Alexander von Humboldt in Russia: the 1829 expedition
Alexander von Humboldt was one of the most important figures in history in general and particularly in the history of natural sciences. He was one of the last universal scholars and his contributions have been appreciated ever since. Even today people are fascinated by his achievements as a natural scientist, explorer, researcher, adventurer, geologist and humanist. Von Humboldt is widely recognized as the founder of modern regional studies. He explored the then unknown Central American countries, studied the geographical distribution of plants for an entire continent and started the popularization of science. In doing so he anticipated an ecological view of nature and an understanding of the impact of technology on society.
From the beginning, von Humboldt attempted to understand, reflect and explain nature as a whole. Therefore, his famous volume ‘Kosmos’ bears the subtitle ‘Outline of a physical survey of the World’. If nothing else, this work was the result of his almost unbelievable enthusiasm to devote his life to the study and interpretation of nature regardless of the necessary effort and exertion required.
From his childhood days, von Humboldt felt the urge to travel to faraway regions and countries seldom visited by other Europeans. He wanted to visit and explore Asia, particularly India and then Siberia, and the New World so that he could compare the Andes with the Himalayas, the Venezuelan Llanos with the Siberian steppes. Unfortunately, he was prevented from going to India. But a quarter of a century after finishing his journey to America (1799–1804) he received an offer from the Russian minister of finance, Count Georg of Cancrin, to lead a nine-month expedition through the Russian empire. The expedition started out in April 1829 accompanied by the mineralogist Gustav Rose and the botanist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg. In late December von Humboldt returned to Germany.
Not only had the team covered a distance of 19 000 kilometres but they had also made a wealth of invaluable scientific discoveries. At the same time, relationships were established with Russia which proved very favourable for subsequent explorers.
Since 1993, the German Association of Graduates and Friends of Moscow Lomonosow University (DAMU) has been active in reviving traditional Russian–German relationships by recalling and acknowledging German explorers and researchers in Russia. To date five excursions following von Humboldt's footsteps into Russia have taken place.
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In the last four centuries geologists have traversed the globe, searching for economically important materials or simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Geologists have often been at the vanguard of scientific exploration.
The microscopist Robert Hooke explored the Isle of Wight, and Charles Darwin the Cape Verde islands and parts of South America. The volcanic wonders of Italy and central France attracted native and foreign visitors including Lyell and Murchison. The Tyrrell brothers faced great hardship in northern Canada, as did the actor and mineralogist Charles Lewis Giesecke in Greenland. The development of Sydney, Australia depended on finding limestone for building. French geologists relied on camels in the Sahara, and Grenville Cole trusted his tricycle to carry him across Europe.
Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel focuses on the complexities of geological exploration and will be of particular interest to Earth scientists, historians of science and to the general reader interested in science.