The Passage to Cosmos

Alexander von Humboldt

In June the Historical Geography Reading Group discussed Laura Dassow Walls’s 2009 The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press). One Group member, Innes M. Keighren, has recently contributed to a roundtable discussion of the book for the H-Environment discussion network (part of the H-Net organisation). Other contributors to the discussion include Felipe Fernández-Armesto (University of Notre Dame) and Michael F. Robinson (University of Hartford). The roundtable is available for download.


One thought on “The Passage to Cosmos

  1. DrHG says:

    Fascinating stuff, Innes. I’ve just added this book to my ‘Amazon Wish List’. You might also be interested in a paper I’ve written with Tara Woodyer (another landscape surgeon) about (re)enchanting geography. We define enchantment as a sensory experience of unintelligibility and a mood of fullness or plenitude. In order to advocate a (re)enchanted stance in human geography, we track back through our disciplinary heritage to explore how geographers have employed enchantment as a force through which the world inspires affective attachment. We write: “Humboldt was critical of a merely scientific approach to nature since a preoccupation with quantifiable material obscured and neglected the ‘higher enjoyments’ – experiences of beauty, charm and the sublime – of such study” (Woodyer and Geoghegan (forthcoming) in Progress in Human Geography). I mean, who could miss the enchantment in these words from Humboldt: “‘The earnest and solemn thoughts awakened by a communion with nature intuitively arise from a presentiment of the order and harmony pervading the whole universe, and from the contrast we draw between the narrow limits of our own existence and the image of infinity on every side whether we look up to the starry vault of heaven, scan the far-reaching plain before us, or seek to trace the dim horizon across the expanse of the ocean”. I look forward to reading some more about our disciplinary lineage. Thanks, Hilary (landscape surgeon 2002-…)

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