Louis Agassiz: A Troubled Legacy

Christoph Irmscher researched Louis Agassiz, the so called Creator of American Science. For the time period of early United States history, Louis Agassiz was a new type of scientist interested in the study of natural history and the development of the human species just as he was interested in the plants of the New World. Agassiz was crucial in the understanding of topics such as the Ice Age and Zoology. He also enjoyed studying in the midst of nature; he would commonly investigate his subjects in their natural environment rather than in a laboratory. Another reason that Agassiz was innovative was that he brought his wife with him on some of his expeditions. This was very new for the time period, and as a result, Agassiz’s wife has contributed a lot to our current understanding of natural history. Although Agassiz was innovative and important in the understanding of many topics, Irmscher makes us question Agassiz. As well as his honorable studies, Agassiz was a believer of polygenism, the idea that the different races are of different lineages, and some people believed that his ideas contributed to racial thinking that promoted slavery. Similar to Agassiz’s stark contrast of good and bad, the early United States had a contrast between Old and New World customs. Just as Louis Agassiz, the early United States had very innovative ideas such as their completely different type of government than when it was a colony of Great Britain and their very diverse population. At the same time, the United States discriminated against their diverse population and retained many of the same customs and harshness of the Old World. It is interesting to compare the different aspects of these important historical figures and countries, and it is important to know them in order to learn the good and the bad from these examples. Agassiz studied natural history because he believed that science could lead to a full understanding of god’s plan, and this passion lead to many good and bad things.

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