Annals of Science 69 (1):27-68 (2012)

Summary From summer 1792 until spring 1797, Alexander von Humboldt was a mining official in the Franconian parts of Prussia. He visited mines, inspected smelting works, calculated budgets, wrote official reports, founded a mining school, performed technological experiments, and invented a miners? lamp and respirator. At the same time he also participated in the Republic of Letters, corresponded with savants in all Europe, and was a member of the Leopoldine Carolinian Academy and the Berlin Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde. He collected minerals, made geognostic observations, performed chemical and physiological experiments, read the newest scientific journals, and prepared and published texts on mineralogy, geognosy, chemistry, botany and physiology. Humboldt did his scientific investigations alongside his administrative and technical work. This raises the question of whether there were fruitful interactions between Humboldt's technical-administrative work and (parts of) his natural inquiry. I argue that the mining official Humboldt was a late eighteenth-century figure of hybrid savant-technician. Mines and smelting works provided numerous opportunities for studies of nature. Humboldt systematically used inspection tours for mineralogical and geognostic observations. He transformed mines into chemical laboratories, and he transferred knowledge and material items from his natural inquiries in mines to academic institutions. The main objective of this paper is to illuminate the persona of savant-technician (or scientific-technological expert) along with Humboldt's mixed technological and scientific work during his term as mining official
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DOI 10.1080/00033790.2011.609071
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