ABSTRACT

This contribution builds on the notion of ‘Humboldtian Science’, coined by the American historian of science Susan F. Cannon who, in her book Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period (1978), identifed a constellation of practices, strategies and ideas as typical of the research style of British naturalists during the nineteenth century. Cannon’s explanatory model has been widely accepted and for many different reasons. It became attractive as it seemed to break the deadlock of the ambivalence between idealism and empiricism, leading beyond the narrow perspective of academic disciplines. At the same time, it focused on practices and has become a useful tool to analyze the seemingly everyday activities of naturalists in the field.

This contribution discusses the potential of this concept at different levels and will also show its limits; insofar as it runs the risk of idealizing Humboldt as an already epigonal figure. It will also analyze Humboldt’s connections to Vienna and his influences on natural sciences by focusing on two examples from the earth sciences, the contributions of the palaeontologist and biologist Franz Unger and the geologist and geographer Friedrich Simony. In so doing, it will widen understanding of the impact of Humboldt’s work in Vienna, detecting not only ‘Humboldtian Science’ but also the Humboldtian way of seeing and knowing where it is not expected: in Unger’s Atlantis theory, his visualization of origins of cultivated plants, and his visualization of deep time, as well as Friedrich Simony’s concept of scientific landscape drawings.

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