Expanding the Frontiers of American Science: Alexander von Humboldt's Networks of Knowledge

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Abstract Summary
Humboldt visited the United States very shortly after the government promoted exploration of the West--the Lewis and Clark expedition—began in 1804. He expressed great interest not only in the results of this expedition in particular, but also in the development of the scientific reconnaissance of the West in general. Intrigued by these opportunities to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the young nation, he expressed his desire to personally participate in the exploration of the country; to him, the terrain from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains offered a vast field for geological exploration--his particular area of expertise. Although Humboldt would never visit the United States again, through his intense correspondence networks and personal contacts with some of the most distinguished naturalists, expedition planners and explorers, he was informed of the latest projects in American science and was able to engage in its progress during half a century. This paper argues that Humboldt´s strong influence on American science from a distance allowed him to serve as a key conduit for the organization and dissemination of knowledge across multiple fields. His scientific networks can thus be seen as a successful example for collaborative science and a model set of procedures for international intellectual exchange. In particular, it studies Humboldt’s interaction with American science in several dimensions: analyzing (a) the different types of networks he developed, (b) the information he circulated, (c) the usefulness of the information provided by him, and (d) the reasons for the exceptional success of Humboldtian Science in the U.S.
Abstract ID :
HSS944
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science
Chronological Classification :
19th century