Project Description

For Humboldt, it was essential "to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces."

“The principal impulse by which I was directed was the earnest endeavor to comprehend the phenomena of physical objects in their general connection and to represent nature as one great whole, moved and animated by internal forces.”
– Alexander von Humboldt, in the preface to Cosmos

The concept of the interconnectedness of nature dictated Humboldt’s approach to all disciplines and forms the basis for conceptualizing different aspects of this project.
Humboldt in Spiegel

Combined with the digital text service, the system will provide additional Web services for data mining and information research.

A dynamic digital library provides innovative ways to read humanistic and scientific texts in context.
The Traditional Digital Library System 

    For Humboldt's most important writings on Latin America, data mining is now available. Fourteen volumes of Humboldt's works in English translation (Personal Narrative of Travels, seven volumes; Aspects of Nature, one volume; Researches . . . and Most Striking Scenes of the Cordilleras, two volumes; and Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain [Mexico], four volumes) have been scanned and digitized and allow users to search for specific words or phrases. The Humboldt Digital Library adheres to the standards established by the Open Archives Initiative (OAI).

The Dynamic Digital Library 

    Our vision of the Humboldt Digital Library goes beyond the traditional system. Humboldt's idea of interconnectedness requires a system of flexible navigation from any point in the digital library to any other related point within or outside Humboldt's works.

    The digital information system is therefore based on modern client-server technology in combination with the document server, map server, and database server. The system integrates the document services with a database containing Humboldt's texts and images in a paragraph structure. Although the initial focus is on Humboldt's works in English translation, we intend to create a structure that accommodates the works written originally in French, along with translations into German and Spanish, thus making efficient comparison of texts possible.

    A further innovative feature of this dynamic system is that it can recreate the context of a particular passage and make it possible to view images, interactive maps, and information about plants, animals, and scientific facts relevant to Humboldt's observations. Although the digital library contributes by making rare books accessible, the greatest advantage of the system will be its capacity to connect data from diverse locations in Humboldt's twenty-nine volumes and allow comparison with modern scientific knowledge and developments.

    Using Google Earth as a navigation tool, we can now demonstrate the flexibility of this system on the basis of selected texts with a view of Humboldt's "Plant Geography" and the visualization of his travels. 

A.v.Humboldt, 1811