Chapter

Humboldt's Instruments

in The Romantic Machine

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226812205
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226812229 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226812229.003.0003
Humboldt's Instruments

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André-Marie Ampère was firmly embedded in the social and intellectual milieu of Paris during the romantic period, frequenting salons and journals and staying in touch with his Lyonnais friends, anti-Laplacean scientists, and the thinkers surrounding Maine de Biran. One of his colleagues was the Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt, a fixture in Parisian social and intellectual scenes from 1804 to 1827 and an ambassador for German romanticism and Naturphilosophie. Humboldt's lifework culminated in Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe, in which he provides an overview of all past and present knowledge of the earth and the heavens. His geophysical research, built around interest in the environmental effects of electricity and magnetism, borrowed heavily from Immanuel Kant's and Friedrich Schiller's conceptions of beauty. Humboldt used geophysical instruments to measure the global distributions of heat, humidity, electricity, and terrestrial magnetism. In his life and work, he combined the aesthetics and holism of German natural philosophy with the precision and “quantitative spirit” of French physics.

Keywords: Alexander von Humboldt; electricity; terrestrial magnetism; aesthetics; holism; natural philosophy; physics; geophysical instruments; Immanuel Kant; Friedrich Schiller

Chapter.  10956 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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