Alexander von Humboldt – Remapping Global Perspectives

Commemoration of Alexander von Humboldt on the 150th Anniversary of His Death

  • Report on the Roundtable Discussion: Alexander von Humboldt – A Man for the 21st Century

    May 4, 2009, 6:00
    Roundtable discussion with Ottmar Ette (University of Potsdam), Andreas Daum (University at Buffalo), Kirsten Belgum (University of Texas at Austin), and moderator Frank Holl (Munich)
    German Historical Institute Washington DC

    The main topic of this roundtable discussion was the modernity and relevance of Humboldt, as a personality as well as a thinker. At the outset, Kirsten Belgum gave a short PowerPoint-introduction to her perspective on Humboldt, titled "Alexander von Humboldt - The Astonished Traveler. Der betroffene Wanderer or: How to write about the world." Through examples of texts from Humboldt's Views of Nature and his Cosmos she explored his approach to nature. She focused on his skill of never losing the capacity to be astonished as one of his most important qualities.

    For Andreas Daum, Humboldt's most important qualities were persistence, curiosity and irony. Ottmar Ette pointed out that in his development of gigantic scientific projects Humboldt had the courage to fail. Humboldt also had, said Ette, an admirable ability to spread knowledge. All participants agreed that one of Humboldt's most important characteristics was movement: the scientist as a nomad, moving constantly between borders, cultures, nations and scientific disciplines. This is one factor that makes Humboldt a modern, future-leading thinker. Another factor is the political responsibility that is noticeable in all of Humboldt's scientific work. One striking example is the phrase with which Humboldt ended the first volume of his Cosmos: "While we maintain the unity of the human species, we at the same time repel the depressing assumption of superior and inferior races of men. There are nations more susceptible of cultivation, more highly civilized, more ennobled by mental cultivation than others, but none in themselves nobler than others. Everyone is equally destined for freedom."

    Ottmar Ette also discussed the bestseller Die Vermessung der Welt with which the German writer Daniel Kehlmann contributed to the current Humboldt boom. Kehlmann satirically sketched a humorless, cold scientist, measuring the world without finding any relevant results. Ottmar Ette argued that this image of Humboldt is unfair because it gives an absolutely wrong impression of the transdisciplinary thinker, who developed a multilayered and mobile conception of Weltbewusstsein (world consciousness), as Humboldt called it. According to Ette, this view of the world opened up a new understanding of a global perspective very close to what is called today "TransArea Studies". Disagreeing with some audience members who argued that "Humboldt is absolutely useless" and that he is "romanticized and heroiziced", all panelists agreed that Humboldt's scientific and literary cosmos was forward-thinking and continues to speak to present concerns today.

    Frank Holl

    The Panel: Kirsten Belgum, Frank Holl, Ottmar Ette, Andreas Daum
    The Panel: Kirsten Belgum, Frank Holl, Ottmar Ette, Andreas Daum
  • Report on the Lecture by Andreas Daum
    Andreas Daum
    Andreas Daum

    Mourning, Celebrating, Revisiting-Alexander von Humboldt in the United States, 1859-2009

    May 6, 2009, 3:00
    Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Building, Room 119

    In his lecture, Andreas Daum argued that even during his lifetime Alexander von Humboldt's persona and oeuvre were an important reference point for American scholars, artists, and even governmental officials. Humboldt's thinking about nature provided answers and a conceptual framework for questions arising from the exploration of North America's seemingly unlimited space, as the United States was expanding westward. However, only the dynamics of the Unites States' multi-cultural, immigrant society, rapidly growing in the second half of the nineteenth century, turned Humboldt into a true cultural hero beyond his scholarly achievements. Through commemorative events and public sculptures, Humboldt acquired the status of an icon for various social groups. Although this status eroded after 1900, Humboldt continued – and continues – to fascinate Americans.

  • Alexander von Humboldt – Remapping Global Perspectives: Commemoration of Alexander von Humboldt on the 150th Anniversary of His Death
    • May 4, 2009, 6:00 - 8:00 pm
      Alexander von Humboldt – A Man for the 21st Century Roundtable discussion with Ottmar Ette (University of Potsdam), Andreas Daum (University at Buffalo), Kirsten Belgum (University of Texas at Austin), and moderator Frank Holl (Munich)
      German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW (Directions).
      Please RSVP for roundtable (acceptances only) by Tel. 202.387.3355, Fax 202.387.6437 or E-mail

    • May 6, 2009, 3:00 - 5:00 pm Mourning, Celebrating, Revisiting: Alexander von Humboldt in the United States, 1859-2009
      Lecture by Andreas Daum (University at Buffalo)
      Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Building, Room 119

     

    Alexander von Humboldt – Remapping Global Perspectives is an initiative of the Germany Embassy in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Associates, and the German Historical Institute.
    Please consult the series website for information on other events and reports.

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