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Alexander von


HiN                                                     I, 1 (2000)

Ulrike Leitner: Humboldt's works on Mexico

2. "Tablas géografico-políticas del reyno de Nueva Espana"

On the March 22, 1803, Humboldt landed in Acapulco together with Carlos Montúfar and Aimé Bonpland, coming from Lima by ship. "The coast is one of the most picturesque we ever saw, the sandy beach of Coyuca gilded by the sun's reflexions, then a densely grown banana plantation, coconut palm trees , and, behind all that, three mountain ranges, very high and partially wooded. An impressive view ...", wrote Humboldt in his diary.(3) Almost a week later he asked Viceroy José de Iturrigaray for permission to travel in his country for scientific purposes: "The desire to make a contribution to the natural sciences and to study in close proximity the customs and products of distant countries was the reasoning behind undertaking an expedition to the inside of the New Continent at my own expense."(4) Iturrigaray generously offered his help and sent the passports necessary for the journey. I am able to show the passport with which Humboldt and his travel companions left Mexico (see fig. 1).(5)

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Figure 1

With this passport, the archives of Mexico City became accessible, allowing Humboldt to use manuscripts, statistics and maps. Humboldt collected further material on excursions: he visited mines, occupied himself with determinations of geographic positions and barometric levellings, and visited a cigar factory and a drainage system. He also worked and taught at the Mountain Academy.

Humboldt summed up the collected material in the Tablas géografico-politicas. He offered a copy to the Viceroy on Jan 3, 1804,(6) about a month before his departure for Veracruz. From there he continued his journey to Cuba and North America on the March 7. He emphasized that his materials were not even known to the Viceroy's office. The study, which was apparently originally written in Spanish and then copied by hand, is assumed to have been presented shortly thereafter. Fig. 2 shows the draft of Humboldt’s letter to Iturrigaray and fig. 3 the original of Iturrigaray’s reply.(7)

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                                        Figure 2Anklicken, um zu vergrößern










Figure 3         


Later copies of the Tablas still exist in Ann Arbor (Clements Library), Mexico (at the Archivo gen., Ramo de Historia and in private posession) and in New Orleans (Tulane University Library). A French extract is located in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. With the publication in Europe of Humboldt's Mexico work, the 1822 print has in the meantime become scientifically outdated. Current reprints (Mexico 1969, 1970 and 1993) offer a text suitable for scientific purposes. Humboldt's own original manuscript (see fig. 4), which he apparently brought to Europe, are contained in that part of Humboldt's papers which was brought to Kraków (Poland) (8) following the evacuation of the Berlin State Library during World War II. It is still unpublished. Those familiar with the Mexican edition of 1993 (9) will notice that in this illustration, some of the titles and sub-titles written in different letter sizes were left out by the writer of the manuscript copy on which that edition is based. Except for these outward differences which allow one to draw conclusions about Humboldt's style, the copy is identical with the original.


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Figure 4

The Tablas contain, as the name suggests often in tabulated form statistics on the physical expansion of the country, on population size and density, on the political and administrative structure of the viceroyalty, and economic data about income, the military and commerce.

Another small text which Humboldt wrote during his stay in Mexico is the Essai de Pasigraphie géologique dressée à l'usage de l'Ecole des Mines du Mexique. In this paper Humboldt proposed a special language of formula for geognostic and geographic observations. This text is also a part of the estate of Humboldt papers in the Berlin State Library. Already in 1958 it was published by Hanno Beck.(10)



(3) "Die Küste ist eine der malerischsten, welche wir je gesehen haben, der Sandstrand von Coyuca vom Sonnenreflex vergoldet, dann eine dicht bewachsene Bananenplantage, Kokospalmen, und hinter allem drei Gebirgskette, sehr hoch und teilweise bewaldet. Ein imposanter Anblick [...]" Alexander von Humboldt. Reise auf dem Río Magdalena, durch die Anden und Mexico. Part II: Übersetzung, Anmerkungen, Register. Margot Faak, ed. and transl., Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1990, p. 201.(Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung. 9)

(4) "El deseo de contribuir a los progresos de los conocimientos físicos y de estudiar de cerca las costumbres y producciones de los países remotos, me han dejado emprender a mi propio gasto, una Expedición en el Interior del Nuevo Continente." Letter from A. v. Humboldt to José de Iturrigaray, Acapulco, 28.3.1803. Alexander von Humboldt. Briefe aus Amerika 1799-1804, Ulrike Moheit, ed., Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1993, p. 223.

(5) It is part of the collection of documents in the archive of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. This collection was surprisingly returned from Georgia (former Soviet Union) 3 years ago. It had been considered lost in World War II.

(6) Letter from A. v. Humboldt to José de Iturrigaray, México, Jan 3,1804, see: Briefe aus Amerika, op. cit. p. 264.

(7) Humboldt-Nachlaß Nr. 1, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, Kraków, Polen.

(8) Humboldt-Nachlaß 1, op. cit.

(9) Alejandro de Humboldt, Tablas géografico-políticas del reino de Nueva España, Introducción, transcripción y notas de José G. Morena de Alba, México, Universidad nacional autónoma de México, 1993. For a facsimile copy and transcription see http://www.agn.gob.mx/humboldt/index.html.

(10) Hanno Beck, "Alexander von Humboldts ‘Essay de Pasigraphie’, Mexico 1803/04", Forschungen und Fortschritte 32 (1958) 2: 33-39.


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