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Alexander von Humboldt and the Globalization of Science: Networks of Knowledge between Germany and the United States in the 19th Century

Funded by the European Commission Research Executive within the framework of a 3-year Marie Curie Grant
(AHumScienceNet, project number 327127, FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IOF)


Alexander von Humboldt's self-portrait (1814)

This research project undertakes a systematic analysis and reinterpretation of the Prussian explorer, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), as a key figure in the study of the globalization of science through the creation of intra-European and transatlantic networks. Humboldt’s ground-breaking impact on the progress of science extended beyond his contribution to particular fields of knowledge: this is mainly based on his outstanding role in the production, circulation and textual and visual representation of different forms of knowledge. Through the extensive networks with other academics, set up to discuss questions of research, exchange data and compare results, Humboldt set an early example of well-organized and fruitful international communication, which introduced new standards of networking for the progress of science in a pre-Internet era. The project analyzes the enormous impact that Alexander von Humboldt and Humboldtian science had on the process of launching modern American science during the 19th century, from his visit to the United States in spring 1804 onwards, until the end of his life in 1859. In particular, it focuses on the characteristics of and interconnections between the different types of networks he established with the academic community, as well as political leaders in the United States.

The project addresses these core issues through  four closely-interlocking sub-projects: firstly, it examines Humboldt’s North American correspondence in depth, reconstructing his scientific network and categorizing his key correspondents, the groups and professions they belonged to, and the type of information exchanged. Secondly, it analyzes the multiplicity of ways this Prussian promoted German-American scientific collaboration at the beginning of the 19th century. Thirdly, it studies different aspects of his interest in U.S. western expansion, in California in particular, based on his early research into Spanish colonial archives in Mexico.

Finally, the project does not limit its scope to Humboldt but rather takes him as a starting point, against the political backdrop of this period, researching into  the further development of the scientific relationship between Germany and the United States over the course of the 19th century, at an individual, institutional and theoretical level.


PRELIMINARY RESULTS


Conference papers
 

June 2018

“From the Spanish Royal Court to the White House: Humboldt’s navigation between science and politics”, XXXVIII Asamblea y Congreso Internacional de ALDEEU, Thomas Jefferson y el universo hispano (1818-2018), University of Virginia, USA, June 2018. 

April 2017

“ "Ja, er war unser!":  Humboldt and the Freemasons”, Annual Simposium of the Society for German-American Studies (The Protestant Reformation at 500: Its Legacy from Pennsylvania across German America) Philadelphia, USA. 

July 2016

“Alexander von Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge: From the Spanish Royal Court to the American President’s House”, VIII International and Interdisciplinary Congress Sciences, savoirs et politique: Alexander von Humboldt et Aimé Bonpland entre Europe et Amérique Latine, Paris, France. 

April 2016

“Texas in Alexander von Humboldt’s writings: from Statistics to Regional Descriptions”, Annual Simposium of the Society for German-American Studies (German Seed in Texas (and other) Soil: Weighing Location and Culture), San Antonio, USA. 

January 2016

“La globalización del saber en el siglo XIX: El papel de las redes humboldtianas en la producción y circulación del conocimiento”, Simposio Internacional: Espacios de Ciencia. Historia Natural, Antropologia y Biologia entre el viaje cientifico y la ciudad, Spanish National Research Council, Madrid, Spai. 

April 2015

“Alexander von Humboldt’s Interest in the Scientific Exploration of the American West”, Annual Symposium of the Society for German-American Studies (The Heartlands – America’s Most German Region), St. Louis, MO, USA. 

March 2015

“From exploration to inspiration: Alexander von Humboldt and his interests in the Pacific”, international conference: Germans in the Pacific World from the late 17th to 20th century, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.

April 2014

“Globalization of knowledge: Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific network within the United States”, Annual Symposium of the Society for German-American Studies, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

November 2013

“Impact of Humboldtian Science in the United States during the 19th Century”, annual conference of the History of Science Society, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Invited lectures and talks

May 2018

“From the Spanish Royal Court to the White House: Humboldt’s visit to the US in spring of 1804”, German Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.

November 2017

“Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge: From the Spanish Royal Court to the White House”, Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

April 2017

“Humboldtian traces at the Smithsonian Institution”, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA.

April 2015

Alexander von Humboldt and the scientific exploration of the American West”, Institute of California and the West, University of Southern California/Huntington Library, San Marino, USA.

March 2015

“Between art and sciences:  Alexander von Humboldt and the visual representation of American nature”, Early Modern Studies Institute, University of Southern California/Huntington Library, San Marino, USA.

November 2014

“Globalization of knowledge: The impact of Alexander von Humboldt and Humboldtian science in the United States”, California Institute for Technology, Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science, Pasadena, California, USA.

October 2014

“Jefferson and Humboldt: A transatlantic friendship of the Enlightenment”, Book presentation, International Center for Jefferson Studies, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

February 2014

“Global networks: Alexander von Humboldt and his impact on modern science in the United States”, Food for Thought series, Huntington Library, San Marino, USA.

December 2013

“Thomas Jefferson and Alexander von Humboldt: The Transatlantic Pursuit of Science, Exploration, and Strategy in the Enlightenment”, German House, New York University, USA.

October 2013

“Alexander von Humboldt and Thomas Jefferson: The Transatlantic Pursuit of Science”, Max-Kade Center for German-American Studies, University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA.

Publications

Rebok, Sandra, “Constantine Hering: German doctor and founder of American Homeopathy”, in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute, 2018 (in press).

REBOK, Sandra, “Adam Hammer and the Reform of Higher Medical Education in the United States: The Creation of the Humboldt Institute in St. Louis.” In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified March 27, 2015.

REBOK, Sandra, “Thomas Jefferson and Germany: His travel experience, scientific and philosophical influences”, Yearbook of German American Studies, 48, 2013, p. 1-23.

REBOK, Sandra, “ "Ja, er war unser!":  Humboldt and the Freemasons”, submitted to the Yearbook of German American Studies, 2018.

REBOK, Sandra,“The Power of Knowledge: Humboldt’s navigation between Science and Politics”, submitted to Profs. Jakob Vogel (Sciences Po, Paris) and Olivier Compagnon (IHEAL, Paris), chapter for a publication on Sciences, savoirs et politique.

REBOK, Sandra, “Die Humboldt-Ausstellungen“, in: Ottmar Ette (ed.), Alexander von Humboldt. Metzler Handbuch. Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart, 2018 (in Press)

REBOK, Sandra, “Exploration at a distance: Alexander von Humboldt and the American West”, New Cultures of Natural History, edited by J. Secord, H. Curry et al, Cambridge Univers. Press, 2018 (in press)

REBOK, Sandra, “Constantine Hering: German doctor and founder of American Homeopathy”, in Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute, 2018 (in press).

Media

April 2015

Interview with CHIN Radio Ottawa (The German Language Radio Show with Myka Burke), “Humboldt’s and the exploration of the American West”.

Work in progress

Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge: From the Spanish Royal Court to the White House (book manuscript submitted)

Expanding the Frontiers of American Science: Alexander von Humboldt's Networks of Knowledge (book project, to be submitted in Spring 2019)

“Humboldtian traces at the Smithsonian Institution” (article in preparation).

“Texas in Alexander von Humboldt’s writings: from Statistics to Regional Descriptions” (article in preparation).

“Humboldt as a defender of the Manifest Destiny?” (article in preparation).