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Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the
Island of Cuba: A Critical Edition (edited by Vera
M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette) (Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. xxvi+519, \$65.00, hbViews of the Cordilleras and
Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the
Americas: A Critical Edition (edited by Vera M.
Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette) (Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 2013), pp. xxxvii +618, \$65.00, hb.
Journal of Latin American Studies / Volume 45 / Issue 04 / November 2013, pp 813 - 815
DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X1300120X, Published online: 13 November 2013
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0022216X1300120X
How to cite this article:
JAMES DUNKERLEY (2013). Journal of Latin American Studies, 45, pp 813-815 doi:10.1017/S0022216X1300120X
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J. Lat. Amer. Stud. (). doi:./SXX
Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Island of Cuba: A Critical
Edition (edited by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette) (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, ), pp. xxvi+, $., hb; and Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas: A Critical Edition (edited by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette) (Chicago, IL: University of
Chicago Press, ), pp. xxxvii+, $., hb.
These superbly edited volumes constitute two-thirds of the Alexander von Humboldt in English project led by professors Kutsinki and Ette from late and now published by the University of Chicago Press. The final part of the project will be the
Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, which, like the two volumes under review, formed part of Humboldt’s monumental Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent (–) relating to his expedition of – to the
Americas in the company of the botanist Aimé Bonpland. Equally, like the present books, the forthcoming title on Mexico will present to readers of English, in the form of a single volume, an unprecedented and fully annotated translation of an early edition which Kutzinski and Ette deem to be the most authentic and least expurgated of the sundry versions available from the first decades of the nineteenth century onwards. In the case of the highly controversial volume on Cuba, they take the twovolume revised and expanded French edition of ; the basis for the Views of the
Cordilleras is the first two-volume Vues des Cordillères of . Because of the scale of the enterprise and the perennial disputes over editions of Humboldt, it is worth noting here that the present volume on Cuba is translated by J. Bradford Anderson,
Vera M. Kutzinski and Anja Becker, whilst Views is translated by J. Ryan Poynter. It is very hard to imagine that any scholarly edition will supersede these over the coming century or, indeed, the same span of time – years – that now separates readers from the original translations by Helen Maria Williams (Humboldt was half-French, wrote his diary alternately in French and German, and only moved from Paris to his
Berlin birthplace in ). By the same token, these titles are probably not the best starting place for the ‘general reader’ lacking prior knowledge of Humboldt, since most of the apparatus is highly specialised and, whilst admirably unponderous, the introductory settings here are quite succinct and serve almost as aides-mémoires rather than full adumbrations on author and texts. Those requiring fuller context would be best directed to Laura Dassow Walls’ The Passage to Cosmos (University of Chicago
Press, ), or the special issue of Atlantic Studies edited by Vera Kutzinski in .
Kutzinski and Ette are distinguished experts on Humboldt, and it is not perhaps such a surprise that both started their scholarly careers with research on Cuban and
Caribbean literature (Ette wrote his doctorate on Martí; Kutzinski has translated
Guillén). Both subsequently promoted ‘trans-area studies’ in their universities (the
Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt and Potsdam International Network for
TransArea Studies), and both plainly seek to uphold Humboldt’s interleaving of science and sensibility, the local and the global-cosmic. There is, then, in the apparatus
J. Lat. Amer. Stud. , – © Cambridge University Press http://journals.cambridge.org Downloaded: 12 Mar 2015 IP address: 126.96.36.199 of these editions, both an attention to detail that should satisfy the most punctilious empirical specialist and a Weltbewusstein (world consciousness) that addresses the concerns of those who discern in Humboldt an intellectual figure bestriding the
Enlightenment, post-Napoleonic Romanticism, and the age of Darwinian science.
The editorial format is the same for both books: an introductory synoptic essay of some pages; a note that explains the low level of visible editorial interruption of the main body of the text; the text itself (and illustrations); a list of annotations (roughly pages for each book); a partial listing of the contents of Humboldt’s library (at pages this does not pretend to itemise the original holding of some , volumes, most of which were destroyed in the Sotheby’s fire of ); a chronology; an editorial note explaining the publishing history of each book and outlining the protocols followed for referencing, selection of plates and tables, and so on; an index of names; a subject index; and a toponymic index. There the similarities end, however, for while this edition of Political Essay on the Island of Cuba contains two maps (those of and ), it has no further illustrative material. Views of the Cordilleras and