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Transatlantic Exploration in the Era of Humboldt

Tenth Annual Graduate Student Symposium on Transatlantic History


Thursday, October 1st 2009

1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Library Parlor, Sixth Floor, Central Library, UTA Central Campus


Call of Papers             Conference Flyer



Description: http://www.uta.edu/studentorgs/thso/Images/2009%20Symposium/Humboldt%20in%20the%20Jungle.jpg

Otto Roth von Holzstich, “Alexander von Humboldt und Aimé Bonpland in der Urwaldhütte am Orinoco,” 1870, #00009295, Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin


Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), German naturalist and explorer, is considered the first scholar to describe the Americas in a modern scientific context.  His explorations of Latin America and his visit to the United States in 1804 had profound economic, political, and social effects on the nations of the Atlantic Basin.  Humboldt’s work greatly influenced how the Europe viewed, explored, and codified the transatlantic world.  In celebration of his achievements, and on the sesquicentennial anniversary of his death, THSO is proud to present this symposium on transatlantic exploration, travel writing, and cartography in the era of Humboldt.



Transatlantic Exploration in the Era of Humboldt






“The Tropical Gaze: Travelers and the Construction of the Caribbean Landscape in the Age of Humboldt”


Jeff Dillman

University of Texas at Arlington


Description: http://www.uta.edu/studentorgs/thso/Images/2009%20Symposium/P1140011.JPG


Travelers and explorers played an important role in shaping the ideal of the tropical as applied to the Caribbean in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Building on a foundation first laid by early modern thinkers and further developed by colonists and naturalists, visitors to the West Indies constructed the idea of a tropical landscape through description, sketches, and natural history.  Travelers such as Humboldt, Waterton, and Schomburgk provided a critical element in the formation of a persistent landscape construction in the Caribbean.


“How the West was Known: Local Science and Empire in the Lower Mississippi and Early United States


Cameron B. Strang

University of Texas at Austin



Most historians view science in the early U.S. West as something brought with them from eastern scientific centers.  Yet when the U.S. expanded towards the Mississippi, it encountered a region with an established, multinational scientific community closely tied to the scientific network of the West Indies.  Far from using scientific explorers to “discover” the Lower Mississippi, the U.S. co-opted the existing scientific community and its knowledge of local geography, climate, and natural resources to further the republic’s own imperialist goal of profiting from western expansion.


“Transatlantic Correspondence and ‘Mobile Knowledge’ in Alexander von Humboldt’s Exploration Travel to Hispanic America”


Andrés Jiménez Ángel

Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt


Alexander von Humboldt’s correspondence is an example of the emergence of the transatlantic scientific networks as the basis of what Ottmar Ette defines as “mobile knowledge.”  Besides their importance as media of communication with scholars worldwide, letters played a central role as instruments to assure the necessary material conditions and the strategic social and academic connections to pursue his research in Hispanic America and to simultaneously diffuse its results among the European scientific community. His exploration travel was a paradigmatic way of “diffusing” science from center to peripheries and relied heavily on the cooperation from strategic social groups.


“Humboldt in the Brazilian Imagination”


Jörn Seemann

Louisiana State University



Accounts differ concerning Humboldt’s physical connections with Brazil: some accounts have him stopping short of the border between Brazil and Spanish territory, while others have him transgressing the frontier. Had he been apprehended on Brazilian territory, Portuguese authorities would have imprisoned him and sent him to Lisbon for sanction. The counter-factual implications of such an event are far-reaching; it is difficult to imagine what might have become of Humboldt if he was deprived of his epochal voyage of exploration. Humboldt’s impact on Brazil, among other things, encouraged a number of German scientists, artists, and scholars to visit or immigrate to southern Latin America, altering the history of the region.



Keynote Speaker



“Jefferson, Humboldt, and the Mapping of Louisiana Territory”

Ralph Ehrenberg


Mr. Ehrenberg, a Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries, is a former archivist and administrator at the National Archives and the Library of Congress and author of such acclaimed works as The Mapping of America (with Seymour Schwartz) and Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography


His keynote address, tentatively entitled “Jefferson, Humboldt, and the Mapping of Louisiana Territory,” will describe the exploratory mapping of the Louisiana Purchase, which involved considerable transatlantic exchange of geographical data and maps, including Humboldt’s visit to Philadelphia and Washington, DC.


A special thank you to the

Texas Map Society


Participants and audience members enjoying the papers:


THSO President Mylynka speaks as everyone listens raptly


Ralph Ehrenberg chatting with Kit Goodwin


Jeff Dillman enduring some constructive criticism from Dr. Morris


Professors listen intently




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