Humboldt’s compromise: or, the forgotten geographies of landscape

Claudio Minca

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This paper is about the strategic forgetting of the Humboldtian ‘compromise’. The analysis looks to the ways in which the concept of landscape entered geography as a device uniquely able to match the Romantic imaginary of the emergent European bourgeoisie and this latter's need for a scientific (and a-political) theory of knowledge. Humboldt's geographical idea of landscape was precisely the ‘compromise’ that would provide the bourgeoisie with a new spatial theory. What I claim in this paper, following Franco Farinelli's critical rewriting of the history of European geography, is that the nature of Humboldt's attempt has been essentially cancelled from canonical disciplinary accounts, for a number of historical-political reasons. This accounts for why, even today, despite the achievements of the new cultural geography and the influence of nonrepresentational theories, landscapes all too often continue to be read either as texts or, worse still, as ‘real’ spaces and/or built environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-193
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


  • Alexander von Humboldt
  • history of geography
  • italian geography
  • landscape

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