Alexander von Humboldt was born 250 years ago in Berlin, Prussia, and spent half of his life abroad, notably in Paris. Physicist and naturalist traveler (explorer and travel writer) of the Enlightened and Romantic Europe, he contributed to many scientific fields developed in the early nineteenth century, including physical geography, geology, geomagnetism, plant geography, climatology, and others, and showed the way for a holistic worldview (Weltanschaung), inspiring the pioneers of ecology, the ideas of Biosphere and Gaia, and what historians of natural sciences called “Humboldtian science”, including the human history of Nature.
He names the living world, or Nature, as a whole like no other scientist (cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and ocean currents, not to mention penguins and squid). He explored the Earth as a planet in the solar system from the deepest mines to the highest summits of volcanoes, accompanying the birth of modern geological thought and global geophysics, building the base of what is now called ecology, seen as a set of bio-physico-chemical processes in which Mankind is only one actor among others.
His visionary systems thinking profoundly influenced Darwin, Russian soil scientists, Vernadsky, and still today Lovelock, the ecological movement and what we now call the Earth System Sciences or Earth System Science. Deeply liberal and democratic, admirer of the American and French revolutions, anti-colonialist, his ethnographic and anthropological work and sociology of social misery owe much to his unconventional radical conception of freedom.
The idea of this one-day colloquium on Alexander von Humboldt is to bring together specialists from various disciplines that today cover the many fields that Humboldt's work and ideas have contributed to, in particular in his major unfinished multi-volume masterwork Kosmos (1845-1862), including an index of more of 1100 pages. If possible, a visit to Humboldt's collections at the Museum of Natural History in Paris will be organized. We wish to show how the scientific work of this greatest encyclopedic scientist from the first half of Nineteenth-century Europe is more than ever at the heart of the questions related to our home planet Earth today and to the questions posed by the epistemological and ontological novelty of the Anthropocene concept.
> Organizers: J. Gaillardet (IPGP, U. Paris, IUF) and G. Fumey (Sorbonne U.)
> Scientific committee: J. Gaillardet (IPGP, U. Paris), G. Fumey (Sorbonne U.), F. von Blanckenburg (GFZ Potsdam), B. Latour (Sciences Po, Paris), J. Grinevald (IHEID, Geneva)
Jérôme Gaillardet, équipe de géochimie des enveloppes externes