Alexander von Humboldt might not be a name you know, but you can bet you know his ideas. Back when the United States were a wee collection of colonies huddled on the eastern seaboard, colonists found the wilderness surrounding them scary. It took a zealous Prussian explorer with a thing for barometers to show the colonists what they couldn’t see: a global ecosystem, and their own place in nature. In this episode, we learn how Humboldt—through science and art—inspired a key part of America’s national identity.
Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture will be on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2020.