If Humboldt were on Twitter today

He liked to formulate succinct sentences and deliver punch lines. He took a stand against slavery, colonialism and environmental destruction. What stance would Humboldt take on current issues? We present his quotes in a new light.

Philadelphia, United States: cyclist in city traffic, December 2016
Philadelphia, United States: cyclist in city traffic, December 2016
Photo: iStock / Peeter Viisimaa

“Ideas can only be of use if they start living in many minds.”

From Humboldt to Ludwig Bullmann, Cumaná (Venezuela), 13 October 1799

Anti-fracking protest against planned test drilling by the British energy company Cuadrilla in Balcombe, UK, 2013.
Anti-fracking protest against planned test drilling by the British energy company Cuadrilla in Balcombe, UK, 2013.
Photo: iStock / rsokoloff

“Gold digging is a European disease, which borders on mania.”

Travel Journal, visit to Honda (Colombia), 18 – 22 June 1801

On Idjwi Island, part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a member of the NGO Doctors Without Borders examines a child with cholera.
On Idjwi Island, part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a member of the NGO Doctors Without Borders examines a child with cholera.
Photo: Marta Soszynska / MSF

“It is not enough to complain; one has to work at remedying the complaints.”

From Humboldt to Wilhelm Gabriel Wegener, Berlin, 3 June 1788

Brayton Point Power Station in the U.S, state of Massachusetts. The facility was shut down in 2017.
Brayton Point Power Station in the U.S, state of Massachusetts. The facility was shut down in 2017.
Photo: iStock / Fernando Podolski

„The climate of the continents [is dependent on the changes] which humans call forth on the surface of the land masses [...] by the production of huge masses of steam and gas in the centres of industry.“

„Central Asia. Investigations of the Mountain Ranges and Comparative Climatology.“, 1844

São Paulo, Brazil: Indigenous people protest against threats to ancestral land rights in 2015.
São Paulo, Brazil: Indigenous people protest against threats to ancestral land rights in 2015.
Photo: Getty Images / Frank Grace

„The Indios share the same fate as the Africans: If they are not actually being massacred, they are thought to be thriving.“

Travel Journal, Lima (Peru), 23 October - 24 December 1802

Donald Trump, seen here before he became US President, being driven through New York in a limousine (December 1999).
Donald Trump, seen here before he became US President, being driven through New York in a limousine (December 1999).
Photo: Jeffrey Salter / The New York Times / Reduxf / laif

„Truth itself is precious, but even more precious is the ability to find it.“

To Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Hamburg, 3 October 1790

On 30.01.2018, migrants are brought to Augusta, Sicily, on board the MS Aquarius by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders. In Augusta, the corpses of two passengers are recovered from the boat
On 30.01.2018, migrants are brought to Augusta, Sicily, on board the MS Aquarius by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders. In Augusta, the corpses of two passengers are recovered from the boat
Photo: picture alliance / Laurin Schmid / SOS MEDITERRANEE

“To argue about which nation treats the blacks with greater humanity is to ridicule the word humanity and to ask whether it is pleasanter to have your stomach slit open or be tortured.”

Travel Journal, Guayaquil (Ecuador), 4 January – 17 February 1803

Departures and arrivals board at Frankfurt airport
Departures and arrivals board at Frankfurt airport
Photo: picture alliance / Ulrich Baumgarten

“The moment one leaves Europe for the first time has something poignant about it. When one then clearly calls to mind how busy the traffic is between the two worlds, how easily – thanks to the enormous progress in seafaring – one can now cross the Atlantic, which, in comparison with the Pacific, is a not very wide estuary, the feeling that one is embarking on a long journey for the first time always has something deeply moving about it.”

Equinoctial Regions, 1814

The homepage of the social network "Facebook"
The homepage of the social network "Facebook"
Photo: Unsplash

“I thoroughly detest people who are always gauging and weighing up whether it would be beneficial to grant someone or other their friendship.“

To Wilhelm Gabriel Wegener, Berlin, 24 February 1788

Visitors to the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, Nevada, marvel at OLED lighting technology (January 2018).
Visitors to the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, Nevada, marvel at OLED lighting technology (January 2018).
Photo: GettyImages / DAVID MCNEW

“The amazing colours of the birds, the fish, even the crabs (sky blue and yellow!). We have been running around like fools; in the first three days, we couldn’t classify anything, constantly throwing one thing aside to seize on something else. Bonpland assures me that he will lose his mind if the miracles do not stop soon. I sense that I will be happy here and that these impressions will continue to exhilarate me in the future.“

To Wilhelm von Humboldt, Cumasa (Venezuela), 16 July 1799

A cobalt mine in the Congo, where workers risk their lives for a wage of about three dollars a day. One of the products for which the raw material is needed is the smartphone.
A cobalt mine in the Congo, where workers risk their lives for a wage of about three dollars a day. One of the products for which the raw material is needed is the smartphone.
Photo: Getty Images / The Washington Post

“The larger the colonies and the more rigorous the European governments in their political malice, all the more will the immorality of the colonies have to increase.“

Travel Journal, Guayaquil (Ecuador), 4 January – 17 February 1803

Los Angeles, California: A protester and an opponent of immigration clash during a demonstration by Latinos against Donald Trump’s migration policy (1st May 2018).
Los Angeles, California: A protester and an opponent of immigration clash during a demonstration by Latinos against Donald Trump’s migration policy (1st May 2018).
Photo: Getty Images / David McNew

“The fortune of the white race is profoundly interwoven with the copper-coloured race. There will never be lasting fortune in either of the Americas until this long-suppressed and humiliated, but not degraded, race enjoys all the advantages that ensue from the progress of civilisation and the improvement of the social order.“

New Spain, Volume 5, first published in French in 1811

Red telephone box and fuel dock at Marina Cay, British Virgin Islands
Red telephone box and fuel dock at Marina Cay, British Virgin Islands
Photo: istockphoto / cdwheatley

“The very idea of a colony is itself immoral, the idea of a country that is compelled to pay tributes to another, is one of a country in which one can only reach a certain degree of affluence; in which hard work and diligence, the enlightenment, may only spread up to a certain point.“

Travel Journal, Guayaquil (Ecuador), 4 January – 17 February 1803

In Tesso Nilo National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, protected forest areas are being illegally cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.
In Tesso Nilo National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, protected forest areas are being illegally cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.
Photo: istockphoto / Clarbondioxide

“If one fells the trees that cover the peaks and slopes of the mountains, one undoubtedly causes two-fold adversity for generations to come in all climate zones: a lack of fire wood and water. Thanks to their characteristics of transpiration and the radiation of their leaves against a cloudless sky, the trees are constantly surrounded by cool, humid air; …“

Equinoctial Regions, 1820

Pope Francis at the weekly General Audience in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on 24 October 2018.
Pope Francis at the weekly General Audience in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on 24 October 2018.
Photo: picture alliance / Pacific Press

“In these latitudes, it is difficult for a European to remain a decent person, where impunity prevails even amongst the clergy, so that I ask God every day not to let me die here because I would undoubtedly be damned. “

Travel Journal, Guayaquil (Ecuador), 4 January – 17 February 1803

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