He traveled not to conquer, but to explore. Alexander von Humboldt always kept nature in view - and his pen at the ready to record everything he saw.
"The most dangerous worldview is the view of those who have never looked at the world," said Alexander von Humboldt. It was perhaps as a small dig at his colleagues, whose research and exploratory journeys often led to conquest and exploitation. Humboldt acted differently: He researched his discoveries with precision and respect for the place he had explored.
On his famous trip down the Orinoco River during a tour of the South American tropics with the botanist Aimé Bonpland, Humboldt was undeterred by the most adverse circumstances: "For four months we slept in forests surrounded by crocodiles, boas and jaguars ... enjoying nothing but rice, ants ... and sometimes monkeys." They drank water from the Orinoco and had to protect themselves from mosquitoes that "darkened the air."
The Orinoco River odyssey was one of many epic expeditions that Humboldt summarized in his travel diaries of the Americas. Every incident and deadly encounter is meticulously detailed across 4,500 manuscript pages, accompanied by around 450 sketches and drawings. Each page shows how his view of this new world evolved.
You can view Humboldt's American travel diaries online via the digitized collection of the Berlin State Library.
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