Connecting the New World. Nets, Mobility and Progress in the Age of Alexander von Humboldt

von Brescius, Moritz Hans (2012). Connecting the New World. Nets, Mobility and Progress in the Age of Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt im Netz / International Review for Humboldtian Studies (HiN), 13(25), pp. 11-33. Institut für Romanistik, Universität Potsdam 10.18443/168

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This article explores the link between the profound technological transformations of the nineteenth century and the
life and work of the Prussian scholar Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). It analyses how Humboldt sought to
appropriate the revolutionary new communication and transportation technologies of the time in order to integrate
the American continent into global networks of commercial, intellectual and material exchange. Recent scholarship on
Humboldt’s expedition to the New World (1799-1804) has claimed that his descriptions of tropical landscapes opened
up South America to a range of „transformative interventions“ (Pratt) by European capitalists and investors. These
studies, however, have not analysed the motivations underlying Humboldt’s support for such intrusions into nature.
Furthermore, they have not explored the role that such projects played in shaping Humboldt’s understanding of the
forces behind the progress of societies. To comprehend Humboldt’s approval for human interventions in America’s
natural world, this study first explores the role that eighteenth-century theories of progress and the notion of
geographical determinism played in shaping his conception of civilisational development. It will look at concrete
examples of transformative interventions in the American hemisphere that were actively proposed by Humboldt and
intended to overcome natural obstacles to human interaction. These were the use of steamships, electric telegraphy,
railroads and large-scale canals that together enabled global trade and communication to occur at an unprecedented
pace. All these contemporary innovations will be linked to the four motifs of nets, mobility, progress and acceleration,
which were driving forces behind the „transformation of the world“ that took place in the course of the nineteenth

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Institute of History, Modern and Contemporary History

UniBE Contributor:

von Brescius, Moritz Hans


900 History
900 History > 910 Geography & travel
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 970 History of North America
900 History > 980 History of South America




Institut für Romanistik, Universität Potsdam




Moritz Hans von Brescius

Date Deposited:

26 Sep 2019 09:58

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:24

Publisher DOI:





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