18th century contexts, 19th century contexts, Aimé Bonpland, Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Daniel Kehlmann, Die Vermessung der Welt, Measuring the World, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The focus on texts alone, at least for studentic research, is obviously very convenient, but I have to confess that I have grown to deeply dislike that practice, because it tends to blend out historical contexts almost completely. Probably, one will get a glimpse of the author’s life and living environment, but the bigger picture gets lost:
What was the sea to Coleridge, for example? – Well, first off, it was uncharted and the big Unknown. Or so will many teachers tell you, in an instant reflex. But what did that REALLY mean for Coleridge and his contemporaries?
In a world where maritime terror has been redefined by movies like Open Water, or that classic Jaws, it seems extraordinarily difficult to develop an idea for how naval travel and, the world in general, without satellites, radar, Google Maps, and a modern scientific understanding.
Long story short, I think the book, and now the movie, make for a good, if goofy introduction to the overall topic of 19th century cultural anthropology, by retelling a, from what I understand, largely ficticious account of the lifes and times of the three 19th century luminaries Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Friedrich Gauss, and Aimé Bonpland, and, as the title of the novel suggests, their efforts to measure the size of the world.
Now, don’t be mistaken – the aim of this product is to entertain, not to teach. But as entertainment, it delivers.