October 29, 2019April 30, 2020

Location: Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery

In honor of his hundredth birthday, The New York Times devoted its entire front page to Alexander von Humboldt, the fearless and gentle explorer of South America, not to mention the most famous scientist of his time. Parades with bands and speeches celebrated Humboldt’s birthday throughout the world. Emerson called the mid-nineteenth century “the Age of Humboldt.” Too bad Humboldt himself wasn’t there to enjoy all the attention. He had died eleven years earlier.

Alexander von Humboldt had a huge personality. He was warm, magnetic, friendly, gentle, periodically lonely, and overwhelmingly popular. He was also a voluminous correspondent. For many years, he wrote and received nearly ten significant letters each day.

Today, much of the world has nearly forgotten the once-famous Humboldt. But his reputation is once again rallying. In recent years, natural and social scientists, humanities scholars, and artists have been fascinated by Humboldt’s attempt to embrace all of physical nature, human culture, and history. Humboldt’s wildly popular book Cosmos portrays the stunning oneness of the natural world and our understanding of it, in a perspective that seems almost contemporary.

This academic year, a Duke Bass Connections project is observing the 250th anniversary of Humboldt’s birth by bringing Humboldt scholars to Duke to celebrate his work.

This exhibit was curated by Professors Daniel Richter and Zackary Johnson, with graduate students Juan Llano Caldas, Chelsea Sloggy, and Avery Davis. The curators wish to thank Margaret Brown, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Exhibits Librarian, and everyone involved in the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Forever Humboldt!! Project. Special thanks go also to Professor Stefani Engelstein, Chair of Germanic Languages and Literature.