Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science

Christoph Irmscher, a writer and biographer, recently wrote a biography of Louis Agassiz and came to the Humanities Festival to talk a little bit about Agassiz. Louis Agassiz was a Swiss scientist who was a large contributor to the study of natural sciences. He grew up in Switzerland and then came to America with his second wife Elizabeth Agassiz. He became a professor at Harvard University. He is sometimes known for his opposition to Darwins theory of the origin of species. His most important work had to do with glaciers and fish fossils.

His wife, Elizabeth Agassiz, had a surprisingly large role in his work. At the time, it was not very common for women to be involved in the sciences. However, she came with on most of his expeditions, sometimes even organizing them, and helped out a lot in his experiments. Without her, it is possible that Louis Agassiz wouldn’t have turned out to be such a successful scientist.

Another thing that Irmscher strongly emphasized in his lecture was the fact that Louis Agassiz was a racist. Growing up in Switzerland, he strongly believed that the whites were the imperial race and definitely brought those ideals with him when he came to America. These beliefs impacted his studies as he often tried to prove that superiority of whites over blacks with scientific proof.

Irmscher regards Louis Agassiz as the creator of American science because he came into America with new ideas and his work really helped spark other new ideas and scientific findings later on. For example, his writings on the glaciers in Switzerland were probably his most important works and answered many questions about the glacier activity. He is also well known for his work with the fossils of extinct fish he found in America. Louis Agassiz could be thought of another example of success brought on by the new world.

Sources

Photo 1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/45/Louis_Agassiz.jpg

Irmscher, Christoph. Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science. November 3, 2013

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