acquired characters; he was among the first scholars to formulate a theory of nationalism; and he was among the first scholars to speak out against antisemitism. He married a cousin from England, he taught his daughters to swim and skate and sail, he allowed women to attend his classes, and he took showers, something of a novelty at the time. He was very modern indeed.

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