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Barometers, dip compasses, pressed flowers, dead birds: Alexander von Humboldt and multidisciplinarity

2 Apr 2017, 05:30 UTC
Barometers, dip compasses, pressed flowers, dead birds: Alexander von Humboldt and multidisciplinarity
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The name Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) first crossed my eyes as a pre-teen, when, after pestering my mother for something good to read, she gave me The Kon Tiki Expedition. I was instantly hooked and read it over and over again as a teenager. Thor Heyerdahl's daring 1947 expedition to South America on a balsa wood raft relied on the Humboldt Current to carry them part of the way. Thus I learned of the existence of this legendary scientist and humanist.There seems to be a lot of Humboldt around at the moment, and I'm currently reading a round table critique of a 2009 book about him, The Passage to Cosmos, by Laura Dassow Walls. Humboldt had what seems to be a rather modern view of the planet Earth, which prefigured the vision of the International Geophysical Year. He saw grand global processes and the connectedness which created a unitary Earth; this was reflected in his final (unfinished) five volume work entitled simply Cosmos.He was so famous in his time that the state of US state of Nevada was almost named after him! This is how round table contributor Felipe Fernández-Armesto describes him:He had started his scientific career like an encyclopaedist ...

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