Hum­boldt Bicen­ten­nial: An Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Conference

October 14, 2004 - 12:00 AM

“Alexan­der von Hum­boldt: From the Amer­i­cas to the Cos­mos”
Cel­e­brat­ing the two-hundredth anniver­sary of Alexan­der von Humboldt’s epochal jour­ney of explo­ration of South Amer­ica, Cuba and Mex­ico and his visit to the United States.

In 1804, Alexan­der von Hum­boldt (1769–1859) con­cluded a five-year jour­ney of explo­ration and dis­cov­ery in South Amer­ica, New Spain (Mex­ico) and Cuba with a visit to the United States at the invi­ta­tion of Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son. This extra­or­di­nary expe­di­tion estab­lished Hum­boldt as the great­est and most famous geo­g­ra­pher and explorer of mod­ern times, and his voy­age became the high­point of a life-long inves­ti­ga­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of the unity of nature. In the course of his Amer­i­can trav­els, Hum­boldt col­lected tens of thou­sands of spec­i­mens of flora and fauna pre­vi­ously unknown to Euro­pean sci­ence. From them grew an exhaus­tive, thirty-volume account of the jour­ney that Hum­boldt pro­duced upon his return to Europe. His travel writ­ing is now con­sid­ered to be ground­break­ing. His Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence also moved the polit­i­cally engaged Hum­boldt, a man inspired by the Enlight­en­ment and ideals of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, to pub­lish books on Cuba and Mex­ico that offered cri­tiques of colo­nial­ism and slav­ery and strongly advo­cated on behalf of the native peo­ples he saw cru­elly exploited.

To com­mem­o­rate the bicen­ten­nial of the con­clu­sion of Humboldt’s momen­tous jour­ney and to cel­e­brate the remark­able legacy of an extra­or­di­nary human being, The Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­sity of New York will host an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary con­fer­ence at which speak­ers from Latin Amer­ica, Ger­many and the United States will crit­i­cally exam­ine Humboldt’s vision, his achieve­ments and the last­ing impact his work has had in var­i­ous fields of human inquiry and cre­ative activ­ity. The con­fer­ence will be held Octo­ber 14–16, 2004 at the The Grad­u­ate Cen­ter, 365 Fifth Avenue (@34th Street) in Manhattan.

In addi­tion to the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary con­fer­ence, a num­ber of ancil­lary activ­i­ties are being planned. These include the Amer­i­can pre­miere of a can­tata com­posed by Felix Mendelssohn at the request of Hum­boldt; the world pre­miere of a com­mis­sioned play about the encounter between Hum­boldt and Jef­fer­son in 1804, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Goethe Insti­tut Inter Nations, on Humboldt’s life, times and work. Pub­li­ca­tion of the con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings is also anticipated.