Alexander von Humboldt: From the Americas to the Cosmos
Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, 2005 (rev. ed. 2017)
Coordinators: Mauricio A. Font, Raymond Erickson, and Brian Schwartz
Humboldt Bicentennial: An Interdisciplinary Conference
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s
epochal journey of exploration of South America, Cuba and Mexico
and his visit to the United States.
October 14-16, 2004
From October 14-16, 2004, 127 scholars and Humboldt enthusiasts from 14 countries gathered at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York to commemorate the bicentennial of this momentous journey and to celebrate the remarkable legacy of an extraordinary human being.
Hosted by the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, the three-day celebration featured a multidisciplinary conference at which 89 scholarly papers were presented; the American premiere of “Begrüssung” (“Greeting”), a cantata commissioned by Humboldt and written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartoldy for the opening of a scientific conference in Berlin in 1828; a series of films on exploration and discovery in the Americas; and the first performance of “Wide World,” a play written by Lauren Gunderson and commissioned specifically for the event. Among the distinguished Humboldt scholars to participate were Ottmar Ette, chair of the Romance Literature Department at the University of Potsdam; Manfred Osten, retired Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; Jaime Labastida, author of Humboldt: Ciudadano Universal; Laura Dassow Walls, professor of English at the University of South Carolina and Frank Baron, of the Humboldt Digital Library project and the University of Kansas.
This volume is a compilation of the proceedings from this truly remarkable event. The papers which appear here, and which represent a portion of those presented at the conference, are a testament to Humboldt’s vision, his achievements and the lasting legacy of his work in various fields of human inquiry and creative activity.
Raymond Erickson, Professor Emeritus of Music at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY, has led a wide-ranging career both as a scholar and performer. His researches into computer applications in music, medieval music theory, Vienna in the age of Beethoven and Schubert, and, more recently, Johann Sebastian Bach have been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, among other organizations, and have led to four authored or edited books as well as a wide variety of other publications. His deep commitment to liberal arts education is reflected in his directorship of the thirteen multi-disciplinary Aston Magna Academies (1978-97) funded by the NEH and in his seven years as Dean of Arts and Humanities at Queens College.
Erickson, an honors graduate of Whittier College with a Ph.D. in History of Music from Yale, joined the Queens College faculty in 1971 (where he later became the first Director of the Aaron Copland School of Music); in 1975 he was elected to the doctoral faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center, where he continues to teach part-time since retiring in 2008. He has also taught at Rutgers University (New Brunswick) and the Juilliard School. His honors include Honorary Membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the Endowed Chair in Music at the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), and the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz, 1. Klasse) of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was a founding member, and later president, of the Alexander von Humboldt Association of America and has served on the Alumni Advisory Board of the American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
As pianist and harpsichordist he has performed in over 30 of the continental United States, Italy, Germany, Austria, Japan and China. In January, 2017 he presented an all-Bach harpsichord recital to a sold-out audience in Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall.
Brian B. Schwartz is currently professor of Physics and co-director of the New Media Lab at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). For the past twelve years he has also been associated with the American Physical Society and was director of the Society’s Centennial program in 1999, for which he was the producer of an artistic wall chart and web site for a timeline entitled A Century of Physics.
Dr. Schwartz obtained bachelors degree from City College of New York in 1959 and his doctorate degree from Brown University in 1963 under Prof. Leon Cooper (who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1972) with a Ph.D. thesis on superconductivity. He was a postdoctoral in the solid-state materials group at Rutgers University for two years and then did research as a faculty member in the physics department at MIT and at the MIT Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory. At MIT and the Magnet Laboratory he had major research grants in the area of magnetic and superconducting materials development and testing from the NSF and DOE. In 1977 he was appointed Dean of Science, then promoted to Vice President for Research and Corporate Affairs at Brooklyn College. In the 1980s he was a founder and President of BioMagnetech Corporation, a start-up biotechnology company based on the technology of magnetic bacteria and their properties. The company licensed its technology to a major pharmaceutical corporation and obtained development grants from industry and the government. His current position as Vice President for Research and co-director of the New Media Lab includes the coupling of City University faculty and graduate student research with high technology industry for economic development in New York City and elsewhere. The newly established CUNY Institute for Software Design and Development with outreach programs to the software industry reports directly to Dr. Schwartz.
His research interests include superconductivity, magnetism, education, and the new media. He has published over 120 articles in refereed journals, edited or co-edited 8 books, awarded 2 patents, and has given hundreds of talks at meetings, colloquia and seminars. He has consulted for many high technology companies including IBM, Bell Laboratories, and Energy Conversion Devices. He recently completed an NSF grant; Action Physics for inner-city junior high school teachers based on the physics of sports and movement. His current NSF grant is to enhance and expand the career opportunities for Ph.D. students in the sciences into the world of commerce on Wall Street and Internet and media companies in New York City’s Silicon Alley. His current interest in media involves working with graduate students on simulation and visualization for materials research, the science of urban traffic problems and the use of the new media in education.
Mauricio Font (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is director of the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies and Professor of Sociology at The Graduate Center and Queens College, CUNY. Professor Font is the author of The State and the Private Sector in Latin America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). He is co-editor of Handbook of Contemporary Cuba (Paradigm Press, 2013), Handbook on Cuban History, Literature, and the Arts (Paradigm Press, 2014), Cuban Counterpoints: The Legacy of Fernando Ortiz (Lexington Books, 2005), La República Cubana y José Martí (1902-2002) (Lexington Books, 2005), Toward a New Cuba? (Lynne Rienner, 1997) and Integración económica y democratización: América Latina y Cuba (Instituto de Estudios Internacionales, Universidad de Chile, 1998).
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is a German naturalist and explorer who was a major figure in the classical period of physical geography and biogeography—areas of science now included in the earth sciences and ecology. With his book Kosmos he made a valuable contribution to the popularization of science. The Humboldt Current off the west coast of South America was named after him.
In 1804, Alexander von Humboldt concluded a five-year journey of exploration and discovery in South America, New Spain (Mexico) and Cuba with a visit to the United States at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson. This extraordinary expedition established Humboldt as the greatest and most famous geographer and explorer of modern times, and his voyage became the highpoint of a life-long investigation and documentation of the unity of nature. In the course of his American travels, Humboldt collected tens of thousands of specimens of flora and fauna previously unknown to European science. From them grew an exhaustive, thirty-volume account of the journey that Humboldt produced upon his return to Europe. His travel writing is now considered to be groundbreaking. His American experience also moved the politically engaged Humboldt, a man inspired by the Enlightenment and ideals of the French Revolution, to publish books on Cuba and Mexico that offered critiques of colonialism and slavery and strongly advocated on behalf of the native peoples he saw cruelly exploited.
Illustrations from “Cuadros de la Naturaleza” by Alexander von Humboldt (Siglo XXI Editores Mexico, 1999) and “Vistas de las Cordilleras y Monumentos de los Pueblos Indígenas de América” by Alexander von Humboldt (Siglo XXI Editores, 1995)