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tv   American Artifacts Alexander von Humboldt the United States Exhibit...  CSPAN  January 1, 2021 12:39pm-1:26pm EST

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abolition and salavery and colonialism. he will sort of tackle jefferson on this point, but he doesn't want to jeopardize the friendship, so he doesn't go all in saying, boy, you really need to abolish slavery, but he will take the opportunity the next 50 years to prgedrti-e to anyone else he can find in a desperate attempt to make this a better country. so the next step is to look at humboldt the humanitarian. previously on "american artifac artifacts," curator eleanor h d hardy introduced us to alexander von humboldt who visited the united states in 1964. next, in a two-part story of the
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exhibit, eleanor harvey visits from describing alexander vvon humboldt as a scientist. >> he wrote a letter to secretary of state james madison in which he said, i intended to enjoy the spectacle of a free people worthy of a great destiny. he is beginning to nudge that he has more at stake here than just, will jefferson meet him and will he get information from the louis and clark expedition? he wants to have an effect on our politics. while he is in washington, charles wilson peel will take him to mt. vernon. there are two reasons for that, really. george washington has died five years earlier, so this is now a shrine to america's first president, the man who refused to become a monarch, who chose
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to resign rather than take on the trappings of a perpetual president. and so humboldt wants to see this place, but the people he wants to talk to are the people who were former sleevaves. and we chose this painting of mt. vernon because it doesn't focus on the portico overlooking the potomac river, which is always where you see portraits of lafayette and others, he wanted the slave quarters. every single person who shows up in this painting is black. and so for humboldt, what he wanted to understand was how we could sanction slavery, how we could not understand that this could be the fatal flaw in our makeup. as early as 1825, he will write in despair to one of his friends in germany that if we can't get this figured out, if we can't become a truly free nation, it will probably tear us apart from
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within. he's a little ahead of his time, but kicking the can down the road on this is something humboldt feels does not have a happy outcome. and so this painting and this visit, i think, are disproportionately important to our understanding of humboldt's position on abolition. so what happens after that? well, what happens is, in an intersection of exploration and politics and abolition, we have john c. fremont. fremont is the american pathfinder. he is also called the american humboldt in an exploratory context. he takes four expeditions out west. he's looking for exploratory routes for railroads before we get to the transcontinental railroad after the civil war. so what fremont does when he is out in the american wilderness, he is naming everything he can after humboldt. he is the reason we have the humboldt basin, the humboldt river, the humboldt mountains.
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eventually he is the reason we have humboldt county, california, and if you want to go to a second degree of separation, he is the reason for the naming of humboldt cheese. everything around the world that's named for humboldt is named for our boy alex, and that means like 80 features in the united states from towns to streets to monuments to geographic features, all named for humboldt during his lifetime. humboldt takes notice. in fact, he will fold fremont's information into his books, because fremont is out there again, channelling his inner humboldt, taking the same kinds of measurements, exposing himself to the same dangers, refli i reveling in the fact that he is almost killing himself on a daily basis for his idol humboldt. when they split from the wiig
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party, humboldt will write a letter supporting fremont's candidacy. he will get into politics. when fremont loses to buchanan, the third-party vote, when willard fillmore is scripted to be the middle candidate, takes off enough votes to make sure fremont will lose. it is deliberately on an abolitionist platform that humboldt ends up sanctioning. so the brains behind the fremont operation is really his wife, jessie benton fremont, the daughter of the senator thomas art benton. he's not crazy about his daughter's choice in a husband, but she will write most of his exploratory narratives. he will pace the floor and tell his stories and she will transcribe them and polish them. she will do the same thing for his political speeches, and
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during the civil war, she will become involved with the new york sanitary fair, the great metropolitan fair that will eventually give us the metropolitan museum of art, and she makes sure this painting by albert beerstodt is included. it is sold to james lenox of the lenox library which becomes the public library for the biggest work of art paid for. the fremonts live in california. they live not far from yosemite. they are good friend with beerstadt. california and specifically yosemite are starting to be perceived as niagara and natural bridge are as a landscape untainted by slavery, a landscape construed as having no north and no south. it's the west. it's a new eden, a chance to
