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

May 06, 2009

Lecture at the Library of Congress | Speaker: Andreas Daum (University at Buffalo)

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.