CORDIS - EU research results

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

Final Report Summary - AHUMSCIENCENET (Alexander von Humboldt and the Globalization of Science: Networks of Knowledge between Germany and the United States in the 19th Century)

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.

The work has been performed on different levels: From the management perspective the project was initiated by setting up a usable working environment as well as the tailoring of a set of working methods. Research and analysis activities have been carried out in all four subprojects, according to the work program of the proposal (B4.3). During the outgoing phase the initial results have been prepared in form of articles. In the return phase these outcomes have been successfully integrated during the preparation of one book manuscript, as well as one outline and book proposal for a second monograph. Additionally, training has been received through the regular attending of specific seminars and lecture series as well as conferences at the Huntington Library and nearby institutions. Another relevant training objective has been successfully centered on both the theoretical understanding as well as the practical application of the information and communications technologies (ICT) to the field of humanities, and particularly those software tools intended to improve the efficiency of the envisioned research activities.

The main results that have been achieved so far consist in the publication of 5 book chapters and 2 articles, the preparation of 2 monographs (work in progress), two additional 2 articles submitted for evaluation. In addition, 7 conference papers and 7 invited lectures have been presented, 1 radio interview, and a personal website showing the current research project, as well as its first results and further progress, has been developed. Moreover, the researcher has been able to establish a new line of investigation that is nevertheless connected to her previous work and that offers professional perspectives for the coming years. She acquired new technical abilities concerning digital humanities and improved her skills to carry out a research project in an international research environment.

The final results of the research project are expected to be presented in one monograph titled “Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge: From the Royal Spanish Court to the American President’s House” (to be submitted in spring 2017) and a second monograph with the working title “Expanding the frontiers of American Science: Alexander von Humboldt’s Networks of Knowledge” (to be submitted in spring/summer 2018). Both pubications aim to make an important contribution not only to Humboldtian scholarship, but also to the field of History of Science, Atlantic History, Exploration of the American West, Circulation of knowledge between Europe and America, Historical Network Analysis as well as the broad area of German-American Studies. The outcome of the project will not only reveal unknown aspects of the progress of science in the past, but also provide new impulses for the organization of the research on a European level as well as in its transatlantic connection. It is considered to be very timely given the considerable attention Alexander von Humboldt has been receiving lately in the United States and are expected to make a significant contribution to the commemoration of Humboldt’s 250th anniversary in 2019.