Alexander von Humboldt and the Anthropocene Challenge

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Lecture with Dr. Caroline Schaumann (Emory University)

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Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was one of the most important scientific and humanist thinkers of the nineteenth century, with foresights that resonate in many current environmental debates. Rather than describing the physical world around him as static, Humboldt focused on processes and interrelations, studying both the distribution of matter and organisms and their interactions, and looking for bridges and connections that have by now become a defining centerpiece of any ecological inquiry. Dr. Schaumann’s presentation probes Humboldt’s work and its relevance in the Anthropocene, when the concept of “nature” itself has become increasingly tenuous. In an age of climate change, we depend on Humboldtian thinking for 1) its emphasis on the intersectionality of environmental and social concerns, 2) its systems approach in which human activity is part and parcel of an ecosystem, and 3) its acceptance of dynamic change and uncertainty rather than stasis.

Caroline Schaumann is Professor of German Studies at Emory University and affiliated faculty with Film Studies and the Sustainability Minor. Schaumann’s research focuses predominantly on ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, cultural histories of exploration and mountaineering, and the Anthropocene. Her monograph on the cultural history of mountaineering, Peak Pursuits: The Emergence of Mountaineering in the Nineteenth Century, appeared with Yale University Press in July 2020.

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This event is sponsored by the Georgetown University German Department and the American Goethe Society of Washington, DC.

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