Portrait: Alexander von Humboldt, not only in South America still a super star

Friday, 4 March 2011 - 08:34 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait

Alexander von Humboldt, 1806, painted by Friedrich Georg Weitsch

Alexander von Humboldt, 1806, painted by Friedrich Georg Weitsch

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt (September 14, 1769 – May 6, 1859) was a German naturalist and explorer, and the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt’s quantitative work on botanical geography was the foundation of the field of biogeography. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt traveled extensively in Latin America, exploring and describing it for the first time in a manner generally considered to be a modern scientific point of view. His description of the journey was written up and published in an enormous set of volumes over 21 years. He was one of the first to propose that the lands bordering the Atlantic Ocean were once joined (South America and Africa in particular). Later, his five-volume work, Kosmos (1845), attempted to unify the various branches of scientific knowledge. Humboldt supported and worked with other scientists, including Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac, Justus von Liebig, Louis Agassiz, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and most notably, Aimé Bonpland, with whom he conducted much of his scientific exploration.

Alexander von Humboldt thought an approach to science was needed that could account for the harmony of nature among the diversity of the physical world. For Humboldt, “the unity of nature” meant that interrelation of all physical sciences- such as the conjoining between biology, meteorology, and geology that determined where specific plants grew- which the scientist unraveled by discovering myriad, painstakingly collected data, which turned into an enduring foundation for others to follow. Humboldt viewed nature holistically. He tried to explain natural phenomena without the appeal to religious dogma. Humboldt used extensive observation to get the truth from the natural world. He had a vast array of the most sophisticated scientific instruments ever before assembled. His perception of LatinAmerica and his inhabitants would be of a positive, great influence in Europe. Each had its own velvet lined box and was the most accurate and portable of its time. Essentially everything would be measured with the finest and most modern instruments and sophisticated techniques available, for all the collected data was the basis of all scientific understanding. This quantitative methodology would become known as “Humboldtian science.” Humboldt wrote “Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbit marked out with mathematical precision.”

Even today, Humboldt is revered and celebrated for his services in South America. There is hardly a town or village where there is not some kind of activity that bears his name. Besdides other activities e.g. the Chilean Navy use the pretty well quiped research vessel “Humboldt” for their the ongoing research on the Humboldt Current.

Read more on Wikipedia Alexander von Humboldt.


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