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Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire$
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Felix Driver and Luciana Martins

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780226164717

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226164700.001.0001

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The Stimulations of Travel: Humboldt's Physiological Construction of the Tropics

The Stimulations of Travel: Humboldt's Physiological Construction of the Tropics

(p.43) 3 The Stimulations of Travel: Humboldt's Physiological Construction of the Tropics
Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire

Michael Dettelbach

University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses Humboldt's preoccupations with tropical travel that is connected here to a late Enlightenment culture of sensibility. Humboldt—and those who followed in his footsteps, many quite literally—saw the tropics as a site for enacting a new model of the self, which visions of tropical nature helped to sustain. Humboldt's account of the American tropics is pervaded by physiology, especially a close attention to his own physiological and aesthetic responses to outside stimuli—a trait shared with many diarists and letter writers of the late eighteenth century. This physiological scaffolding was put in place in the decade before he left for America, as an experimental philosopher and Prussian official. This chapter examines the function of one's own physiology through several examples. It suggests that attending to the effects of the tropics on one's own physiology (including aesthetic effects) was critical to establishing one's authority as a philosophical traveler. The tropics exemplified the rule of nature for Humboldt; they could only perform this function in relation to other, quite different sites for fashioning self and nature: the laboratories and mines of Europe.

Keywords:   travel, tropics, physiology, philosopher, nature

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