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Alexander von Humboldt and the Earth System Sciences

Alexandre von Humboldt et les sciences du système Terre

Alexander von Humboldt and the Earth System Sciences

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Published on Tuesday, October 15, 2019


L'idée de ce colloque d'une journée sur Alexandre von Humboldt est de réunir des spécialistes de diverses disciplines qui couvrent aujourd'hui les nombreux domaines auxquels le travail et les idées de von Humboldt ont contribué, en particulier dans son œuvre maîtresse Kosmos (1845-1862). Nous voulons montrer comment le travail scientifique de ce plus grand encyclopédiste de la première moitié de l'Europe du XIXe siècle est plus que jamais au cœur des questions liées à notre planète d'origine, la Terre, et aux questions posées par notre entrée dans l’Anthropocène.



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.


Oral sessions

Nov. 22nd, 2019, 9:00

Opening and Introduction

Session: Literature, history of sciences and political sciences.

Chairman : B. Latour (Sc. Po Paris)

  • Laura Dassow Walls (U. Notre-Dame, USA)
  • Ottmar Ette (U. Potsdam)
  • John Tresch (U. London)

Nov. 22th, 2019, 11:00

Session: Natural sciences (geophysical, ecological, critical zone sciences).

Chairman : S. Dutreuil (CNRS)

  • Jean-Paul Poirier (IPGP)
  • Friedhelm von Blanckenburg (GFZ Potsdam, Freie U. Berlin)
  • Stephen T. Jackson (USGS and U. of Arizona)

12:30-14:00: Buffet and poster session

14:00-18:00: Workshops

Workshops will aim at crossing disciplinary different points of view around Alexander von Humboldt visions at the time of the Anthropocene debate:

Theme 1: Nature, cosmos, ecology:how the public awareness of the current Anthropocene crisis allows us rethinking our relationship and dependency to the Earth?

Moderator: A. Dahan (CNRS)


  • S. Brönnimann (U. Bern)
  • C. Hoorn (U. Amsterdam)
  • J. Grine-vald (IHEID)
  • O. Ette (U. Potsdam)

Theme 2: Science and communication:With the emergence of the Anthropocene, how does Humboldt's though help to overcome the disconnections between scientific expertise and social and political actors?

Moderator: S. Boudia (U. Paris)


  • M. N. Bourguet (U. Paris Diderot)
  • L. Peaud (U. Grenoble-Alpes)
  • S. revsmühl (EHESS)
  • G. FarinelliF (U. Bologne)

18:00: Conclusing remarks by M. Lussault (ENS Lyon)

Humboldt and the Anthropocene


  • J. Gaillardet (IPGP, U. Paris, IUF), G. Fumey (Sorbonne U.)
  • Scientic advisory board
  • J. Gaillardet (IPGP)
  • G. Fumey (Sorbonne U)
  • F. von Blanckenburg (GFZ Potsdam)
  • B. Latour (Sc. Po)
  • J. Grinevald (IHEID, Geneva)

contact: gaillardet@ipgp.fr, gilles.fumey@gmail.com

Registration is mandatory


  • Friday, November 22, 2019


  • Humboldt, ecology, Earth Science, anthropocene, cosmopolitique


  • Gaillardet Jérôme
    courriel : gaillardet [at] ipgp [dot] fr
  • FUMEY Gilles
    courriel : gilles [dot] fumey [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Gaillardet Jérôme
    courriel : gaillardet [at] ipgp [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Alexander von Humboldt and the Earth System Sciences », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, https://calenda.org/687298

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