Political Essay on the Island of Cuba
A Critical Edition
The research Alexander von Humboldt amassed during his five-year trek through the Americas in the early nineteenth-century proved foundational to the fields of botany, geography, and geology. But his visit to Cuba during this time yielded observations that extended far beyond the natural world. Political Essay on the Island of Cuba is a physical and cultural study of the island nation. In it, Humboldt denounces colonial slavery on both moral and economic grounds and stresses the vital importance of improving intercultural relations throughout the Americas.
Humboldt’s most controversial book, Political Essay on the Island of Cuba was banned, censored, and willfully mistranslated to suppress Humboldt’s strong antislavery sentiments. It reemerges here, newly translated from the original two volume French edition, to introduce a new generation of readers to Humboldt’s astonishing multiplicity of scientific and philosophical perspectives. In their critical introduction, Vera Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette emphasize Humboldt’s rare ability to combine scientific rigor with a cosmopolitan consciousness and a deeply felt philosophical humanism. The result is a work on Cuba of historical import that will attract historians of science as well as cultural historians, political scientists, and literary scholars.
“Vera Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette’s critical edition of the Political Essay on the Island of Cuba is a major contribution to the many disciplines through which von Humboldt moved—anthropology, geography, history, mineralogy, political science, meteorology, etc.—and evidence that he was a true savant with the eye of a scientist and the soul of an artist. As a book on Cuba, the Political Essay is as important as those by Fernando Ortiz, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Alejo Carpentier, and José Lezama Lima. I wish there were as good an edition of it in Spanish.”
“It is astounding that a work of such importance as Humboldt’s Political Essay on the Island of Cuba, written nearly two centuries ago, should have remained so long without a full and reliable translation into English. That we now have such a translation, in a superb critical edition, is something for which scholars of Cuba in particular, and America in general, will be truly grateful. That this is only the first of a series of new translations by the Alexander von Humboldt in English Project is even better news.”
“A monumental essay with a colorful textual and editorial history. Cuba played a central role in Humboldt’s travels to the Americas and represents a significant, if often underrepresented, stage in the development of his thinking about the social and scientific nature of the New World. The Political Essay is a fascinating document that will find an appreciative audience in those with an interest in the history of Cuba, the Caribbean, and the comparative history of slavery throughout the Atlantic World.”
“Previous translations of this book, Humboldt’s pivotal work on the Americas, have tamed his prose or even twisted his views. To read what Humboldt actually wrote, in this scrupulous, clear, and modern translation, is to embark on a truly encyclopedic adventure in history. This is more than an exploration of Cuba on the brink of modernity: Humboldt enacts a profoundly new paradigm of making knowledge, in which facts emerge from a welter of global and interdisciplinary interconnections. This primary and foundational work, a landmark of physical and cultural geography that includes one of the era’s most important denunciations of slavery, in one stroke reorients the study of the Americas and reinvents the making of knowledge, a way that just might be equal to the dire challenges of the twenty-first century.”
1.Inventories and Inventions: Alexander von Humboldt’s Cuban Landscapes.
An Introduction by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette
2. Note on the Text
3. Political Essay on the Island of Cuba
5. Alexander von Humboldt’s Library
7. Editorial Note
8. List of Contributors
Name and Subject IndexToponym Index