Louis Agassiz

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Louis Agassiz bigraphy, stories - American geologist

Louis Agassiz : biography

May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873

Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873) was a Swiss paleontologist, glaciologist, geologist and a prominent innovator in the study of Earth’s natural history. He grew up in Switzerland and became a professor of natural history at University of Neuchâtel. Later, he accepted a professorship at Harvard University in the United States.

Legacy

In 1863, Agassiz’s daughter Ida married Henry Lee Higginson, later to be founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and benefactor to Harvard University and other schools. On November 30, 1860, Agassiz’s daughter Pauline was married to Quincy Adams Shaw (1825–1908), a wealthy Boston merchant and later benefactor to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Quincy Adams Shaw and his brother-in-law Henry Higginson became major investors in the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, and Shaw was the first president of the company and retained that position until 1871, when Agassiz’s son Alexander Agassiz took over.

In the last years of his life, Agassiz worked to establish a permanent school where zoological science could be pursued amid the living subjects of its study. In 1873, a private philanthropist (John Anderson) gave Agassiz the island of Penikese, in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts (south of New Bedford), and presented him with $50,000 to permanently endow it as a practical school of natural science, especially devoted to the study of marine zoology. The John Anderson school collapsed soon after Agassiz’s death, but is considered a precursor of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, which is nearby.

Within his lifetime, Agassiz had developed a reputation for a particularly demanding teaching style. He would allegedly "lock a student up in a room full of turtle-shells, or lobster-shells, or oyster-shells, without a book or a word to help him, and not let him out till he had discovered all the truths which the objects contained."James, William. "Louis Agassiz, Words Spoken … at the Reception of the American Society of Naturalists … [Dec. 30 1896]. Pg 9-10. Cambridge, 1897. Quoted in Cooper 1917, pg 61-2. Two of Agassiz’s most prominent students detailed their personal experiences under his tutelage, Samuel Hubbard Scudder in a short magazine article for Every SaturdayScudder, Samuel H. "Look at your fish", originally published in Every Saturday, April 4, 1874, 16, 369-370; reprinted in Erlandson, David A. et al. , Sage Publications, 1993, pg. 1-4 and Nathaniel Southgate Shaler in his Autobiography. These and other recollections were collected and published by Lane Cooper in 1917, which Ezra Pound was to draw on for his anecdote of Agassiz and the sunfish.

Agassiz is remembered today for his theories on ice ages, and for his resistance to Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution, which he kept up his entire life. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1873 and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, joined later by his wife. His monument is a boulder selected from the moraine of the glacier of the Aar near the site of the old Hôtel des Neuchâtelois, not far from the spot where his hut once stood; and the pine-trees that shelter his grave were sent from his old home in Switzerland.

The Cambridge elementary school north of Harvard University was named in his honor and the surrounding neighborhood became known as "Agassiz" as a result. The school’s name was changed to the Maria L. Baldwin School on May 21, 2002, due to concerns about Agassiz’s racism, and to honor Maria Louise Baldwin the African-American principal of the school who served from 1889 until 1922.http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/pwork/0204/020420.htmhttp://www.thecrimson.com/article/2002/5/22/committee-renames-local-agassiz-school-the/ The neighborhood, however, continues to be known as Agassiz.. cambridgema.gov

An ancient glacial lake that formed in the Great Lakes region of North America, Lake Agassiz, is named after him, as are Mount Agassiz in California’s Palisades, Mount Agassiz, in the Uinta Mountains, Agassiz Peak in Arizona and in his native Switzerland, the Agassizhorn in the Bernese Alps. Agassiz Glacier and Agassiz Creek in Glacier National Park also bear his name. A crater on Mars and a promontorium on the Moon are also named in his honour. A headland situated in Palmer Land, Antarctica is named in his honor, Cape Agassiz. A main-belt asteroid named 2267 Agassiz is also named in association with Louis Agassiz. In addition, several animal species are so named, including Apistogramma agassizi Steindachner, 1875 (Agassiz’s dwarf cichlid); Isocapnia agassizi Ricker, 1943 (a stonefly); Publius agassizi (Kaup), 1871 (a passalid beetle); Xylocrius agassizi (LeConte), 1861 (a longhorn beetle); Exoprosopa agassizi Loew, 1869 (a bee fly); and the most well-known, Gopherus agassizii Cooper, 1863 (the desert tortoise).