In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alexander von Humboldt and Transatlantic Studies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Humboldt’s Bibliography
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Journals and Online Resources
  • Humboldt and (Trans)Atlantic Historiography
  • Humboldt and the Americas
  • Transatlantic Relations
  • Humboldt and (Travel) Literature
  • Vision and the Visual Arts
  • Humboldt’s Science and Epistemologies
  • Humboldt and Nature/Geography
  • Humboldt and North America
  • Humboldt and Latin America
  • Humboldt and Globalization

Atlantic History Alexander von Humboldt and Transatlantic Studies
Jobst Welge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0286


The Prussian aristocrat Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (b. 1769–d. 1859) was one of the most influential and prolific travel writers, naturalists, and scientific explorers of the early 19th century. He is widely recognized for his pioneering “discovery” of Latin American nature. His writings (mostly in German or French) are remarkable for their stylistic suppleness and their extraordinarily wide-ranging “interdisciplinary” ambition, involving disciplines such as geology, geography, climatology, cultural archeology and history, volcanology, and the morphology of plants. In light of the sheer endless amount of interdisciplinary scholarship on Humboldt, as well as several existing bibliographic resources, the present article focuses mostly on recent scholarly works and privileges studies concerned with Humboldt’s central importance for Atlantic history, communication, and globalization, as well as his engagement with the Americas—namely his expedition with A. J. A. Bonpland to the Caribbean and to Central and South America (1799–1804), his sojourn in the United States (1804), and that trip’s legacies. Given the topic of this bibliography, material specifically related to Humboldt’s expedition to Russia/Siberia has not been included. Not only did Humboldt pioneer the development of the natural sciences in the New World, he also approached the formation of the Americas from political, economic, and historical perspectives in numerous shorter writings. Recent scholarship has debated the place of Humboldt’s writings—most importantly his Relation historique du Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent (Voyage to the equinoctial regions of the new continent; 1814–1831), his twenty-three-volume magnum opus that includes Vues des Cordillères et monuments des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique (Views of the Cordilleras and monuments of the indigenous peoples of the Americas; 1810–1813), and Ansichten der Natur (Views of nature; 1808)—in the context of the history of travel literature and with regard to the rhetorical and visual techniques of scientific representation. His multivolume work Kosmos (1845–1858, 1862) is a synthesis of his worldview and proposes the idea of a unified order of nature.

General Overviews

Generous samplings of essays on major general topics may be found in Erickson, et al. 2004; Ette, et al. 2001; and Hey’l 2007 (preceded by Schleucher 1985) provides a systematic study of the Humboldtian concept of authorship. Labastida 1975 is a general essay by one of the most distinguished Latin American specialists.

  • Erickson, Raymond, Mauricio A. Font, and Brian Schwartz, eds. Alexander von Humboldt: From the Americas to the Cosmos. New York: Bildner Center for Western Hemispheric Studies, 2004.

    A comprehensive online publication, from a conference at the City University of New York, comprising a total of forty-three essays, arranged into five sections: “Cantata,” “Culture and Society in the New World,” “Literature and the Arts,” “Life and Travels,” and “Knowledge and Worldview.”

  • Ette, Ottmar, Ute Hermanns, Bernd M. Scherer, and Christian Suckow, eds. Alexander von Humboldt—Aufbruch in die Moderne. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2001.

    An excellent collection, from a 1999 symposium, featuring essays by well-known literary scholars and cultural historians, subdivided into sections: “Aesthetic Representations in Modernity,” “Traces in Modernity,” “Modern Science,” “Europe and South America,” “Communication in Modernity.”

  • Hey’l, Bettina. Das Ganze der Natur und die Differenzierung des Wissens: Alexander von Humboldt als Schriftsteller. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110958157

    Comprehensive and sophisticated study of Humboldt’s evolving concept of authorship, as well as his status as an author within German literature. On the American writings, see pp. 175–213.

  • Labastida, Jaime. Humboldt, ese desconocido. Mexico City: Editorial Sep-Setentas, 1975.

    General appreciation of Humboldt and his contributions to science—specifically, Mexican anthropology.

  • Schleucher, Kurt. Alexander von Humboldt: Der Mensch, der Forscher, der Schriftsteller. Darmstadt, Germany: Eduard Roether Verlag, 1985.

    Now largely superseded by Hey’l 2007. Yet still informative with regard to Humboldt’s various author functions.

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