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Humboldt, Alexander von (1769–1859)

  • By: Richard V. Francaviglia
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Alexander von Humboldt is commonly called a “Renaissance man” because he was so talented in many subjects, notably natural history, geology, mining, engineering, anthropology, cartography, botany, political science, and diplomacy. Humboldt's inquisitive mind and ability to master many separate subjects dovetailed with the social conditions of the era in which he lived. His times, broadly called the Enlightenment, valued science and empirical observation while challenging older ways of viewing the world. Humboldt was no mere observer of those times; he in fact shaped them through his extensive studies and travels. Although German by birth, he represented a new class of individuals we today call citizens of the world. Although the modern discipline of geography emerged after Humboldt's death, geographers quickly realized that Humboldt was one ...

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