Confronting History: The Legacy of Alexander von Humboldt’s Encounters with the Americas in the Twenty First Century

October 04, 2021 | Kerry Carnahan, Global Partnerships Graduate Assistant

On Wednesday, September 22, 2021, UConn Global Affairs and the German Consulate General Boston co-presented the lunchtime discussion "Confronting History: The Legacy of Alexander von Humboldt's Encounter with the Americas in the Twenty First Century." Discussants were German historian of knowledge Dr. Sandra Rebok, author of several books on Humboldt, and UConn Draper Chair of History Professor Manisha Sinha, historian of the long 19th Century and transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism. Science and Technology Advisor at the German Consulate Lucius Lichte moderated the discussion.  

The purpose of the discussion was to situate Humboldt in the context of modern debates on colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, while also contextualizing Humboldt in his historic setting. As Dr. Rebok argued, Humboldt is an historical figure in need of clarification, having been variously characterized as a Spanish colonial agent, spy for the United States, leader of Latin American independence movements, and defender of Manifest Destiny. Professor Sinha then located Humboldt's views in the broader history of abolition and the German Enlightenment, noting that while Humboldt himself was not necessarily an abolitionist, his arguments and ideas about the unity of humankind were widely used by American abolitionists, notably African Americans and German Americans.  

Both Dr. Rebok and Professor Sinha argued for the need to examine Humboldt more carefully, not only as an Enlightenment polymath, but also as a figure of great importance to American abolitionist movements in both domestic and transnational contexts. View the full program recording below.