Call for Papers


VIIIth International and Interdisciplinary Congress: 

"Sciences, Knowledge and Politics: Alexander von Humboldt

and Aimé Bonpland between Europe and Latin America"

SciencesPo / IHEAL Paris, July 4-7 2016


Main outlines of the Conference


Historical research about Alexander von Humboldt has mainly focused on the scientific aspects of his travels and studies. It has analyzed for instance his contribution to the development of the different fields of the “romantic sciences” and to the philosophy of his time. Historians have also examined Humboldt's relationships with other explorers and scientists, in order to consider the results of the diffusion of knowledge between Latin America and Europe and other parts of the world. Historic research has placed Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in the scientific world of their time. Little research, however, has been devoted to the political aspects of their investigation.


For instance, from the 19th century on, the stories and representations of Humboldt’s travels in Latin America with the French botanist Bonpland do not mention the fact that Humboldt needed a passport from the “Consejo de Indias” in order to stay at the Spanish New World. He obtained it only after a sustained campaign in front of the court in Madrid. The imperial context of their research has largely been ignored. The  Tablas geográficas del reino de Nueva España presented by Humboldt after his journey to the Mexican viceroy, is amongst his least well known. He describes in it the political and economic context of the colonies. Other facets are also hardly known like the relationship between Humboldt and different political actors in Latin America, after his return to Europe. Humbodt advised Simon Bolívar and his government, on specialist who might be willing to work for the administration of the different independent states..


Following this perspective, the conference will analyze the different political dimensions of the work and the life of Humboldt and Bonpland, by locating them in the main political currents and ruptures of their time: the world conflicts around the Napoleonic empire, the new political map in Europe and in the world after Napoleon’s fall, but also the world wide debate about the Restauration and the legitimacy of the monarchy and the raise of the nationalism in Europe. The conference will focus on the quite ambivalent and close relationships that Humboldt and his companion, as scientists, had with the European courts and the political and administrative circle of their time. The challenge will also be to get to know their position regarding the liberal movements in Europe and in the Americas and the independence of the Iberian New World. At the same time it is necessary to analyze the implication of their mobilization against slavery (publication of Essais politiques sur l’Ile de Cuba et le Mexique in 1826), and it will be important to analyze how the scientific work of Humboldt, Bonpland and the other scientists of their time was integrated in the large movement of collection, circulation and conservation of a “State knowledge” for the imperial State in the particular context of the reconfiguration of the political relationship between Europe and Latin America (as detailed on Tablas geográficas del reino de Nueva España). Finally, it will be essential as well to ask ourselves about their location in the politics of memory pursued by diverse political regimes of the 19th and 20th century, both in Europe and in Latin America.


Conference sections


  • Humboldt, Bonpland and the Spanish monarchy.
  • Natural history of Latin America: a State’s knowledge.
  • Statistics in Latin America in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Administrative history of Humboldt’s and Bonpland’s travels.
  • Humboldt as seen by the Portuguese and Brazilian Empire.
  • European scientists and Latin-American scientists: an encounter between two worlds?
  • Humboldt, Bonpland and the slavery question in the Americas.
  • Bonpland in Argentina and Paraguay: a European in front of the new Latin-American States.
  • Humboldt, Bonpland and Bolivar: the European scientists and the Latin American independence.
  • The myth and reception of Humboldt and Bonpland in Latin America at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Humboldt and Bonpland and the defense of Human Rights.