My research experience over the last twenty years has been concentrated in the field of the history of science, with particular emphasis on scientific expeditions in the 19th century, Humboldtian studies, Atlantic history, intellectual and cultural history, as well as the analysis of networks of knowledge in an international context.
I started my academic training in Germany, where I studied first Social Pedagogy in Darmstadt, followed by Sociology and Anthropology in Heidelberg. In order to obtain a broader view of my fields, I spent one year at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca in Madrid, Spain, and another year at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, France. In 2004 I completed my PhD at the University of Heidelberg, with a dissertation on the image Alexander von Humboldt created and distributed of Spain and Spanish science created and disseminated by Alexander von Humboldt and on the reception of his work within Spanish intellectual and political circles.
Since 1998 I have been working at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Madrid. During these years my research has developed along the following lines:
History of knowledge and globalization of science
Cultural transfers and intellectual networks
Transnational scientific collaboration (19th century)
Exploration of the American West
I have published widely on these topics in Spain, Germany and France as well as the United States. My first book on Humboldt and Spain was a natural continuation of my dissertation. It was published in Germany in 2006 and in modified Spanish version in 2009. I published a second book on Humboldt’s connection to Spanish science in collaboration with Miguel Angel Puig-Samper in 2007. In addition, we prepared critical editions of two of Humboldt’s classic works in Spanish: Views of Nature (2003) and Views of the Cordilleras (2010), before I edited a complete translation of his final and sinthesizing work Cosmos in 2011. I have also prepared Spanish editions of the publications of two German travellers in Spain, Heinrich Friedrich Link (2011) and Christian August Fischer (2013). My most recent book analyzed the relationship and intellectual exchange between Humboldt and Thomas Jefferson (2014), which will soon come out in a Spanish edition (2018).
In the last decade, I have also been strongly involved in various outreach activities such as the preparation of several international exhibitions and their respective exhibition catalogues, or lectures as well as articles addressed to a more general audience, on Alexander von Humboldt, José Celestino Mutis, Charles Darwin, German-Spanish scientific networks, as well as on the Malaspina 2010 expedition. Due to my experience in the curating of exhibitions as well as the popularization of scientific knowledge, from 2008-2013 I have been a participant of the Malaspina 2010 expedition —an ambitious international and interdisciplinary oceanographic project, led by the Spanish CSIC, which included a scientific expedition around the world.
In October 2013 I began my Marie Curie Fellowship awarded by the European Commission Research Executive Agency at the beautiful Huntington Library in Southern California, with a 3-year research project that analyzes the networks of knowledge Humboldt established within the United States and his impact on the development of sciences in this country. Currently I am preparing two book manuscripts as a result of this project, one explores Humboldt’s connection to Spain as an empire on the decline together with his impact on the expanding United States as a raising empire: Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge: From the Spanish Royal Court to the White House. The second book project analyzes the Humboldtian Multimodal Network of Knowledge, which is the overarching scientific network that Humboldt created, made up of different and interconnected single-mode networks, such as his correspondence network: Expanding the Frontiers of American Science: Alexander von Humboldt's Networks of Knowledge.
In several respects these current projects tie together the research interests I have developed over the last two decades and bring them to a new level of analysis. I have always been attracted to studying voyages of exploration as a form of knowledge production and international modes of scholarly collaborations as a means for the circulation of knowledge on a larger scale. Particularly, the cosmopolitan component of science beyond national borders and the international exchange of knowledge and ideas have drawn my interest. My studies describe different layers of interconnection and interactions between different European and American countries during the 19th century, an important period in the modernization of science, on an institutional, ideological, and individual level.
Aware of the crucial importance and relevance even today of the networks of knowledge established by Humboldt, and inspired by important projects in the field of social network analysis within the Digital Humanities, such as Mapping the Republic of Letters, I have begun to apply the theories and methods of this methodological approach to my field. This has proven to reveal hidden structures and patterns of interaction that, though not apparent at first sight, may nevertheless be crucial to understand the underlying dynamics of a complex system.
My current research project has also introduced me to the fascinating field of the scientific exploration of the American West along the 19th century, starting in 1804 with the Lewis and Clark expedition up to the era of the Great Surveys of the West. I am particularly interested in the different aspects of Humboldt’s impact on this process as well as the contribution of other German explorers, naturalists, artists and cartographers, and therefore plan to dedicate my next years to a continuation of my work along these lines.
Since October 2016 I have been working as an independent researcher, writer, speaker, science communicator and scientific consultant. During this time I have held fellowships at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, and at the International Center for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, at the Bogliasco Foundation in northern Italy, and have undertaken several extended research stays at the Huntington Library in California.
Based on my large expertise on Alexander von Humboldt, I am currently working as a consultant for the Institute for Foreign Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) in Stuttgart, Germany. On the occasion of the commemoration of Humboldt’s 250th birthday in 2019, I am carrying out a research project that examines his potential for German foreign cultural and educational policy. This project is inserted in the Research Programme Culture and Foreign Policy, where experts carry out research on topics related to international cultural relations and formulate policy recommendations for future external cultural policy strategies. The research results will be reflected in expert talks, at international conferences and public discussions, and published both in German and Spanish in the ifa Edition Culture and Foreign Policy.