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Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, Volume 1

A Critical Edition

Edited and with an Introduction by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette
Volume 1 of this critical edition includes a note on the text from the Humboldt in English team, an introduction by editors Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette, a preface to the first edition by Alexander von Humboldt, and the translation of Volumes 1 and 2 of Humboldt’s Essai politique sur le royaume de de Nouvelle Espagne from 1825 to 1827.
Alexander von Humboldt was the most celebrated modern chronicler of North and South America and the Caribbean, and this translation of his essay on New Spain—the first modern regional economic and political geography—covers his travels across today’s Mexico in 1803–1804. The work canvases natural-scientific and cultural-scientific objects alike, combining the results of fieldwork with archival research and expert testimony.
To show how people, plants, animals, goods, and ideas moved across the globe, Humboldt wrote in a variety of styles, bending and reshaping familiar writerly conventions to keep readers attentive to new inputs. Above all, he wanted his readers to be open-minded when confronted with cultural and other differences in the Americas. Fueled by his comparative global perspective on politics, economics, and science, he used his writing to support Latin American independence and condemn slavery and other forms of colonial exploitation. It is these voluminous and innovative writings on the New World that made Humboldt the undisputed father of modern geography, early American studies, transatlantic cultural history, and environmental studies.
This two-volume critical edition—the third installment in the Alexander von Humboldt in English series—is based on the full text, including all footnotes, tables, and maps, of the second, revised French edition of Essai politique sur le royaume de de Nouvelle Espagne from 1825 to 1827, which has never been translated into English before. Extensive annotations and full-color atlases are available on the series website.

See a website for the book series, with additional material.

632 pages | 1 halftone, 64 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Alexander von Humboldt in English

Earth Sciences: History of Earth Sciences

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography, Environmental Geography

History: American History

History of Science


"Scholars and students alike owe a debt of gratitude to academics like Kutzinski [and] Ette. . . who draw on research and analytical and linguistic skills to open up access to resources of significant figures in the histories of science and cartography. With full access to the text of the Political History on the Kingdom of New Spain and Humboldt’s manuscript drawings from his American travel diaries, contemporary scholars may voyage as armchair travellers and advance research projects as they rest on the erudition and talents of literary scholars who have studied Alexander von Humboldt and made his oeuvre accessible in form and content to a new generation."

Imago Mundi

"Humboldt transitions easily between statistics, physical science and political argumentation in a book whose many passions and perspectives continue to impress the reader two centuries later. This is a wonderful edition of a wonderful book by a wonderful mind that deserves far more attention from historical geographers, historians of science and colonial historians than it has hitherto received. Thanks to the exhaustive work of the project's editorial team, we now have no excuse for neglecting the riches of the Political Essay."

Journal of Historical Geography

"Vera Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette’s Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain: A Critical Edition, a two-volume translation of Humboldt’s Political Essay, corrects what they label as the 'inaccuracies, capricious alterations, and misrepresentations' in John Black’s 1811 English-language edition. Kutzinski and Ette add a new edition translated from the 1825 second revised French edition (1: p. ix). Published seventeen years later, this second edition captures a shifting society bridging colonial concerns to a republican counterpart."


"This superb new critical edition of Humboldt’s seminal work on Mexico is long overdue. It will become the authoritative edition of the Essai politique. The translators have succeeded in fashioning a text that is alert to the stylistic peculiarities of the original while being readable, clear, and in idiomatic English. This is quite a feat, given the complexity of Humboldt’s phrasing and the hybridity of his writing."

Alison E. Martin, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz/Germersheim

"An avid reader of Humboldt in French, Thomas Jefferson understood that the histories of New Spain (today’s Mexico) and the nascent United States would forever be intertwined. Now, thanks to the extraordinary translating and editing of Kutzinski, Ette, and their team, English-language readers can share Humboldt’s insights in a tour de force translation that is itself Humboldtian in scope."

