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In the footsteps of Humboldt: the German geographer’s expedition to Russia will be repeated 190 years later

Humboldt
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A group of Russian and German scientists has decided to go on an expedition, which will follow the route of German geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Berlin was the starting point of the original route. The next stops were Saint-Petersburg and Moscow, continuing with Volga, Kazan, the Urals and Siberia. The return trip led through the Caspian Sea.

An expedition will take place as part of Alexander von Humboldt’s Legacy Programme. German and Russian mineralogists from Freiberg University of Mining and Technology and the Mining University will take the three weeks lasting trip in June 2019. One of the participants of this expedition is Dr. Ferdinand Damaschun, Humboldt’s biographer and the Deputy Director General of the Natural History Museum in Berlin. Professor told about his own thoughts about the trip.

Ferdinand Damaschun
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

- What is the purpose of scientific expedition "In the footsteps of Humboldt"?

- There are many different goals. First of all, there is an aim to improve and strengthen relations between Russian and German geologists. There is an idea that Humboldt could be a link between our specialists. We also want to emphasize that relationship between our countries can be better. We have common historic roots. Of course, there is also a desire to have a look at those places where Humboldt worked.

- As we know, both professors from Freiberg University of Mining and Technology and the Mining University will participate in this expedition. As such, it is not only an informative trip but also an academic visit, correct?

- Yes, of course. I must say that Humboldt's work was very important for the development of mineralogy. At the Natural History Museum in Berlin, one of our most important expositions is the collection of minerals. The best part of it is the items from the Russian expedition. We are also very interested in finding out what is the current geological state of the rocks, where the minerals were found.

- What events have been planned for this trip – press-conferences, scientific articles, memorial tablets?

- We will study minerals, meet local specialists and take part in a few conferences, where we will talk about Humboldt's contribution to science. One of the events will be held in St. Petersburg and the other one in Omsk.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

- In Germany, people cherish both Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldt’s legacies. A lot of geographical places all over the world were named after Alexander. However, in Russia, their works and achievements are not well-known. Do you think that expedition will help in promoting Alexander’s work?

- I am hoping that this expedition will help popularizing his name. The trip will result in new development, because Humboldt went to Russia not on his own initiative, but he was officially invited. Moreover, it was an invitation from the highest circles.

- Do you have any plans for preserving Humboldt’s legacy – for instance, through establishing on the base of your museum centers for popularizing Humboldt’s work in Western Siberia?

- There is such a hope. I can say that Freiberg University and Saint-Petersburg Mining University have been working together, and it is not scientific tourism, but a serious and intensive cooperation.

- What is your main expectation for the forthcoming trip?

- Of course, three weeks is a relatively short time to make some kind of a global discovery. However, this expedition will hopefully be a source for further research.

Museum für Naturkunde
Фото © Museum für Naturkunde