Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Gregory Good.


This dissertation revolves around Alexander von Humboldt's research on Indian origins. Humboldt conducted investigations on Indians during his precedent-setting scientific expedition to Meso- and South America during the years 1799--1804. Officially sponsored by the Spanish crown, the main purposes for this expedition were twofold: to examine, evaluate, and discredit Buffon's "degeneracy" claims about America and its inhabitants, and to gather empirical evidence on geography, climate, flora, fauna, and the indigenous cultures. From these results Humboldt published three major works about the expedition, particularly a thirty-volume work condensed to two volumes, Vues de Cordilleres et monuments des peuples d' Amerique.;From this work on Indian cultures and origins, this dissertation focuses on the Indian origin theory he created and the varied roles Humboldt played in the origins debate. Concomitant with these roles is Humboldt's influence and authority with various types of empirical and speculative researchers who cited him. As the origins debate evolved towards mid-nineteenth century, Humboldt's roles in the debate became more indirect. Humboldt turned to other sciences, while various researchers kept his influence alive in the debate into the 1830s and 1840s.;After his death, knowledge of his work was eclipsed, and much of his contributions suffered neglect. One purpose of this dissertation is to revive this very important work. The dissertation analyzes his main work on Indian origins, plus works of other researchers from various fields who cited his works. These researchers often differed as much from one another as from Humboldt, and often used his citations to oppose his hypotheses and create their own. Included are investigators from the older speculative tradition who continued to work concomitantly along the newer empiricists from various disciplines. Those of the speculative tradition often cited Humboldt during the course of the debate during the first half of the nineteenth century. Included is the controversy that built up about the origins of a separate race of Mound builders apart from the American Indians. This controversy remained unresolved well into the late nineteenth century.