Humboldt, Alexander von


Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), German natural scientist who explored the equatorial Americas and laid the foundations of geobotany and meteorology. Humboldt's style of scientific exploration, which was based on precision instrumentation and the measurement of environmental parameters for the discovery of law‐like relationships on a worldwide scale, inspired a generation of explorers and scientific travellers. Humboldt scholars from the post‐WW II period have referred to this as ‘Humboldtian science’. Ever since the first Humboldt biographies appeared, already during his lifetime, many attempts have been made to make him part of different and at times conflicting causes. Today he is widely recognised for his universalist approach to natural knowledge, his cosmopolitan humanitarianism towards cultures and peoples, and his foundational contributions to ecology and environmentalism.

Keywords: physical geography; journey of exploration; meteorology; Humboldtian science; environmentalism

Figure 1.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), after the painting by Karl J. Begas.

Figure 2.

‘Isothermenkarte der Erde’. From: Heinrich Berghaus (1850) Physikalischer Schul‐Atlas. Gotha: Perthes, map no. 1.


Further Reading

Beck H (1959–1961) Alexander von Humboldt, vols. 2. Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner.

Biermann K‐R (1979) Alexander von Humboldt. Leipzig: Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft.

Botting D (1973) Humboldt and the Cosmos. London: Sphere Books.

Bruhns K (ed.) (1872) Alexander von Humboldt. Eine wissenschaftliche Biographie, vols. 3. Leipzig: Brockhaus.

Hein W‐H (ed.) (1985) Alexander von Humboldt. Leben und Werk. Frankfurt: Weisbecker.

Humboldt A von (1797–1798) Versuche über die gereizte Muskel‐ und Nervenfaser, vols. 2. Berlin: Decker.

Humboldt A von (1805–1807) Essai sur la géographie des plantes, accompagné d'un tableau physique des régions équinoxiales. Paris: Schoell.

Humboldt A von (1808) Ansichten der Natur. Stuttgart: Cotta.

Humboldt A von (1808–1811) Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle‐Espagne, vols. 2. Paris: Schoell.

Humboldt A von (1814–1831) Relation historique du voyage, vols. 3. Paris: Schoell.

Humboldt A von (1845–1862) Kosmos: Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung, vols. 5. Stuttgart: Cotta.

Kraetz O (1997) Alexander von Humboldt: Wissenschaftler – Weltbürger – Revolutionär. Munich: Calwey.

Pfeiffer H (ed.) (1969) Alexander von Humboldt. Werk und Werkgeltung. Munich: Piper & Co.

Rupke NA (1996) Introduction. In: Humboldt A von (ed.) Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe, vol. 1 pp. vii–xxxv. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rupke NA (1999) A geography of enlightenment: the critical reception of Alexander von Humboldt's Mexico work. In: Livingstone DN and Withers CJW (eds) Geography and Enlightenment, pp. 319–339. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Rupke NA (2008) Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Sachs A (2006) The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth‐Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism. New York: Viking.

Walls LD (2009) The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Werner P (2004) Himmel und Erde: Alexander von Humboldt und sein Kosmos. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

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Rupke, Nicolaas A(Feb 2012) Humboldt, Alexander von. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002431.pub2]