Neil Safier, the John Carter Brown Library

"This edition of Humboldt’s Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain aims to make the traveler’s works known to an English-speaking public. In their new edition, the translators have created an English text that avoids unnecessary modernizations and maintains Humboldt’s deliberately created structure. Vera Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette’s informative and clear introduction reflects the latest in Humboldt research and will help orient readers interested in Humboldt’s American expedition, particularly in his work on Mexico, which includes the history of the indigenous peoples. This work is an outstanding contribution to current international Humboldt scholarship."

Ingo Schwarz, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

"Here, at last, is the monumental study of Mexican North America on the brink of independence that changed history and made Humboldt famous. The inimitable Humboldt ranges from Chile to Alaska to the future Panama Canal; from cartography and climate to human migration and tropical disease; from indigenous agriculture to slave plantations; from bananas and manioc to cotton and sugar; from whales and sea otters to cigars, coins, and gunpowder; from Aztec floating gardens to Spanish hydraulic engineering; and from Mexican silver mines to their world-shaking impact on global capitalism—until it seems nothing escapes his probing analysis and often scathing critique. This painstaking, definitive translation of Humboldt’s foundational work, a monument of scientific and humanist investigation into structures of power, conquest, empire, and resistance, belongs on the shelf of every serious scholar of the Americas and every student of modernity. That Humboldt’s great vision was corrupted and betrayed makes this work all the more important for our time."

Laura Dassow Walls, The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America

"This new translation of Humboldt’s Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain is timely, given the growing interest in one of Europe’s last polymaths. It brings to our attention an indispensable but often overlooked opus, which Humboldt had already conceived during his stay in Mexico in 1803–1804. The Essay offers no less than an embarrassment of riches. Humboldt manages to combine in-depth explorations and statistical analyses of Spain’s most prosperous colonial territory with wide-angle views and surprising comparisons. The man from Prussia demonstrates his sensitivity toward the indigenous traditions of the Americas and the variety of natural and cultural spaces he enters, indefatigably absorbing every bit of information. Connecting the dots—between agriculture, silver mining, and transoceanic trade; between climate and plant growth; between the history of the brutal colonization and demographic developments—is Humboldt’s forte. This capacity and Humboldt’s open-mindedness deserve our recognition today. This beautiful new edition will serve not only as an illustration of how modern-style political geography came into existence but also as guide to the multifaceted thinking of a traveler and scholar who transcended cultural divides and borders set by hegemonic powers."

Andreas W. Daum, State University of New York at Buffalo

“The translation is based on the second, revised French version of 1825-27 and surpasses all previous foreign-language renderings: it is linguistically elegant, does justice to Humboldt’s terminology, and applies great precision in retaining the original tables… This edition constitutes a milestone in the current process of rediscovering the indefatigable researcher from Prussia: it makes a largely forgotten opus accessible and allow us to re-examine Humboldt’s analysis of society.”


Table of Contents

Note on the Text
All the Bumps in the Road

Introduction by Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette

Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain

Volume 1

Editor’s Preface
Alexander von Humboldt’s Preface to the First Edition


I. A Condensed Map of the Kingdom of New Spain
Mexico City
The Road from Mexico City to Acapulco
The Route from Mexico City to Veracruz
Points Located between Mexico City, Guanajuato, and Valladolid
Old and New California; Provincias internas