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start over again in a post-manslaughtpost post-emancipation america. so in the fremonts' home in new york, there are paintings by beerstadt in california, there are books by humboldt, and there are these three abolitionist sculptures. there are john rogers' terra cottas of a friend in the swamp, an escaped slave man helping a wounded soldier to safety at risk of his own safety and the slave auction, the most incendiary things that john rogers did, watching a family being separated at an auction that also includes horses and cattle. it is these things that become political statements in new york and within the abolitionist community. they also own a casting of the freedman by john quincy adams ward, which i find the singlemost uplifting and
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riveting sculpture on the subject of abolition that's done in the united states. the interesting thing about the fremonts' casting is jessie has a fragment from one of the cannons at fort wagner where goldshaw and the massachusetts 54th commemorated where they met their end. she takes the cannon fragment and sends it to the sculptor and sculpture. there is this deliberate constructed effort to create this abolitionist shrine in their homes as a way of understanding the life they want to live, the principles they will live for. it's little wonder that humboldt thought so highly of fremont. this is the guy he's been waiting for, and it's killing him that he doesn't win the presidency because it's like, you were so close. but humboldt never gives up on us, and i think that's really important because certainly he got frustrated. he kept talking about the fact
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that, i feel like i'm half an american, but that half that i'm withholding has to do with the fact that i really don't like your politics. so he is hoping to win full americanness, if you will, by basically encouraging, goading, pushing, prodding us to be our better selves. humboldt's souvenirs are really important, too, because you have amber fremont's campaign pieces, with his slogan, fremont and freedom, down underneath his likeness. william cohen bryant who takes over the evening post, which is the old abolitionist newspaper, his 70th birthday he is celebrated as a landscape poet and as sort of the a father figure for the landscape painters, but he's also celebrated for being an abolitionist. so someone gives him an inscribed photograph from humboldt for his 70th birthday,
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knowing how much he'll cherish that. i mention ted the sanitary fairn 1864. humboldt had written letters excoriating daniel webster. he said, i used to like webster, but how can you do this? the letter was sent to john matthews who did us the courtesy of translating it, because humboldt's handwriting is terrible in every language, and making it into kind of a large-scale playing card that has the original letter on one side and the transcription on the other, and they are handed out to union soldiers for inspiration. this particular one was sent to abraham lincoln with a letter that says, i know you're familiar with humboldt's words. i'm sure they give you great comfort at times like this. humboldt is still part of the conversation. three of the six members of john brown's secret six are diehard
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humboldt fans. as he is planning harper ferry's in 1959 are they designed for freedom and that we believe in the unity of unity of all of the race, and if not, why not? how could he have avoided it at the time? so, this case is really to try to talk a little bit about saturation. that it is permeating everything that we do, that humboldt is kind of the absent mentor for the united states. but it is not, that i mentioned that it is not just the issue of slavery and it is not just racial politics between the blacks and whites in the united states that keeps humboldt up at night. humboldt believes in racial equality for everyone. he believes that slavery is bad universally, and that colonialism can only end up badly, and that independence and opportunity are what make the difference and not the color of
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your skin. he carries that forward into his belief of indigenous people, and when he goes into south america, he is going to carry the indigenous guides and because he knows more about the land and the nature than colonial overlords do. so the spaniards in the new world are saying why are you hiring them to take you through, because they have no standing and he says because they know more about this than you do, so there is the sense of privileging local knowledge. he wants to understand what has changed when he is in lake valencia in modern venezuela, and the village elders will come to him saying that the lakes are drying up, the crops are failing, and we don't understand what is happening. he talks to the the village elders and he says 25 years ago, you cut down all of the mature trees, and you changed the climate. so we are talking about human-induced clamt change in 1789 and 1800 in venezuela, because he is canvassing the
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locals to understand what could create those consequences. when he comes to north america, he does not meet any indigenous people when he is here in philadelphia and washington. but what does happen is that he is going to cultivate friendships with people who do, and so his protege, prince max mill with the information about the indigenous people, but he is not a great artist. and so humboldt says if you are going to the united states and redo lewis and clark and compile history and bring back history on these indigenous people, for god's sake take a real artist
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with you. and let me show you why. this is the real journal here, and he is recording the indian ponies here, and the natural history detail is amazing, and the indian vocabularies are still considered some of the finest that have been come pild -- compiled, but this is what happens when he starts to paint people. this is one of the leading people of the iricuma, and this is also one of the people who went with him the same version of the painting, and so max is good with inanimate objects, but not real people. so having wagner with him is important. and so the pony, and the goofiness, that is the same pony there with the same markings there as wagner. so you can see why he wants a competent artist along with him. and in fact, every expedition in
