2019 Lecture

"The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World"

by Andrea Wulf


Andrea WulfThe year 2019 marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), one of the most brilliant scientists to ever live and the most famous scientist of his age. To explore his legacy, award-winning author Andrea Wulf (The Invention of Nature) gave the Lynn Day Lectureship in Forest and Conservation History on Tuesday, October 1st. You can watch the lecture video through our YouTube channel by following this link.

A Prussian by birth, a geologist and mining inspector by training, Alexander von Humboldt’s restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether climbing the highest volcanoes in the world, paddling down the Orinoco River, or racing through anthrax-infested Siberia. Perceiving nature as an interconnected global force, Humboldt discovered similarities between climate zones across the world and predicted human-induced climate change. Humboldt influenced politics, evolution, ecology, conservation, art, and literature. He turned scientific observation into poetic narrative, inspiring naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, and Goethe but also politicians such as Thomas Jefferson. Andrea Wulf argues that Humboldt influenced Simón Bolívar's revolt against Spain, John Muir's ideas of preservation, and Henry Thoreau’s writing of Walden, to name just a few of the many.

Andrea Wulf is the author of five acclaimed books, including The Brother Gardeners, Chasing Venus, and Founding Gardeners.

The Lynn W. Day Distinguished Lectureship in Forest and Conservation History is sponsored by the Forest History Society, the Duke University Department of History, and the Nicholas School of the Environment. This year's lecture has received additional support from Bass Connections at Duke University.