Die Pressereaktionen auf den Abschluss des BMBF-Verbundprojekts waren groß. Mit einer zweitägigen Konferenz wurde die vollständige Digitalisierung und virtuelle Zusammenführung des in Berlin und Krakau verwahrten Nachlasses Alexander von Humboldts sowie erste Forschungsergebnisse zu seinen 2013 erworbenen Amerikanischen Reisetagebüchern gefeiert. Humboldts Worte “Ideen können nur nützen, wenn sie in vielen Köpfen lebendig werden” waren das Motto der […]
Alexander von Humboldt’s
American travel journals
Joint project of the University of Potsdam and the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage
“Alexander von Humboldt’s American travel journals”, a joint project sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung) and conducted by the University of Potsdam and the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage, involves two sub-projects, covering research into Humboldt’s American travel journals and personal papers, their digitisation and publication, to be conducted between 2014 and 2017. These closely related projects are the direct consequence of the successful acquisition of Alexander von Humboldt’s American travel journals by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) in 2013. This acquisition was made possible largely though public funding and the greatly appreciated support of additional sponsors.
Sub-project “Securing, contextualization, digitization” (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz)
Only in conjunction with the full literary estate can the relevance of the journals be understood. With this in mind, the project includes both the American travel journals and the entire personal papers of Alexander von Humboldt, housed in the Berlin State Library and in the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow. They will be opened up for academic research in the Kalliope Union Catalogue, conserved and made available online through a digitised version of the personal papers and autograph manuscripts.
Together with Alexander von Humboldt’s collected papers, the American travel journals form a unique source for the better understanding of his models of scientific knowledge and working methods. Among the approximately 1,600 estates housed in the Berlin State Library, Alexander von Humboldt’s body of work is one of the most important sources for the history of science in Europe. The collections contain documents from Humboldt’s entire life, primarily from the period from 1799 onwards. The papers in Berlin comprise some 22,000 pages. The collection in Cracow has half the size (approximately 11,000 pages) and is also in the process of being catalogued and digitised in close collaboration with the Jagiellonian Library.
The letters, notes, articles, manuscripts, sketches and tables exemplify the scientist’s widely diversified fields of interest and working methods: folders in his own handwriting contain material on such varied subjects as slavery, astronomy, ocean currents, natural history, the history of humankind’s world view, mineralogy, the geography of plants, and ethnic classifications.
Sub-project “Genealogy, chronology, epistemology” (Universität Potsdam)
Humboldt’s American journey (1799 – 1804) is regarded by many as the first journey ever to serve purely scientific purposes and thus, from a historical perspective, may be regarded as one of the founding activities of modern science. Editing his observations in all their multitude and variety – observations which have been inaccessible until now – is therefore one of the major tasks of nineteenth century historiographical research. Moreover, Humboldt’s travel journals, with their numerous annotations, excerpts, tables, sketches, political reflections, hypotheses and drawings, form one of the most important pillars of his scientific work. They were the starting point for his travel book Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent (1805 – 1838), as well as source of material and reference for his work on Kosmos (1845 – 1862). With these original documents now available, exact research into the American travels will be possible.
This research project, conducted at the University of Potsdam (Universität Potsdam) under the direction of Prof. Dr. Ottmar Ette, with a team of five doctoral and postdoctoral students, is taking an integrative, cross-disciplinary approach, which will allow us to gain a more thorough insight into the model of scientific knowledge-making espoused by Humboldt.
Extract from: Woodcut (1870) of Otto Roth from a drawing by H. Lademann
Primeval forest laboratory – Animals killed and yet to be preserved, plants yet to be herborised; animals kept and preserved in spirit jars on the right.
© Copyright bpk – Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte
Travel journals are among the most crucial scientific and personal documents of the 19th century. The records Alexander von Humboldt wrote during his travels across South and Central America from 1799 – 1804 accompanied him throughout his life. The goal of this project is to use new research approaches to place the American travel journals in the cultural, political, social and academic context of the 19th century. To this end, along with the American travel journals, the personal papers of Alexander von Humboldt housed at the Berlin State Library and the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow will be opened up, digitised and presented to the public in their entirety.
Jagiellonian Library in Cracow
The Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage is working side by side with the Jagiellonian Library (Biblioteka Jagiellońska) in Cracow to access and digitise the personal papers of Alexander von Humboldt. Approximately half of the material is located in Poland, following its evacuation to Silesia during the Second World War. Since 1947 these holdings have been kept at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow. The joint objective of the two libraries is to evaluate, conserve and make the collection available to the general public.
Project sponsorship by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research
“Alexander von Humboldt’s American travel journals”, the joint project of the University of Potsdam and the Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage, is being sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The sponsorship is divided into two sub-projects (Sponsorship Nos. O1UO1302A and O1UO1302B) for a duration of three years. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has commissioned the sponsor at the Project Managing Agency at the German Aerospace Centre (Projektträger im Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e. V.) to supervise this research Project.
Sponsorship by the Federal Comissioner for Culture and the Media
The conservation and digitization of the personal papers today hosted in Cracow has been sponsored by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.
Funding the acquisition of the American travel journals
The purchase of Alexander von Humboldt’s American travel journals by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation at the end of 2013 was made possible through financial commitment by numerous sponsors: the acquisition succeeded through support of representatives of the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Berlin Lottery Foundation, the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the Würth Group Foundation, the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, the Volkswagen Foundation, Deutsche Bank AG, the Robert Bosch Foundation, the Gerda Henkel Foundation and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation also participated by pre-financing a considerable sum of the project.