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the united states whether it is undertaken by freemont or the long expedition or max, it is going to bring an artist or photographer along, and that visual record is going to be a part of the expeditions. so what we have here is a group of to engravings done after max and wagner's trip from 1833 to 1835. they go out to st. louis where they become friends of clark of lewis and clark expedition, and go up the missouri river and spend time with the indians that who are presented here and what they come back with is an unparalleled history of the mandans' culturalfe ways, but also a look of the ways, and max is always comparing it to the
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brazilian ways, because he cannot get over how dry and scary and baron the great plains are, and so he is going to be looking at the hudus up on the missouri coast, and see the castles, but for him, they are gothic and brooding, and so he is not sure that he likes them. so the notion of the badlands, he is embracing that, because he misses the palm trees and missing brazil, and this is wacky and weird. so if you have been to south dakota and the blackhills, it is a fabously alien looking landscape. so he sickis picking up on thisd he is taking wagner's prints, and puts it in an alum that is similar in scale and presence similar to the ones that wagner did, and it almost bankrupted him in the way that it almost bankrupted humboldt.
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and so you have niagara falls, and buffalo hunt there, and it is an encapsulation of what america meant to max here on the trip, and the cliff notes version of what you will get in the narrative, but what is also really great is that just as humboldt's generosity in lending us his map reset the way that we construed geopolitics after the louisiana purchase. william clark will give max copies of his turn by turn route maps up the mississippi and missouri rivers as a gift in order to help him to speed him on his way. and what i love ant this, it has got the same indicators and all of the little notes that lewis and clark made, and the point at which captain lewis made celestial observations on the 20th or the 26th of april with the latitude and the longitude right there on the river. max is going to add his own notes on to this, and there are
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again vocabulary sheets in the back for some of the indigenous people that he met along the way. that act of friendship, and the act of reciprocity of let me make your journey easier, because we will all learn from what you learn is something that humboldt does instill in that exploration ethos. now, there is another artist out west and that is george catalan, and george catalan is going to go up the missouri river the year before max and wagner will, and they will meet a lot of the same people, and stay in the same villages and paint the same people, and so it is interesting and instructive to compare those things. matatopei is the chief of the badlands and this is the portrait of him, and it is clear from catalan's diary and max and
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wagner's diary that matatopei decided what access you got to his people. he was kind of put up with catalan and thought that his gifts were bogus, but he liked max. and so when wagner paints him, and when you go back to european art with the monarch standing of the full-length stance with a flag or a spear, or that gesture, it is designed to convey power and privilege and access. but matatopei is going to use the paints and paint a watercoloring of himself defeating a cheyenne indian chief that he will give to max, and then he will also paint that vignette right here on the robe that outlines his exploits that
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he will give to max that is now in the collection in germany. then he invites them to stay in the winter and give them access to the interior of the lodges and the people who hold the history of the mandan, and max and wagner's access to the mandan is unparalleled in depth. and so we are indebted to him and catalan, because in 1830, they7i0kçq are almost wiped out smallp smallpox. it came up on the steamboat they had used to come up to south dakota in the first place, and without their recordings and images, we would be the much poorer in terms of understanding how important this tribe was oif the fur trade, to the negotiations between the french, the british and the americans and the other indian tribes the along the upper missouri river. so george catalan pops up again
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with our friend mr. humboldt, because what catalan is going to do after 1830 when andrew jackson puts out the indian removal act, catalan is livid, and he is going to feel that this is going to be the wholesale destructive of american indian culture. and he will suggest that the site be set aside as one national park where the the indians and the bison can be left to their own devvices, and that doesn't take traction, and in fact, catalan is going to be thrown out of the white house for protesting the indian act, and so he is shooting himself in the foot when it comes to a time for them wanting to have a foot in politics. so what he does instead is to paint over 500 portraits of american indians, and he pulls together artifacts, and creates
