Author Andrea Wulf to Lecture on Alexander von Humboldt A Lost Hero of Science and An Early Environmentalist

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Scott Carpenter
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (APRIL 21, 2016) – Old Salem Museums & Gardens is presenting a lecture by Andrea Wulf inspired by her book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, on Wednesday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. Wulf’s beautifully illustrated talk will re-introduce this lost hero of science and the forgotten father of environmentalism: Alexander von Humboldt.

On 14 September 1869, 25,000 people marched through New York to celebrate the centennial of the birth of German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. The next day, The New York Times devoted its entire front page to the festivities. Humboldt was described by his contemporaries as the most famous man in the world after Napoleon. Though almost forgotten today—at least in the English-speaking world—his name still lingers everywhere from the Humboldt Current running along the west coast of South America to the Humboldt penguin. In North America alone there are four counties, thirteen towns, a river, bays, lakes, and mountains named after him. An intrepid explorer and visionary scientist, Humboldt’s restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether climbing the highest volcanoes in the world, risking his life in the Amazonian rainforest or racing through anthrax-infested Siberia.

What made Humboldt so famous was that he had come up with the revolutionary idea that the natural world was a web of life—a unified whole where everything was correlated. He predicted human-induced climate change as early as 1800. He wove together hard scientific data with art, history, poetry, and politics. Humboldt saw nature as a global force and became the most interdisciplinary of all scientists.

He was a man of contradictions who inspired thinkers and revolutionaries alike. Thomas Jefferson was his friend, as was Simón Bolívar who called him the “discoverer of the New World.” Charles Darwin said that Humboldt was the reason why he boarded the Beagle, while Sierra Club founder and father of the National Parks, John Muir aspired “to be a Humboldt.” Henry David Thoreau found in Humboldt’s books an answer to his dilemma on how to be a poet and a naturalist—Walden would have been a very different book without Humboldt.

Wulf’s lecture will take place in the James A. Gray, Jr. Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitor Center at 900 Old Salem Road and is $5 per person, or $3 for college students with an ID. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-441-5305.

Andrea Wulf was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now lives in Britain. She is the author of several acclaimed books. The Brother Gardeners won the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award and was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008. Her book Founding Gardeners was on the New York Times Best Seller List. Wulf has written for many newspapers including The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. She was the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2013 and a three-time fellow of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. She appears regularly on TV and radio.

For more information about this lecture and additional events that will be taking place throughout 2016 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the town of Salem visit

About Old Salem

Old Salem Museums & Gardens is one of America’s most comprehensive history attractions. Its museums—the Historic Town of Salem, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), and the Gardens at Old Salem—engage visitors in an educational and memorable historical experience about those who lived and worked in the early South. Old Salem Museums & Gardens is located at 600 South Main Street in Winston-Salem. For more information call 336-721-7300 or visit