Monday, January 19, 2009

The Man I Believe Henri Was

Henri was a man born into privilege and wealth but part of that privilege vanished when noble titles became purely ceremonial in the canton of Neuchâtel where he lived. Unlike his forefathers he would not hold the title of Baron, but rather that of a simple landholder. The dissolution of the feudal class structure and the changing face of European society propelled Henri to look beyond its borders in an effort to find his own place in the world.

He was moved to travel to the Americas by Alexander von Humbolt’s accounts of the flora and fauna of Latin America as well as he was certainly intrigued by the customs, lifestyles and politics of the new world. He would travel the Americas not only as a trained botanist, but also as a man of culture, stopping often to paint, engage in intellectual discourses with his contemporaries and document his observations in his journal and letters home to his family.

His journal entries and letters ultimately paint a complex and nuanced portrait of a young man finding his identity. He comes across as a man of high principle and ideals. At times he can be a classist or a cultural snob, but these passages are tempered by others that show his reverence for nature, and appreciation for human ingenuity. Henri ultimately left on a trip of scientific discovery and in the end I believe he found himself.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Henri's Artwork

The following watercolors are from Henri's voyage. It shows that he was a man of many talents.

Mexico City, 1852

Puebla, 1852

San Augustín de la Cuevas, 1852

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Grand Tour – An Overview

A documentary that retraces the two-year long voyage through the Americas of the 1850's of my Swiss Great-Great-Grandfather, Henri de Buren, a trained naturalist and explorer.

“The Grand Tour” will be shot in a style that is
immersive and allows the audience to get a feeling for the cultures that I will be visiting as well as focusing on the natural beauty in the Americas that Henri left Switzerland to experience. In addition there will be narration from Henri’s original journal and letters, display of his original artwork, and interviews with historical and cultural scholars.

The documentary will retrace his entire route from its beginnings in Switzerland, to destinations in the U.S., Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru & Brazil.

Broader Context:
Henri travelled at an important time in history and met very influential people in Science and Commerce along his journey. The documentary through narration and interviews would provide historical context that would set the stage to discuss how the societies, cultures and environment in the Americas have changed over the past 150 years.

Personal Angle:
While the documentary will focus on retracing events, it is first and foremost about personal discovery and a search for self. Through passages and personal narrative, I will attempt to gain an understanding of and appreciation for who Henri was, what he believed, what he valued most, and if we share anything besides our family name.

Personal Motivation

Henri’s journals and letters have for many years been a source of great personal interest. I always knew that my Great-Great-Grandfather kept a record of his trip through the Americas, but I did not know the context surrounding his trip until taking the time to read his journals. I believe his journals are of great historical and cultural value and they say a great deal about the kind of man he was. They are a window into his passions, his thoughts and his prejudices. Reading his journals made me reflect upon my own beliefs and wonder if they would hold up under scrutiny 150 years from now. I aim to discover if retracing his steps in the Americas of today will be as personally transformative as his original voyage seemed to be for him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Selected Figures from Henri's Journals

  • Louis Agassiz – Swiss-American zoologist, glaciologist, and geologist.
  • Aimé Louis-Victor du Bosc, Marquis de Radepont – Would later become diplomat for Emperor Louis Napoleon III.
  • Louis-Hector Galard-Brassac, Comte de Béarn – Diplomat and Member of the French Legation in Washington D.C.
  • Asa Gray – Considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century.
  • Arnold Guyot – Swiss-American geologist and geographer.
  • John Edwards Holbrook – American zoologist, physician, and naturalist.
  • Don Manuel Ijurra – Peruvian government appointed head of expedition to found the town of Caballococha in the Amazon river basin.
  • Leo Lesquereux – a Swiss bryologist and a pioneer of American paleobotany.
  • Francis de Palezieux-Falconnet – Agent of the Committee of Mexican Bond holders.
  • Louis François de Pourtalès – Swiss-American naturalist.
  • Baron Damian von Schütz – Second in command of the expedition and leader of the first wave of German emigrants to Peru.
  • William Starling Sullivant – US bryologist.

Locations Mentioned to Revisit

Original Voyage
Henri spent his first six months traveling the eastern United States and the Mississippi, before sailing to Havana. After a short stay in Cuba he traveled to Mexico where spent four more months. From Mexico he sailed to Panama and then to Lima. From Lima he had originally intended to go overland to Buenos Aires through Bolivia. However due to political instability in Bolivia, he decided instead to join a Peruvian expedition leading the first wave of German settlers by Baron Damian von Schütz to the town of Caballo-Cocha in Loreto state near the border with Brazil. His full journey across South America took him overland from Trujillo on the Pacific to the Brazilian state of Parà on the Atlantic.

U.S. & Canada
  • Boston
  • New York
  • Albany
  • Saratoga
  • Alpina (NY) Lake Bonaparte
  • Lake George
  • Montreal
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington D.C.
  • Highland, Illinois (Swiss Settlement)
  • Charleston
  • New Orleans
  • Mobile

  • Havana

  • Vera Cruz
  • Jalapa
  • Puebla
  • Mexico City
  • Tucabaya (DF)
  • San Agustín de Las Cuevas (DF)
  • Amecameca
  • Popacatapetl
  • Cuernavaca
  • Acapulco

  • Panama City

  • Lima
  • Trujillo
  • Contumazá
  • Cajamarca
  • Celedín
  • Chachapoyas
  • Moyobamba
  • Chasuta
  • Yurimaguas
  • Iquitos
  • Caballococha

  • Pernambuco
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