WHY WAS HUMBOLDT FORGOTTEN IN THE UNITED STATES?*

Authors

  • Sandra Nichols

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      Dr. Nichols is a visiting scholar in the College of Natural Resources, University of California–Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720.


  • *

    I would like to thank Kent Mathewson and Andrew Sluyter and the anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful and detailed comments. I am also grateful to David Stoddart for his insightful suggestions, for the loan of rare volumes from his vast collection, and for many pleasurable hours spent discussing Humboldt.

Abstract

ABSTRACT. In the nineteenth century Alexander von Humboldt was acclaimed as “the second Columbus” and “the scientific discoverer of America.” His prestige and fame were such that on 14 September 1869, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a grand celebration was held with parades, speeches, concerts, and the unveiling of memorials in cities across the country. Humboldt's popularity in the United States endured for the remainder of the nineteenth century, but he dropped from public consciousness in the twentieth century. To account for the eclipse of Humboldt's fame in the United States three hypotheses are discussed: a shift in the character of scientific endeavor; the quality of Humboldt's written work; and the rise of anti-German sentiment with a concurrent rush to “de-Germanize” the United States in the early twentieth century.

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