AvH250: Imagining Interdisciplinary Research for the 21st Century from a 19th Century Perspective (2019-2020)

Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) was a 19th-century German scientist most noted for bringing together different scientific and historical perspectives on Earth and the environment in his seminal multivolume work, Kosmos. At its core, his research sought to unify disparate fields of science, knowledge and culture.

This Bass Connections project was rooted in a cross-disciplinary exploration of the history of AvH toward imagining how future interdisciplinary scholarship can be performed. Key aims were to:

  • Study AvH’s career and history. The project team read and discussed Andrea Wulf’s Invention of Nature, which focuses on Humboldt’s extraordinary life, relationships and lasting influence.
  • Study AvH’s seminal contributions. The team read Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe (Foundations of Natural History) and documented its contribution to a broader understanding of the environment, including human interactions.
  • Convene a conference of interdisciplinary scholars to map AvH’s contributions to the development of their fields. The team organized and led a meeting of approximately 100 scholars from the U.S. and Germany to reflect and report on AvH’s contribution to their disciplines.
  • Document emergent themes and make recommendations for future interdisciplinary scholarship. The team prepared a report summarizing their takeaways from this project and charting a path forward for interdisciplinary scholarship.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

Team Outcomes

Forever Humboldt!! Daniel Richter, Juan Llano Caldas, Chelsea Sloggy, Avery Davis. 2020. Durham, NC: Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery.

This Team in the News

Said@Duke: Andrea Wulf on Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt

Image: Alexander von Humboldt and the university, by Sami, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Alexander von Humboldt and the university.

Team Leaders

  • Zackary Johnson, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Daniel Richter, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Catherine McMillan, History (AB)
  • Nicole Schwartz

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Paul Baker, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Climate Sciences
  • Emily Bernhardt, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • James Clark, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Stefani Engelstein, Arts & Sciences-Germanic Languages and Literature
  • Deborah Jenson, Arts & Sciences-Romance Studies
  • Rob Mitchell, Arts & Sciences-English
  • Priscilla Wald, Arts & Sciences-English