The Legacy of Alexan­der von Hum­boldt in the Amer­i­cas: Expe­ri­ence of Nine Exhibitions

March 11, 2004 - 5:00 PM

Dr. Frank Holl
Uni­ver­sity of Munich

Dr. Frank Holl (Uni­ver­sity of Munich, Ger­many) is an author­ity on Alexan­der von Hum­boldt. In the last eight years, he has curated and orga­nized sev­eral Hum­boldt exhi­bi­tions through­out the world (Mex­ico, Cuba, Venezuela, Ger­many, Colom­bia, Ecuador, Peru). At the moment, he is prepar­ing exhi­bi­tions for New York, Madrid and Tokyo. His talk will draw from the expe­ri­ence of orga­niz­ing Hum­boldt exhibits with dif­fer­ent national teams and from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, mark­ing the 200th anniver­sary of his visit to the Americas.

About Alexan­der von Hum­boldt:
In 1804, Alexan­der von Hum­boldt (1769–1859) con­cluded a great jour­ney of explo­ration and dis­cov­ery in South Amer­ica, New Spain (Mex­ico) and Cuba, ini­ti­ated in 1799, with an 1804 visit to the United States at the invi­ta­tion of Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son. The enor­mous under­tak­ing estab­lished him as the great­est and most famous geo­g­ra­pher and explorer of mod­ern times. The jour­neys from 1799 to 1804 became the high­point of his life-long sci­en­tific inves­ti­ga­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion of the unity of nature. The Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence also moved the polit­i­cally engaged Hum­boldt, a man inspired by the Enlight­en­ment and ideals of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, to pub­lish among other writ­ings 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. The last of the great Euro­pean poly­maths, Alexan­der von Hum­boldt was impor­tant to the devel­op­ment of sev­eral dis­ci­plines. The fame and influ­ence that fol­lowed Humboldt’s Amer­i­can explo­rations were truly enor­mous: he was quite lit­er­ally one of the most famous peo­ple in the world. His name is found today not only on the Hum­boldt Cur­rent along the Pacific coast of South Amer­ica, but also in moun­tains, streets, schools, research cen­ters, glac­i­ers, plants and ani­mals through­out Latin America.