II. Map of New Spain and its Bordering Countries to the North and to the East
III. Map of the Valley of Mexico City, formerly known as Tenochtitlan
IV. Map of the Projected Points of Communication between the Atlantic Ocean and the South Sea
V. A Condensed Map of the Road from Acapulco to Mexico City
VI. Map of the Road from Mexico City to Durango
VII. Map of the Road from Durango to Chihuahua
VIII. Map of the Road from Chihuahua to Santa Fe in New Mexico
IX. Map of the Eastern Part of New Spain from the Plateau of Mexico City to the Shores of Veracruz
X. Map of Incorrect Positions
XI. Map of the Port of Veracruz
XII. Physical Tableau of the Eastern Slope of the Anahuac Plateau
XIII. Physical Tableau of the Western Slope of the Plateau of New Spain
XIV. Physical Tableau of the Central Plateau of the Cordillera of New Spain
XV. Profile of the Canal of Huehuetoca
XVI. A Picturesque View of the Volcanoes of Mexico City and Puebla
XVII. Picturesque View of the Peak of Orizaba
XVIII. Map of the Port of Acapulco
XIX. Map of the Various Routes by which Precious Metals flow from one Continent to another
XX. Figures representing the Surface Area of New Spain and its Intendancies, Advances in the Mining of Metals, and other Subjects relating to the European Colonies in the Two Indies
Tableau of Geographical Positions in the Kingdom of New Spain, determined by Astronomical Observation
Tableau of the most Remarkable Elevations Measured in the Interior of New Spain

BOOK I. General Remarks on the total Area and the Physical Aspect of the Country—the influence of the Unevenness of the Terrain on Climate, Agriculture, Commerce, and Military Defense

Chapter I. The Extent of the Spanish Possessions in the Americas—A Comparison of these Possessions with the British Colonies and With the Asian Part of the Russian Empire—the Naming of New Spain and Anahuac—the Boundary of the Aztec Kings’ Empire.

Chapter II. Configuration of the Coastline—Points where the Two Seas are Closest—General Remarks on the Possibility of Connecting the South Sea and the Atlantic Ocean—the Peace and the Tacoutché-Tessé Rivers—the Sources of the Río Bravo and the Río Colorado—the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—the Lake of Nicaragua—the Isthmus of Panamá—the Bay of Cúpica—the Chocó Canal—the Río Guallaga—the Gulf of St. George.

Chapter III. The Physical Aspect of the Kingdom of New Spain compared to Europe and South America—Irregularities of the Terrain—the influence of these Irregularities on the Climate, Culture, and Military Defense of the Country—the Condition of the Coasts.

BOOK II. General Population of New Spain—Division of its Inhabitants by Caste

Chapter IV. The General Census of 1793—Population Growth in the Ensuing Ten Years—Birth-to-Death Ratio

Chapter V. Diseases That Periodically Halt Population Growth—Natural and inoculated Smallpox—the Vaccine—Matlazahuatl—Food Shortage—Miners’ Health.

Chapter VI. Difference between Castes—Indians or Indigenous Americans—their Number and Migrations—Diversity of Languages—Degree of Civilization of the Indians.

A Chronological Tableau of the History of Mexico

Chapter VII. Whites, Creoles, and Europeans—Their Civilization—Wealth Inequality among Them—Blacks—Mixing of the Castes—the Relationship between the Sexes—Longevity and Racial Differences—Sociability.

Volume 2

BOOK III. Specific Statistics of the intendancies that Comprise the Kingdom of New Spain—their Territorial Extent and Population

Chapter VIII. On the Political Division of the Mexican Territory and the Relationship between the Population of the Intendancies and their Territorial Extent—Principal Cities.
Statistical Analysis of the Kingdom of New Spain
I.          The Intendancy of Mexico City
II.         The Intendancy of Puebla
III.       The Intendancy of Guanajuato
IV.       The Intendancy of Valladolid
V.         The Intendancy of Guadalajara
VI.       The Intendancy of Zacatecas
VII.      The Intendancy of Oaxaca
VIII.     The Intendancy of Mérida
IX.       The Intendancy of Veracruz
X.         The Intendancy of San Luis Potosí
XI.       The Intendancy of Durango
XII.      The Intendancy of La Sonora
XIII.     The Intendancy of New Mexico
XIV.     The Intendancy of Old California
XV.      The Intendancy of New California
Territories Northwest of Mexico

BOOK IV. The State of Agriculture in New Spain—Metal Mines

Chapter IX. Vegetable Crops in the Mexican Territory—Progress in Soil Cultivation—The Influence of Mines on Clearing Land for Cultivation—Plants for Human Nourishment.

Editorial Note
Index of Names
Subject Index
Toponym Index

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