Term Paper: Alexander Von Humboldt

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¶ … GERMAN GEOGRAPHER ALEXANDER HUMBOLDT: A BIOGRAPHY of HUMBOLDT'S CONTRIBUTION & INFLUENCE on MODERN GEOGRAPHIC THEORY

The purpose of the study conducted and reported herein is to research and examine the German Geographer, Alexander Humboldt, and through means of a biographical literature, review to inform this study of the contributions that Humboldt made to, as well as the influence, that Humboldt has upon modern geographical theory.

In order to understand the influences of Humboldt in the area of geographical theory it is first necessary to understand the stage, setting, and situation into Humboldt entered the theoretical discussion. A good place to begin the review is to examine the history of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1925-2001). During the last decade of the 19th and first decade of the 19th century, there was a need for a scholarly society to be established therefore various conceptions of how this should be accomplished with the goals stated to be:

1) Propagating the Hungarian language; and 2) for promotion of the development of science.

However, no funds were within grasp however, in 1825 a debate ensued in the Hungarian Parliament concerning the Hungarian Learned Society which resulted in the magistrates falling under criticism because they had not sacrificed whatever necessary to make this happen. Count Istvan Szchenyi put up one year's income of his estate to support a learned society. Others followed in Szchenyi's example including Abraham Vay, Count Gyorgy Andrassy and County Gyorgy Karolyi. This 'learned society was standing on the brink of transformational changes in the bourgeois class who had grasped the reality that development of the Hungarian language and ensuring that science flourished were key factors in progress nationally. Those who were members in the society were under six sectors:

1) Linguistics;

2) Philosophy;

3) Historiography;

4) Mathematics;

5) Jurisprudence; and 6) Natural Science.

Beginning in the 1870s, demands upon scientific research were attributed to the everyday needed knowledge that research could proffer. In 1858, Alexander Humboldt along with Leopold von Ranke, historiographer, and Rudolf Virchow, German physician. Others which followed include the company of John Stuart Mill and Charles Robert Darwin and even Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev and Heri Poincare. The Academy's scientific and societal role has changed over the 19th century and the influence held by the Academy has lessened furthermore the Academy's death is likened to have been the result of inertia.

I. HUMBOLDT'S QUEST for the TROPICS

The work entitled: "Scientific Findings of Alexander Von Humboldt's Expedition into the Spanish-American Tropics (1799-1804) From a Geographical Point-of-View" states: "Alexander von Humboldt's expedition from 1799 till 1804 to the "equinoctial regions of the new world" led through Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico. In Europe, an increased knowledge of the "New World" was connected with the privately funded journey, which served purely scientific purposes and had nothing to do with the exploration and exploitation of natural resources. Besides the research results, which were based on new measuring methods and the quantitative ascertainment of scientific basics, the journey also made possible detailed descriptions in matters of regional studies including social, socio-economic, political, and economic-geographic circumstances, which were based on empirical field studies." (Kohlhepp, 2007)

Humboldt's expedition was undertaken before the political change that occurred in Latin America and Humboldt was experientially studied in the feudal nature of the economy that was global and based on slave labor in the colonies. Humboldt was a harsh critic of this economic structure even though he was born of nobility. This is held to be the reason that until this day that Humboldt is greatly admired in Latin America. Kohlhepp relates that Humboldt's scientific insights regarding his expedition to the tropics and the innovation impulses in terms of geography brought Humboldt "fame and lasting recognition as a universal scholar, who had crucial influence on the development of the science during the first half of the 19th century in Europe.

II. HUMBOLDT and TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP DEVELOPMENT

Kohlhepp relates that when Alexander von Humboldt "...concluded his famous journey to the 'equinoctial regions of the New World" in 1804 he was "accompanied by his French friend Aime Bonpland, a physician, botanist, and zoologist..." with whom he 'visited places which are now regions of Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Mexico from the years 1799 to 1804." (2007) Because this voyage was not a state funded type of conquest focused toward locating natural resources for exploitation instead these expeditions were privately funded and were not influenced by any "secondary motives - it served both scientific basic research and also the detailed description of the countries in terms of regional studies involving geological, physical-geographic, historical, socio-economic, socio- and economic-geographical as well as political, sociological and anthropological facts." (Kohlhepp, 2007) Kohlhepp states that new ground was broken by these explorers assisted by their analytical processes based on countless measurement and methods of quantifying observations and their use of modern instruments on the synthetic synopsis in the form of topographic maps, which were more accurate than anything known so far, as well as detailed landscape profiles of the places they visited." (2007)