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an indian gallery, and the portraits here are part of the indian gallery, but they play an important expedition, because these are iowa indians who sailed to europe, and bought by one of p.t. barnum's group to dance for catalan as part of the indian gallery performances. so these portraits are made in london in 1844 and then transported to paris. in paris, catalan is going to present the indian gallery, and these indians will dance for the king of france, louie philippe and his queen charlotte, and this is catalan's indian gallery as it is presented in the twilleries and professionally painted. there he is on the right speaking to the queen, and the monarch himself in the
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waistcoat, and each of the men and women are in the portraits, and we can identify each one of them. and then the portraits that took place in the louvre after they finished dancing for the king, they set up for a performance. and then victor delaqua and the catalan indians and others tour the museum together. there is presumably a diary kept by one of these gentlemen known as walking rain or jim, and we don't know where that diary is, but i would love to have it pop up, because the only thing that we have is catalan's encounter of what happened there, and it would be nice to have their perspective of what was going on
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there. and the interesting thing is that these are the only indigenous people from the united states that humboldt will ever meet and converse with. so he and catalan become friends, and the fact that catalan can be tongue deaf as far as taking advantage of the situation in order to try to make money off of the indian gallery, they stay in touch. and when catalan comes to berlin in the next decade in 1850s, humboldt is going to set him up with a commission to paint copies of some of the paintings for the king of prussia, and so these two paintings belong to us burk there are copies of these in the total collection of berlin as part of that commission. when catalan writes up the exproits the books are here. he uses as the frontage piece, humboldt shaking hands with an iowa indian. if you miss the subtlety of
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that, humboldt uses it on the cover as his seal of approval. so his connection with catherine is going down the tubes because of his connection with barnham and all that implies, and you may not like me much, but this guy, this guy and i are friends. so there is a sense of wanting to trade in on the relationship, but for humboldt, this is unparalleled opportunity to speak to iowa using a translator in order to communicate with them and ask them questions. and the question that we are all begging is what were those questions, and what is the conversation, and what we can hopefully learn more in the future. i mentioned that humboldt imagined himself an american. and "am an american" comes from the letter from the orator and teacher at harvard who helped to
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inspire emerson to become a humboldtian, and then emerson inspires thoreau, and nobody had to inspire emerson, because he pulled that off alone, but there is saturation that americans view humboldt as a magnet first in paris and then when he moves to berlin in 1829, and we flock the go see him. he welcomes us with open arms. if he finds out that you are an american, he will invite you in. and this what you are invited into. this is humboldt's library. in is 1886 surrounded is by travel diary and books and stuffed critters and his scientific equipment, and there is a globe. what you see is north america and the countries of south america that put humboldt on the
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map. i don't think it is an accident that the globe was positioned that way. this is a souvenir brought back from president millard fillmore who paid a call along with the regent and art collector william morrison corcoran and they went to see him. this is the souvenir that you would bring back. this is sort of the memory that you have from this. this lithograph was inscribed for the leader of the coast guard and his grandson. humboldt admired people who expanded on his work. and he said to bach e, you do fr the coast guard what i do for the land. and he wanted it to be a compliment to the sea and what
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he does as the jeeg ray fi and the fields. and so it is a compliment to the working of what humboldt has already done. he is the ultimate networker and never throws tout b s out the b the bath water. and you may not be rivals, but if he respects with what you are doing, he will want to collaborate and extend information and use your information, because he understands for him, it is the data. he is going to set aside the egregious personalities and focus on the data. he wants the data. this is the guy that would be google and wikipedia all rolled in one if he were alive today. he would love the internet. that is what gets us to the final gallery here, because it is about humboldt's impact and the lasting sense into the smithsonian institution. remembering back to the peele
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museum, and this a watercolor done in preparation for peel that you can now see through the cut-through, and we wanted to set it up so you could stand here, and understand how that painting was composed. peele wanted his museum to be purchased by jefferson and moved to washington to become the national institute. and now jefferson is a good democratic republican, and he is not going to be spending money to buy someone's museum and set it up as a federal entity. that is why it is not going to happen, and that why peele had both jefferson and alexander both on the board to be able to figure out who is going to orchestrate this, and buy him out, and make it federal. that is not going to happen. that is going to take quite a success. and that would be what the network he wanted it to be which is a covalent enterprise to
