Alexander von Humboldt’s “Karten-Kosmos”: Maps and Mappings in his American Travel Writings

Authors: Jorn Seemann*, Ball State University
Topics: History of Geography, Geographic Thought, Historical Geography
Keywords: Alexander von Humboldt, Humboldt diaries, history of cartography, mapping, travel narratives
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 4
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Alexander von Humboldt’s travels to the Americas between 1799 and 1804 have resulted in an abundance of primary material and secondary literature on the geography of the New World. Besides the collection and description of numerous plant and animal species and observations and measurements of aspects of the physical environment, Humboldt also consulted and produced a large number of maps to plan, correct and create itineraries. This paper seeks to engage with the maps that Humboldt mentioned in his travel narrative and personal diaries. The inventory of the cartographic material related to his journey, including personal drawings and sketches and secondary sources such as maps in specific libraries or his own collection, can provide insights into Humboldt’s mapping strategies and visual thinking. As an example of mapping performance and the mobility of knowledge in 19th-century science, Humboldt’s cartographic impulse helped him infer and reveal geographical connections, relations and contexts that were important for his idea to write a natural history of the world. In addition, a closer look at the Cartographic Cosmos in which he was immersed can contribute to the understanding of the broader context of visual culture in society and the history of science.

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