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Keywords:

  • Andes;
  • cartography;
  • economic botany;
  • Alexander von Humboldt;
  • mining

ABSTRACT. Alexander von Humboldt engaged in a staggering array of diverse experiences in the Andes and adjoining lowlands of northwestern South America between 1801 and 1803. Yet examination of Humboldt's diaries, letters, and published works shows how his principal activities in the Andes centered on three interests: mining and geological landscapes; communications and cartography; and use and distribution of the quinine-yielding cinchona trees. Each node represented a pragmatic concern dealing with environmental resources in the context of the Andes. To pursue these interests in his Andean field studies, Humboldt relied on varied cultural interactions and vast social networks for knowledge exchange, in addition to extensive textual comparisons. These modes of inquiry dovetailed with his pragmatic interests and his open-ended intellectual curiosity. Fertile combinations in his Andean studies provided the foundation and main testing ground for Humboldt's fused nature-culture approach as well as his contributions to early geography and interdisciplinary environmental science.