The perception, representation, and experience of landscape in Alexander von Humboldt’s American Travel Journal
The point of departure for my Ph.D. project is the landscape in the American travel journals of Alexander von Humboldt. His work on them was not limited to the years 1799 to 1804, during his American journey; he continued working on them throughout his entire life.
On the one hand, Humboldt stands in a series of philosophical, aesthetic, and scientific traditions (natural philosophy, Romanticism, empiricism, Enlightenment) that establish nature as the focus of their endeavors. On the other hand, Humboldt is read as the founder of new disciplines (modern geography, plant geography, anthropology); knowledge about nature arises in the interplay of field research and historical, economic, and social data. The inner intellectual constitution of the observer is closely associated with this process. My Ph.D. project focuses on the epistemological leap from Romantic and Enlightenment notions of nature to Humboldt’s conception of nature, attempting to explain the degree to which the landscape is particularly instructive as a transversal concept and a connecting link between reason and sensitivity, in order to understand Humboldt’s theoretical progress and graphic innovations.
The American Travel Journals represent an extremely fruitful research source for assessing this research question because they offer direct access to Humboldt’s experience of the landscape at that time. Their content and materiality illuminate how Humboldt wrote and drew landscapes on site, how he positions himself, constantly changed his travel route, and physically inhabited all of these different landscapes. The American Travel Journals show how Humboldt’s views of landscape came from a specific type of landscape experience.
My work is focused conceptually on the three following research directions: the landscape as perception, as representation, and as experience.