The enduring influence of naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt on American art, culture, and politics Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was one of the most influential scientists and thinkers of his age. A Prussian-born geographer, naturalist, explorer, and illustrator, he was a prolific writer whose books graced the shelves of American artists, scientists, philosophers, and politicians. Humboldt visited the United States for six weeks in 1804, engaging in a lively exchange of ideas with such figures as Thomas Jefferson and the painter Charles Willson Peale. It was perhaps the most consequential visit by a European traveler in the young nation's history, one that helped to shape an emerging American identity grounded in the natural world. In this beautifully illustrated book, Eleanor Jones Harvey examines how Humboldt left a lasting impression on American visual arts, sciences, literature, and politics. She shows how he inspired a network of like-minded individuals who would go on to embrace the spirit of exploration, decry slavery, advocate for the welfare of Native Americans, and extol America's wilderness as a signature component of the nation's sense of self. Harvey traces how Humboldt's ideas influenced the transcendentalists and the landscape painters of the Hudson River School, and laid the foundations for the Smithsonian Institution, the Sierra Club, and the National Park Service. Alexander von Humboldt and the United States looks at paintings, sculptures, maps, and artifacts, and features works by leading American artists such as Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin, Frederic Church, and Samuel F. B. Morse. Published in association with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC Exhibition Schedule Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC September 18, 2020–January 3, 2021
Explorer, scientist, writer, and humanist, Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous intellectual of the age that began with Napoleon and ended with Darwin. With Cosmos, the book that crowned his career, Humboldt offered to the world his vision of humans and nature as integrated halves of a single whole. In it, Humboldt espoused the idea that, while the universe of nature exists apart from human purpose, its beauty and order, the very idea of the whole it composes, are human achievements: cosmos comes into being in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, science and poetry. Humboldt’s science laid the foundations for ecology and inspired the theories of his most important scientific disciple, Charles Darwin. In the United States, his ideas shaped the work of Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, and Whitman. They helped spark the American environmental movement through followers like John Muir and George Perkins Marsh. And they even bolstered efforts to free the slaves and honor the rights of Indians. Laura Dassow Walls here traces Humboldt’s ideas for Cosmos to his 1799 journey to the Americas, where he first experienced the diversity of nature and of the world’s peoples—and envisioned a new cosmopolitanism that would link ideas, disciplines, and nations into a global web of knowledge and cultures. In reclaiming Humboldt’s transcultural and transdisciplinary project, Walls situates America in a lively and contested field of ideas, actions, and interests, and reaches beyond to a new worldview that integrates the natural and social sciences, the arts, and the humanities. To the end of his life, Humboldt called himself “half an American,” but ironically his legacy has largely faded in the United States. The Passage to Cosmos will reintroduce this seminal thinker to a new audience and return America to its rightful place in the story of his life, work, and enduring legacy.
Alexander von Humboldt is one of the most celebrated figures of late-modern science, famous for his work in physical geography, botanical geography and climatology. This volume traces Humboldt's biographical identities through Germany's collective past to shed light on the historical instability of our scientific heroes.
While the influence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) looms large over the natural sciences, his legacy reaches far beyond the field notebooks of naturalists. Humboldt’s 1799–1804 research expedition to Central and South America with botanist Aimé Bonpland not only set the course for the great scientific surveys of the nineteenth century, but also served as the raw material for his many volumes—works of both scientific rigor and aesthetic beauty that inspired such essayists and artists as Emerson, Goethe, Thoreau, Poe, and Frederic Edwin Church. Views of Nature, or Ansichten der Natur, was Humboldt’s best-known and most influential work—and his personal favorite. While the essays that comprise it are themselves remarkable as innovative, early pieces of nature writing—they were cited by Thoreau as a model for his own work—the book’s extensive endnotes incorporate some of Humboldt’s most beautiful prose and mature thinking on vegetation structure, its origins in climate patterns, and its implications for the arts. Written for both a literary and a scientific audience, Views of Nature was translated into English (twice), Spanish, and French in the nineteenth century, and it was read widely in Europe and the Americas. But in contrast to many of Humboldt’s more technical works, Views of Nature has been unavailable in English for more than one hundred years. Largely neglected in the United States during the twentieth century, Humboldt’s contributions to the humanities and the sciences are now undergoing a revival to which this new translation will be a critical contribution.
A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invention of Nature, comes a breathtakingly illustrated and brilliantly evocative recounting of Alexander Von Humboldt's five year expedition in South America. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a five-year exploration of South America. Now Andrea Wulf partners with artist Lillian Melcher to bring this daring expedition to life, complete with excerpts from Humboldt's own diaries, atlases, and publications. She gives us an intimate portrait of the man who predicted human-induced climate change, fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and influenced iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and John Muir. This gorgeous account of the expedition not only shows how Humboldt honed his groundbreaking understanding of the natural world but also illuminates the man and his passions.
In 1799, Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland set out to determine whether the Orinoco River connected with the Amazon. But what started as a trip to investigate a relatively minor geographical controversy became the basis of a five-year exploration throughout South America, Mexico, and Cuba. The discoveries amassed by Humboldt and Bonpland were staggering, and much of today’s knowledge of tropical zoology, botany, geography, and geology can be traced back to Humboldt’s numerous records of these expeditions. One of these accounts, Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, firmly established Alexander von Humboldt as the founder of Mesoamerican studies. In Views of the Cordilleras—first published in French between 1810 and 1813—Humboldt weaves together magnificently engraved drawings and detailed texts to achieve multifaceted views of cultures and landscapes across the Americas. In doing so, he offers an alternative perspective on the New World, combating presumptions of its belatedness and inferiority by arguing that the “old” and the “new” world are of the same geological age. This critical edition of Views of the Cordilleras—the second volume in the Alexander von Humboldt in English series—contains a new, unabridged English translation of Humboldt’s French text, as well as annotations, a bibliography, and all sixty-nine plates from the original edition, many of them in color.