Contribution of Alexander Von Humboldt in the Field of Geography NTA UGC NET



Alexander von Humboldt led the way in the expansion of geography in and outside of Germany. Humboldt a scholar of great versatility who contributed in the fields of Geography, Geology, Botany, Zoology, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, History, Climatology, and Ecology. Born in an aristocratic family in Prussia and taught by A.G. Warner (the famous geologist), he was an agnostic. He, along with Carl Ritter, is known as the founder of modern geographic thought.

He travelled for about 4000 miles. Humboldt, with French botanist (A. Bonpland), trevelled Madrid (Spain), Cumana Port, Caracas, Lake Valencia, Orinoco river (Venezuela), Cartgona (Colombia), Ecuador, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, and USA.  Alexander Von Humboldt, who discovered the Peruvian cold current that is why Peru Current is known as Humboldt Current. He also examined the numerous volcanoes of Ecuador and climbed the Chimborazo Peak (6267m) and observed the influence of altitude on human body.

His description of “vertical zones of the Northern Andes is a classic. On the coast of Peru, guana – bird droppings were observed which have great value as a manure. In 1806, he made a visit to Vesuvius volcano (Italy). On the basis of his travels and field work he wrote 30 volumes in French, which were subsequently translated into a number of foreign languages.

In 1829, he was invited by the Russian Czar to visit the city of Petersburg where he was entrusted with the task of exploring the virgin lands of Siberia across the Ural Mountains. He reached Kazan, Bogosloski, Tobolosk, Tara, Bersk, Omsk, and finally the border of Mongolia. While returning, he passed through Omsk, Orenburg, and Astrakhan and made a survey of the lowland of the Caspian Sea. Throughout the Siberian expedition, he kept a regular record of temperature and pressure. It was at his advice that a number of meteorological stations were established by the Czar in Siberia. The concept of continentality was also established by Humboldt.  He also coined the term permafrost.

He coined the term ‘cosmography’ and divided it into Uranography and Geography. Uranography is the descriptive astronomy which deals with celestial bodies. Geography is the physical geography which deals with the terrestrial part. He also made a substantive contribution to systematic geography (cosmos) and laid stress on unity of nature.  

In 1845, the monumental work of Humboldt, Kosmos, was published and was well received all over the world. Kosmos, a comprehensive account of the travels and expeditions of Humboldt, was written with the following four objectives.

(i) the definition and limitation of physical description of the world as a special and separate branch of knowledge,

(ii) the empirical aspect of nature,

(iii) the action of nature on the imaginative faculty and emotion of man through the description, poetry, landscape, and painting, and

(iv) the history of natural philosophy in which Humboldt considered “man as a part of the earth”.

He attempted to develop a general picture of distribution of average temperature in the world in relation to the distribution of continents and oceans. The influence of altitude in tropical areas on plants, animals and human life was also studied by him.

His approach was that of inductive method and he emphasised the importance of empirical method of research. The idea of digging the Panama Canal across the Isthmus was put forward by Humboldt. He also made comparative study of different geographical regions, especially that of steppe and the deserts. He believed in the unity of nature and accepted the idea of causal connection. He believed that all races have common origin and no race is superior or inferior.  He was a supporter of Systematic or General Geography in which universal laws, theories, and models need to be formulated.

According to him religion offered three different things to mankind – a moral idealism; a geological dream regarding origin of the Earth and a legend concerning the origins of the religion. “Being an agnostic, Humboldt did not write a word of praise for the creator ‘God’.”

Alexander Von Humboldt Key Points for Exam Perspective:

(1) Father of Modern Geography & founder of Systematic Geography.

(2) He coined the term ‘Cosmography’, & divided it into Uranography and Geography.

(3) He follows Inductive and Empirical Method of research.

(4) He was a supporter of Systematic Geography.

(5) Alexander Von Humboldt discovered Peruvian cold current.

(6) He coined the term permafrost.

(7) He introduced the word Climatology

(8) The concept of continentality concept was also established by Humboldt.

(9) He advocated the concept of Zusammenhang (Hanging together)

(10) He believed in the ‘Unity of Nature’

(11)  Important book- Kosmos (1845) & Asia Central


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