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Humboldt, an Explorer Without Limits

Humboldt is one of the great characters of modernity, one of the last great scholars. Determined to discover the world, he was the first great explorer in Latin America. His trips contributed to a better understanding of the flora, fauna and climates of the world.

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Humboldt is a character of immense importance for modern science. According to researchers from very diverse areas of knowledge, Humboldt is the last great scholar, as were some of the great scholars of history such as Leonardo Da Vinci.

Alexander von Humboldt was a scientist of Prussian origin (present-day Germany). Alexander devoted his life mainly to geology and biology.

His scientific conclusions gave rise to many incredible discoveries. The atmospheric and magnetic measurements made during their travels allowed other scientists to discover the earth’s magnetic field.

Humboldt was a faithful defender of nature, one of his greatest concerns was the possibility that the human species could end natural life due to deforestation. How could a scientist observe this problem almost 200 years ago?

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An explorer is born an explorer

Alexander was always a restless child with a curious mind. Avid for knowledge, he spent much of his childhood exploring the gardens and wildlife of his property. From a young age, he collected plants to study carefully and animals to adopt as pets.

Alexander and his brother Wilhelm were educated at home under the supervision of various tutors. Her mother, a religious and strict woman, decided that her children should dedicate themselves to public life. Thus, the Humboldt children studied mathematics and literature, as was common at the time, as well as political history and economics.

Unfortunately for his mother, Alexander never adapted well to the rigor of traditional study. After trying to study in several universities and leave them all in less than a year, an incredible opportunity was presented in the life of Humboldt, he could study Geology while working in a mine supervising the work.

However, the future of Alexander von Humboldt was not limited to the copper mines and was much further away although, at that time, he did not even suspect it.

The great American crossing of Alexander von Humboldt

Perhaps, one of the achievements for which Humboldt would be better known is his research in Latin America. He embarked on a trip whose objective was to ‘discover’ the continent, going through maps and astronomical observation to magnetic and climatic measurements.

Throughout 5 fruitful years, Humboldt travels with his good friend and botanist Aimé Bonpland in what would be the largest exploratory trip in South American territory so far.

But how did the great Humboldt journey begin? In 1799, Alexander von Humboldt convinced King Charles IV of Spain to grant him a permit and thus be able to travel to his colonies.

The first stop of the trip was Havana, but an outbreak of typhoid fever made it impossible for them to disembark on the island of Cuba. For this reason, the travelers changed direction and went to Venezuela.

Humboldt is one of the most important cartographers of the Venezuelan territory so far. Together with Bonpland and his traveling companions, he explored the caves, swamps and jungle areas of Venezuela.

After his stay in that country and after a very brief stay in Cuba, Humboldt begins the great walk along the Cordillera de Los Andes. This walk would take many years and would allow Humboldt to reach one of his most relevant conclusions: nature is interconnected.

During his exploration trips, Humboldt would conclude that nature is in constant interaction. Animals depend on plants and other animals; the climate depends on the flora and fauna in the same way that they depend on the climate. In a way, Alexander was the first environmentalist.

Back to Europe

When returning to Europe, Humboldt moves to Paris, city in which resides during more than twenty years. In Paris, he would compile and publish many of the results obtained from his research. I had already compiled all the data in Latin America, but the time had come to study them, to deepen.

Humboldt would publish numerous articles and books about his conclusions. His descriptions of the flora and fauna made him an emblematic character for the science of the moment.

Soon, Humboldt would be admitted to various academies and select groups of scientists, be they biologists, geologists or botanists. During his stay in Paris, Humboldt would be dedicated to sponsor young scientists; his main motivation was to sponsor young people with potential in the field of science, but who did not have sufficient economic resources. However, Alexander Humboldt was not in the best of economic situations, since he had invested even his last savings in his projects.

When he was 56 years old, Alexander’s fortune ends. Thus, Humboldt is forced to return to Berlin, where, much to his chagrin, he began to teach classes to the heirs of the Royal House of Prussia.

Humboldt would spend the last 30 years of his life in Berlin teaching and lecturing. There he would write a good part of an encyclopedia called Kosmos, in which he compiled all his research.

The legacy of genius

Alexander was one of the greatest modern scientists. His investigations led to significant progress in areas such as Geology and Physics.

Through their studies, it was possible to discover the Earth’s magnetic field and solar storms. His studies led to a greater understanding in Geology and volcanoes. In addition, his discoveries deeply inspired authors such as Charles Darwin, the great geneticist and biologist.

Perhaps, one of the most significant contributions to the modern sciences is their deep concern for the environment. In a historical moment in which much of nature was still intact, Alexander was able to see the importance of it exerted on the life of man.

Humboldt explained in his works that all natural elements were vital for a balanced life on the planet. Already at this time, Humboldt would write about the importance of preserving and safeguarding natural spaces.

This is an incredibly valuable lesson in the modern world. Human life depends on the environment, and modern education must teach us how to preserve it. At present, we do nothing but listen to news about climate change, the problems of plastics, the waste we generate…

The human being, for centuries, has not been able to look at his own planet; It seems that the Earth is inexhaustible and it does not matter if you damage it or mistreat it because it is eternal. This idea, although it has been demystified on countless occasions, seems not to have penetrated enough in the population.

However, it is incredible to see, from a current perspective, how, at the time, there were those who dared to look at the Earth with respect, as the home of all.

Humboldt went ahead in time, he discovered the importance of taking care of our planet, of watching over the natural spaces and the flora and fauna that make them up.

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