The Power of Science in Times of Change
Do We Need a Humboldtian Esprit to Properly Understand the World?
During his expedition in the Russian Empire, in 1829, Alexander von Humboldt travelled form St Petersburg to the Ural and Altai Mountains, to the border with China, to Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and along the Volga River. The scientific findings of his trip were compiled in the book Asie Centrale, published in 1844. His geological findings contributed to the extensive mapping of raw material deposits in the South Ural Massive, which laid the basis for the industrialisation of the Ural Region.
Tsar Nicholas I of Russia appreciated Humboldt’s mission with the following words: “Your arrival in Russia triggered an unprecedented advancement in the whole country; you induce a positive dynamic in every place that you visit.”
The pillars of Humboldt’s work, such as curiosity, empiricism or the analysis of interdependencies, backstopped by his cosmopolitanism, left a significant legacy in the science of the 19thand 20thcentury. Humboldt became fellow of the most prominent scholarly societies of his time, being a regular fellow of the Leopoldina Academy in Germany and honorary fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Remembering Humboldt’s Russian expedition, the event bridges the historic and present research-driven investigation of Eurasia and Central Asia. Several lectures highlight current research questions alongside the historical route of the expedition, such as mining in the Urals, water issues in Central Asia or biodiversity in the Altay-Sayan Ecoregion. Subsequently, a panel of leading figures of science and higher education from Germany, Russia and Central Asia discuss the state of affairs and prospects in their field of activity. The panel addresses several questions: how does science communicate and convey its expertise to the society? How can higher education, research and innovation contribute to the development of a country or region? What hard and soft power lies in the hands of science?