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encompass culture, music, politics and exploration all in one place. i mentioned that humboldt was a magnet. when he is in paris, the magnetism attracts the authors james finmore cooper, and washington irving, and both of them will write their books on the american west while hanging out with humboldt in paris. the other person they are hanging around with is samuel f.b. morris, and he is painting the painting "the gallery of the louvre" and not all of the paintings are in the salon and scattered throughout the museum. what he is doing is climbing up on it, and then sketching what he needs, and he is going to come to the louvre. but according to the diary he will climb up and say, tell me about the telegraph. what humboldt wants is secure,
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immediate networked information. he is tired of letters senscens by monarchs and lost at sea and takes two years to get a reply. he is envisioning in his mind that the telegraph is going to fix it and that means that he can get his answers just like this, and so he is excited when morris abandons the art in orderer to pursue the telegraph. in fact, he is so excited when in 1838 when he demonstrates the telegraph to the frenchu,u1yxn community, humboldt is there to translate, and congratulate morse to being a master in two worlds, art and science. so you have a connection that is diving deeper, and deeper into american journalism, and american art. in fact, a portrait done of him at this time is done by
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alexander van peele in 1809. what is interesting about this is that when humboldt gets back, he is carrying a letter from jefferson to the layfayette's mail, and he knows it is being censored and so this is mail that is getting to him uncensored, and so it creates a friendship, and then he writes a letter saying thank you for introducing us, and wi wnnd we good friends. thank you for introducing. and so then the third member is the man who is going back to france to start the civil war. so they have the three revolutionaries who are hanging out, and he thinks they are all spies and he wants them expelled
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from the country. and they skip his coronation, because he did not want to be a brt of this, and they set up this pro american enclave in paris during the war of 1812 when humboldt is part of the treaty experience, the treaty of ghent to settle the war of 1812 and he is arguing our behalf even though they are in gent. and john quincy adams comes to paris and they go to lectures and in paris, they hang out together, and going to europe means paying a call to humboldt. and thomas peele, this is a self-portrait late in life, and for me, this is introducing you to one of his closest friends, and the tibia of mastdon and they are drinking buddies, and
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it is a nod to the thing that put peele's museum in the map, and drove humboldt in their orbit, and the thing that captivat captivates, and the thing that peele is most proud of. so from father to son, that humboldtian experience brings you in focus. so it is amassing right here where you can see literally across it and through it and get from peele's museum to the smithsonian, and that is why the bust of humboldt is here. this is a bust that came to smithsonian in 1860, the year after humboldt dies. it has been with us ever since. it normally presides in the botany department library at natural history, and kind of an avatar if you will for his geography map and contributions to science and it seemed to be the appropriate thing to have as an anchor here.
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so we go from the telegram which is local and to the transatlantic cable which allows you to cable the whole globe and it is morse going into business with the patron travis field who went to south america with him and paid for the trips, and they create the transatlantic cable, and so this case is going to get you from the telegraph to the cable. this is the morse's passport with washington irving's signature there because he is diplomat at london at the time, and eight to ten pages of history, and it is an amazing document. some of morse's earliest telegraph equipment, and a facsimile of the first messages sent of "what god has wrath."
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and this is a snippet of the cable that is packaged by tiffany and company, and humboldt had a copy or one of the segments on his desk when he died. so we have gone from morse's gallery at the louvre to the cable group that made it happen, and that is cyrus field in the red-lined jacket pointing on the map, and this is his globe, and that is his snippet of the cable, and morse who has gotten cranky in the old age is the white-haired gentlemank looking pointedly in the other direction. but the sheets of paper as they are transferring paper, and it is like a group of cables going from one to another. and this is talking about a cable that stretches from one to another around the globe, and then if you are looking at the reading on the frame, it is about the same scale and it has
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the same configuration as the snippet of the cable itself, and so you have literally a cable that connects the sides of the two to one another. so what you have here is the idea of an entirely networked world from the natural history standpoint and entirely networked human society electronically and that is the epitome of what humboldt is after, everything is electronically connected. wh ten smithsonian is founded in the 1940s, it is because of one british chemist james smithson, and he knew humboldt, and they met in early 1917, and when he was in can dish's lab in london and met again in 1840 when they had dinner french.
