“By eliminating Karl Vogt, we are forgetting part of the foundations of our civilization”

On January 25, 2023, the Carl Vogt building of the University of Geneva lost its name, as decided by the rectorship a few months ago. So we are republishing this interview we conducted in October 2022 with French historian Johann Chapoutot, an expert on German history.

Uni Carl Vogt lost his name. On September 29, 2022, the name of the Geneva University building dedicated to the environment, territory and sustainability was changed by the Rector’s decision. The bust on the Uni Bastions also soon disappeared, kept under cover of repairs.

Case reviewed for the University of Geneva:

“[Malgré son rôle déterminant à l’Unige]the desire to categorize living beings has led him to support abhorrent theses about the hierarchy of races and the inferiority of the female sex, which clearly do not correspond to the values ​​​​defined in the code of ethics and professional conduct of Unige. .

Demolition began on January 25, 2023, and the part of the front of the building bearing the name of the controversial naturalist was removed.

Famous unknown. Overcome the darkness of the past or cowardly hide history? There is a dispute, but the evidence is floating: nobody really knows Karl Vogt at the end of the lake as he does elsewhere. With a few exceptions, including Johann Chapoutot, a professor at the Sorbonne University (Paris) and a well-known specialist in 19th and 20th century Germany.

At the request of the analytical center “Unige” regarding the historical presentation, he prepared a biographical note about the insulted scientist. In October 2022, we asked him to enlighten us about the man he described as first and foremost an Enlightenment man and far-left activist. The interview.

Portrait of Carl Vogt with an engraving published on the occasion of his death in Die Gartenlaube in 1895. | Wikicommons

Heidi.news – Let’s try to draw a broad outline of the character. Karl Vogt was born in Prussia in 1817 into a radical democrat family and would eventually emigrate to Bern. What does this mean in the context of time?

Johann Chapoutot – After the Congress of Vienna (1815), the so-called democrats in post-Napoleonic Germany are people classified on the extreme left. They want universal suffrage – for men, of course – and democracy, against the backdrop of the restoration of the political order before the French Revolution. Embracing the legacy of the French Revolution, democrats are seen as a political threat and, frankly, even terrorists. They are suspected of being violent Jacobins, guillotiners, and hunted by the police system.

“Long Left Political Activist”

The way out for these people is exile, for many in France, and sometimes in Switzerland, for part of Carl Vogt’s family. His father, an academic, had to flee Prussia after the revolution of 1830. (French, but has echoes in Germany, editor’s note.), because very strong repression then falls on the German university, against professors and students suspected of democratic sympathies. Carl Vogt was 13 years old at that time.

He then studied medicine in Giessen, not far from Frankfurt, before turning to chemistry. But for political reasons, he joined his family in Switzerland at the age of 22. What’s going on?

He is a political activist. Whether liberal, liberal democrat or democrat, student unions have been very active since the wars against Napoleon between 1807 and 1815 and had to provide battalions of volunteers. They have remained a fraternity in the university and continue to socialize students, which plays a very important role.

It was in this context that Karl Vogt was a far-left political activist, and he is concerned in the already mentioned context of repression. Also, of course, because he is his father’s son. He decides to leave Prussia to join his family in Bern, Switzerland to complete his medical studies.

Also read: Uni Karl Vogt, named after a naturalist considered racist and sexist, will be renamed

It was at the University of Neuchâtel that Carl Vogt became an expert on animals, especially fish, with Louis Agassiz (at the center of a similar controversy). He then spent three years in Paris, where he turned to revolutionaries such as Bakounine or Proudhon. Politics yet?

He also went there in search of scientific papers, Paris being a great university center, and in 1847 he was offered the chair of zoology at Giessen. Then we are in the context of the liberalization of the universities, the prelude to the revolution. In 1848, he played an important role in Germany. He is one of the deputies of the Frankfurt revolutionary assembly, which wants to unify Germany and give it a constitution – the most liberal and democratic constitution possible in its case.

He was even part of the last four deputies who rejected the failure of the revolution of 1848 and sought refuge in Stuttgart the following year to allow a kind of last parliament to survive and continue the struggle for the revolution. This was met with severe military repression by Prussia, and he was again forced to seek refuge in Switzerland. It was there, in 1852, that he was hired as a professor of geology in Bern.

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