During the expeditions, Humboldt and colleagues identified in excess of 5,000 plants. Kohlhepp states that the "...comprehensive collection of thousands of species of plants did not only serve the discovery of new species itself, but, through the barometric ascertainment of altitude and differences in temperature, it also served the creation of a three-dimensional view of the differentiation of natural and cultural areas in tropical high mountain ranges. Unlike the mere natural scientists of the 18th century, Humboldt attached great importance to the careful observation of anthropogenic factors as well as to empirical field studies. In his scientific and methodological concept, he was strongly influenced by Immanuel Kant. In his work "Kritik der reinen Vernunft" in 1784 Kant assigned to the empirical sciences the "world of phenomena," which was called "Kosmos" by Humboldt (Beck 1959/1961). Detailed and unprejudiced interviews of all social classes, an evaluation of all available documents, and the collection, systematic classification and interpretation of important statistical data - also in comparison with other regions - made for a higher level of quality in scientific reporting." (Kohlhepp, 2007) According to the work of Kohlhepp (2007) "Alexander von Humboldt had secretly chosen the tropics as a destination for his journeys since his younger years. Accounts of expeditions and - thanks to the noble standing of the Prussian family - his handpicked tutors gave the first impetus." (2007) Humboldt was also learned in botany and his acquaintance with Georg Foster furthered his interest in the tropics. Humboldt is stated to have "gained intense geological-mineralogical knowledge - including some experience in the economic evaluation of deposits -n his quickly proceeding career as a mining expert in the Prussian civil service..." (Kohlhepp, 2007)

VOYAGES & JOURNEYS of ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT

SOURCE: KOHLHEPP (2007)

The voyage of Humboldt to the West Indies faced barriers because of various political problems occurring in Europe however this voyage is stated of Wilhelmy (1970) to be one that was '...nevertheless an ingenious improvisation in its realization." Humboldt is stated to have demonstrated "...a great deal of flexibility, pragmatic action, and diplomatic skills."

Included in Humboldt's explorations was a 16-month stint in Venezuela...the Llanos and the tropic rainforests of the Rio Orinoco...traveled on the long unclear connection to the river system of the Amazon, the bifurcation of the Rio Casiquiare, which leads to the Amazon tributary Rio Negro." (Kohlhepp, 2007) Additionally during a stay in Venezuela Humboldt gathered data concerning the natural environment; the economic-geographic situation; and the geography of settlements." (Kohlhepp, 2007) He studies the mission of the Chaimas-Indians studying their way of life in detail as well as attending the capital Caracas, its location, its climate as well as its political relevance." (Kohlhepp, 2007) the central question of "the genesis of the characteristic landscape determining it vegetation and a possible agregarian use in the future..." was posed in the Llanos by Humboldt. Humboldt further studies the tropical rainforests south of the Orinoco, which was "home to Indian hunter-gatherers." (Kohlhepp, 2007) the tropical evergreen forests were named "Hylaea" (the wooded zone) by Humboldt 1808..." (Kohlhepp, 2007) Kohlhepp states:

In the rainforests Humboldt came across missions as border institutions at the outer periphery, huge areas under the rule of religious orders, which were critically questioned. Isolated forts, military outposts, are meant to secure the borderline between the spheres of influence of the two colonial powers. The contrast between Spanish and Portuguese rule becomes quite evident. There was almost "national hatred" in the borderland, even the "Spanish" and "Portuguese" Indians were blinded by hatred for each other. In a so to speak empirical way the consequences of the chemism of the black and white water rivers is noticed as the unbearable mosquito plague suddenly ceased to torment the explorers at the black water rivers which are poor in suspended particles. The acidity of the water there prevents the growth of mosquito larvae. The accounts are again and again enriched with very well informed comparisons." (Kohlhepp, 2007)

III. HUMBOLDT:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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