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they are having bougie dinners, and they are making fun of the british for losing the war of 1812 and talking about any person with money would live anywhere but europe or england and investing in america. so smithson becomes friends with smithson's best friend who is running the french society, and by proxy, they are all spending time together. and when smithson makes the decision to change his will, he does so because he has fallen out colossally. and then he has to explain why he is losing money every night, and then he goes bounding out to tables every night. but when smithson wesson changes his will, he says, fine, i am leaving everything to my nephew,
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but if he dies with no children, legitimate or not, the whole kit and ka budle is going to city of washington to found an institution in my name for increase and fusion of knowledge. well, smithson dies, and hungerford inherits the estate and six months later he dies with no kids and we spent six years in british courts to prove that he has no kids, and then the son of the medical doctor who instructed lewis and clark brings the gold back to the united states to found the smithsonian, and the smithsonian is literally built in the um bolt's image. and we are the bricks and more tar of his brain. and so when there was a hearing of the the congressional library is having oversight, and nothing much changes in the way that goes. it is louie agassi, the humble
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arbiter at harvard, and helped him to get his job at harvard he says it is a humble institution, and the good news is that he is still alive, and you can go ask him. so, getting the subpoena of alexander william where he got the money, and that is how enmeshed we are. so when humboldt dies, the man servant inherits everything. he never marries and everything is left to the valet, and think about the crumbmel lithograph again, and all of ttoof the boo stuff. and so he has not been paid regularly, and so he has his son-in-law to write three letter, one to james henry the secretary of the smithsonian, and one to henry aaron wilson,
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who is the art collector, and one to james lennox of the library, and he says that humboldt always wanted ez his stuff to be left to america, and this is your opportunity. so that is 1/6 of the smithson bekwet. so henry knows there is no way that we are tipping into this. so we are only months away from harper ferry. so they discuss among themselves in corcoran's paper ats ts at t library of congress that maybe corcoran gets the books and somebody else gets the lithographs, and perhaps it is a good thing that everything stays
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in germany, because there is a cat grofk fire, and we lose a lot of written material, and my fear is that we would have lost everything that makes humboldt the way we are again. and so what we have is an institution. we talk about the human nature of people, and we talk about the qualities of people, and we talk about the need of us to be good stewards of the planet and everything that humboldt cared about is in some way instituted in one part of this vast organization that is 19 museums and 30-plus research centers that spans the globe from panama to the astrophysical observatory to the museums here in missouri. and that is an expansion there. >> and so what we wanted was to
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have an end, and that everything is connected. so we have the northern lights kor res gating against the headland, and it is veried to be on the 189, but this is where everybody suspects is off of the path, and that is the path of the transatlantic cable. and if this ship had been tracked in the ice and frozen unable to move or unable to convey the message, it is in the electromagnetics whether it is overhead or channeled through the undersea cableoh"ç to make possible to bridge the vast distances. this is a picture of humboldt's interest of everything from the outer atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans, and about the need for the use of electricity, and hue ingenuity and bring us
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all into serenity. i can't think of a better way to leave this exhibition than to find that humboldtian curiosity in everything that we do. you can learn more about the exhibit alexander van humboldt, at americanhistory @c you are watching american history tv every weekend on c-span3. explore the nation's past on american history on c-span3, and created by american television companies ark and today, we are brought by these television companies who provide the television history to viewers a as public service.
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american history tv is on social media. follow us at c-span history. every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3, go inside of a different college classroom, and hear about the topics ranging from the american revolution, civil rights to u.s. presidents to 9/11. >> thanks for your patience and logging into class -- with most of the college campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, watch professors engaging with the students. >> gorbachev did most to change the soviet union, but reagan met him halfway, and reagan supported him and encouraged him. >> madison called it freedom of the press, and it is freedom of the pass. so it is a freedom of what we call the past.
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>> lectures on american tv every saturday. lectures and history is available on a podcast. find it available where you listen to podcasts. next is der mot touring, and if you have heard of british code breaker is talking about how he broke the german enigma code during the world war ii. the international spy museum in washington, d.c. hosted this event. good evening, everyone, again, and welcome to international spy museum. i'm chris costa the international director and i'm pleased to present with author


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