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Publication History

The Political Essay on the Island of Cuba is a small but important part of Humboldt’s extensive writings on the Americas. It was first published in French in 1825 and 1826 as part of Humboldt’s Relation historique (Paris, 1814-1831), his personal narrative of the American voyage. It simultaneously appeared in two formats, a quarto edition and an octavo format. In addition, Humboldt published a two-volume freestanding edition of the Essai politique in Paris in 1826. HiE’s translation is based on Humboldt’s revised 1826 French edition.

Other English Editions

The first English translation of Humboldt’s text appeared in 1829. It was part of Helen Maria Williams’s seven-volume Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (London, 1814-1829). Thomasina Ross’s abridged three-volume version (London, 1852–53) included only small portions of Humboldt’s work on Cuba. Another translation, John Sidney Thrasher’s The Island of Cuba appeared in 1856 in New York. Although the most unreliable of Humboldt’s translations, this edition was reprinted in 1966 and 2001.

Further Readings

Fiedler, Horst, and Ulrike Leitner. Alexander von Humboldts Schriften: Bibliographie der selbständig erschienenen Werke. Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung. Vol. 20. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000.

Humboldt, Alexander von. Ensayo político sobre la isla de Cuba. Con un mapa. Obra traducida al castellano por D. J. B. de V. y M. Paris: En Casa de Jules Renouard, 1827. (Original at Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística, Havana, Cuba.)

Kutzinski, Vera M. “Translations of Cuba: Fernando Ortiz, Alexander von Humboldt, and the curious case of John Sidney Thrasher.” Atlantic Studies Literary, Cultural and Historical Perspectives 6.3 (2009): 303-26.

Kutzinski, Vera M. “Humboldt’s translator in the context of Cuban history.” Atlantic Studies Literary, Cultural and Historical Perspectives 6.3 (2009): 327-43.

Kutzinski, Vera M. “Alexander von Humboldt's transatlantic personae.” Atlantic Studies Literary, Cultural and Historical Perspectives 7.2 (2010): 99-112.


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