Transcript 23 will be a new collection, edited by Jenny Haase and Joanna Neilly: German Romanticism and Latin America: New Connections in World Literature. This is one of five new titles being announced today in what has become a very dynamic series: the others are here, here, here, and here.
We usually think of Latin America as being, well, Latin: or at any rate, as having been plundered by Spain, with Germany not really a part of its story. But then again, Alexander von Humboldt was German. This was a man who now has entire mountain ranges named after him on multiple continents: in New Zealand, Antarctica and the United States. Possessed with the breathtaking ambition of his age, Humboldt obtained permission from the Bourbon monarchy of Spain to go more or less wherever he chose in the interests of science. He then spent five years in Venezuela, Cuba, the Andes, what is now Mexico, and what was already the United States. He wrote a four thousand page diary, had the ear of presidents and kings, and became a living legend. If any single person in the nineteenth century could have directed all the nations of the whole world to some common enterprise, Humboldt was that person. His journals made a new kind of travel-writing respecable; he was painted many times, often amid exotic ruins and landscapes. Many followed in his footsteps, even if only from their armchairs. And though Germany's colonisation of Latin America was more imaginary than actual, it was not without consequences.
Someone who has followed Humboldt in real life, however, is the contemporary artist Alexander Glandien, who makes collages of Humboldt's painted adventures with present-day photographs. The cover of our book is his extraordinary composite view of the dormant volcano Mt Chimborazo (6263m), the highest peak in Ecuador. In June 1802, Humboldt made a reckless bid to climb Chimborazo, and in fact did manage to reach a point 5875m high before turning back for lack of oxygen, which is a good thousand meters higher than the entirety of Western Europe. Had he made it right to that white-tipped summit, he would have stood at the furthermost point from the centre of the Earth.
German Romanticism and Latin America is due out in our Transcript series in 2022.