Distant Explorer: Alexander von Humboldt and California
In this lecture, ICW Director William Deverell and author and researcher Sandra Rebok offer a scholarly perspective on Prussian explorer Alexandar von Humboldt’s abiding and long-term interest in California, as well as California’s interest in Humboldt.
The Humboldt name is prominently featured across the California landscape: Humboldt Bay, Humboldt County, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and elsewhere. Yet despite his desire to do so, Humboldt never visited California or the region now known as the American West.
Nonetheless, California attracted Humboldt's attention as the northern edge of the Spanish Empire and as the western border of the nascent American empire in the nineteenth century. His fascination with the region and his scientific significance help to explain all these cartographic references.
Sandra Rebok’s research focuses on exploration voyages, intellectual networks, and transnational collaborations during the 19th century. She has over 20 years of experience in Humboldtian scholarship, she is the author of several books on Humboldt and the editor of three of his works in Spanish. One of her recent books examines his intellectual exchange with Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson and Humboldt, 2014), while her forthcoming monograph, Humboldt’s Empire of Knowledge, analyzes Humboldt’s position between the Spanish Empire in decline and the expanding United States.
The program is presented by the Huntington–USC Institute on California and the West.