Alexander von Humboldt: biography of the father of geography.
A summary of the life of Alexander von Humboldt, famous Prussian explorer and geographer.
Although Alexander von Humboldt cultivated a whole range of sciences, his main legacy was the consolidation of geography as a science.
Here we will discover more details about his life, through a biography of Alexander von Humboldt. a biography of Alexander von Humboldt in which you will know his great contributions in the different disciplines in which he collaborated throughout his career.
Brief biography of Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt was born in the year 1769, in the city of Berlin, at that time belonging to the Kingdom of Prussia.. His father, Alexander Georg, was a military man of prestige, serving under the Prussian monarch, Frederick II the Great. His mother, Marie Elisabeth, came from a family with a good economic and social situation, widowed after a first marriage, which had provided her with an important inheritance.
A sign of the high position of the von Humboldt family is the good relationship they had with the royal family, to the point that the heir to the throne of Prussia was the godfather of the young Alexander von Humboldt, a fact that obviously was not usual and symbolized the importance that this family had in the Prussian high society of the time.
The von Humboldt couple had another son, Wilhelm, who in the future would be, like his brother, a man of prestige, cultivated in different sciences, who would also leave a brilliant legacy. Therefore, it is evident that in Alexander von Humboldt's house an intellectual atmosphere prevailed that favored the two brothers to reach the highest levels in their respective fields.
In fact, Alexander was instructed in his own residence, which was no less than Tegel Castle.. It was his father who personally chose the educators of his children, so he selected the most prestigious, enlightened teachers. Special mention should be made of Joachim Heinrich Campe, one of Alexander von Humboldt's tutors, who aroused in him a curiosity for the natural sciences, especially zoology, botany and geology.
Unfortunately, Alexander and Wilhelm's father died when they were ten and twelve years old, respectively. Therefore, their mother was widowed for the second time. She took it upon herself to manage the family finances so that her children would continue to receive the best possible education, even if this meant renouncing certain luxuries that, because of her position, she could have afforded.
Alexander von Humboldt not only excelled very early in the scientific subjects he learned, but also in the arts, as he was instructed in them in order to learn painting and drawing techniques, which would serve him to exhibit some of his creations at no less than the Berlin Academy.which would serve him to exhibit some of his creations at no less than the Berlin Academy. This talent would also be seen later in the quality of the illustrations he created for the notebooks that tell the story of his travels.
Youth and early travels
Although Alexander von Humboldt initially wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a prestigious military man, his mother advised him against it. When he reached adulthood, he attended the University of Frankfurt for a semester-long financial education. He would later enroll at the University of Göttingen, which his brother Wilhelm was already attending, although learning other disciplines.
At this stage of his life, Alexander had the opportunity to learn from Georg Foster. Foster was a German naturalist who had been part of the crew of James Cook himself, one of the most important English explorers in history, on the second of his voyages.
Thanks to this friendship, a hobby that would mark Alexander von Humboldt's career forever, that of research trips, would soon begin. Thus, he would embark with Georg Foster on a journey through the waters of the Rhine to reach Holland, and then continue his journey through France to England.
Once in England, Alexander was able to meet Sir Joseph Banks, another of James Cook's companions on his adventures, who was also the president of thewho was also the president of the Royal Society. Humboldt was able to access the plant samples that Banks had collected during his travels through the seas of the southern hemisphere, which definitely convinced him to dedicate his life to exploration and research.
As a result of this trip, Alexander von Humboldt was able to publish his first work, "Mineralogical Observations on Various Basalts of the Rhine River". Once it was clear to him what he wanted to devote his career to, he decided to train to become a great explorer.. In Hamburg he had the opportunity to learn different languages and specialize in commerce, and he also attended the Freiberg School of Mines, where he acquired the geological knowledge he needed. Not only that, he was also trained in astronomy and anatomy.
Travels in Europe
After completing his training at the school of mines, Alexander von Humboldt received a position to lead the management of gold mines in Bayreuth and Fichtel.. His work was excellent and he managed to significantly increase the extraction of this mineral. At the same time, he was a strong supporter of the miners and even took it upon himself to set up a school to provide them with the best possible training so that they could work safely.
His work in the mines allowed him to publish a work on the botany of the area that reached the hands of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who immediately wanted to contact Humboldt. Thus began a close friendship and scientific collaboration between the two intellectuals. These collaborations led Alexander to frequently visit the University of Jena, where his brother was also staying.
He joined the circle of Weimar classicism, which included some of the most brilliant minds of the time.. He continued to travel around Europe and met other prestigious scientists, with whom he shared his knowledge. These trips took him to Vienna, Switzerland and Italy. At this time, 1796, the mother of the von Humboldt brothers died and it was clear that none of them had a good relationship with her, as they did not attend her funeral.
Travels in America
From 1799 onwards, Alexander von Humboldt's great voyages in America began.. He practically dedicated the rest of his life to scientific explorations in this continent. He moved to Madrid to ask the Spanish authorities for official permission to visit Spain's overseas dominions. As he did not need financing, he had no problems in obtaining such authorization and so he embarked on his first great adventure, bound for America, making a stopover in Tenerife.
Although they were originally bound for Havana, Cuba, an outbreak of typhoid fever forced the captain of the ship Pizarro to change his plans and land in Cumaná, Venezuela. Alexander von Humboldt settled in the Aragua Valley to observe the crops that were being cultivated and was in fact the first to consider the repercussions that the exploitation of the land by human hands could have, originating the idea of climate change.
Later on, he He later began an expedition along the waters of the Orinoco River for four months, discovering indigenous tribes in remote places and truly exotic animal species of scientific interest such as the dangerous of scientific interest, such as the dangerous river eels, which even killed some of the horses with their electric shocks. Humboldt was a great student of electricity and magnetism, so this animal was of immense importance for his research.
In 1800 he went with his team to Cuba, beginning a great series of scientific works in these lands. His work was so important that he is considered the second discoverer of the island. After a brief stay in Europe, he returned to America, this time to visit the Andes, Ecuador, Peru and finally New Spain, today Mexico. The year was 1803. They traveled through the territories of the viceroyalty until they reached Mexico City, a place that impressed Alexander.
He inspected the Valenciana de Guanajuato silver mine, which was the mine that extracted the most material for the Spanish Empire during that time. He made a tremendous analysis of the operation of this infrastructure. He also dedicated efforts to study the pre-Columbian cultures of these territories, especially regarding cultural and artistic manifestations. The Ensayo político sobre el Reino de Nueva España (Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain) was the great compilation of these investigations.
By 1804 he was in the United States, even collaborating with President Thomas Jefferson, who was also a scientist.. He made a report on the borders of Louisiana, a territory recently acquired by the United States. That same year, Alexander von Humboldt would return to Europe, after five years of research in America.
Last years and death
Those of America would not be the only great voyages of Alexander, who many years later, in 1829, would begin a voyage to the Americas, in 1829, he would begin a journey through Russia, covering more than 15,000 km in just over six months.. He made reports about the mining possibilities of the area and also took the opportunity to investigate organisms in remote places in the Siberian steppe.
Alexander von Humboldt would die after a long life, at the age of 89, in 1859, in Berlin, the same place where he was born.
- Rebok, S. (2003). The American expedition of Alexander Von Humboldt and his contribution to 19th century science. Bulletin de l'Institut français d'études andines.
- Rupke, N.A. (2008). Alexander von Humboldt: a metabiography. The University of Chicago Press.
- Wulf, A. (2016). The invention of nature: the new world of Alexander von Humboldt. Taurus.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)