Definitions

Agassiz

Agassiz

[ag-uh-see; for 2 also Fr. a-ga-see]
Agassiz, Alexander, 1835-1910, American naturalist and industrialist, b. Neuchâtel, Switzerland; son of Louis Agassiz, stepson of Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. He came to the United States in 1849 and studied at Harvard, receiving degrees in engineering (B.S., 1857) and natural history (B.S., 1862). Throughout his life he was connected in various capacities with Harvard. In 1871 he consolidated the Calumet and Hecla copper mines on Lake Superior and, as president, successfully developed the combined interests. He adopted safety and welfare measures relating to the mines. Agassiz contributed much of his fortune to science—chiefly in endowments to Harvard and to the Museum of Comparative Zoology which his father helped to found there. In 1877 he began oceanographic explorations, including detailed observations of the Pacific and the Caribbean. Noting that the deep-sea animals of the two are similar, he suggested that the Caribbean was a bay of the Pacific that had been cut off in the Cretaceous period by the rise of the Panama isthmus. His chief work is Revision of the Echini (2 vol., 1872-74).

See study by his son G. R. Agassiz (1913).

Agassiz, Elizabeth Cabot Cary, 1822-1907, American author and educator, b. Boston. In 1850 she married Louis Agassiz, and together they established the pioneering Agassiz School for girls in Boston (1856-65). She accompanied her husband on expeditions to Brazil (1865-66) and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas (1871-72). She was one of a group (along with Arthur Gilman and Alice Longfellow) influential in the founding of Radcliffe College, and was (1894-1903) its first president. Her writings include A Journey in Brazil (in collaboration with her husband, 1868); a biography of her husband (1885); and, with her stepson Alexander Agassiz, Seaside Studies in Natural History (1865).

See study by L. A. Paton (1919); L. Tharp, Adventurous Alliance (1959).

Agassiz, Louis (Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz), 1807-73, Swiss-American zoologist and geologist, b. Môtiers-en-Vuly, Switzerland. He studied at the universities of Zürich, Erlangen (Ph.D., 1829), Heidelberg, and Munich (M.D., 1830). Agassiz practiced medicine briefly, but his real interest lay in scientific research. In 1831 he went to Paris, where he became a close friend of Alexander von Humboldt and studied fossil fishes under the guidance of Cuvier. In 1832 he became professor of natural history at the Univ. of Neuchâtel, which he made a noted center for scientific study. Among his publications during this period were Recherches sur les poissons fossiles (5 vol. and atlas, 1833-44), a work of historic importance in the field (although his system of classification by scales has been discarded); studies of fossil echinoderms and mollusks; and Étude sur les glaciers (1840), one of the first expositions of glacial movements and deposits, based on his own observations and measurements. Agassiz came to the United States in 1846 and two years later accepted the professorship of zoology and geology at Harvard. His first wife died in Germany in 1848, and in 1850 in Cambridge he married Elizabeth Cabot Cary (see Agassiz, Elizabeth Cabot Cary). In the United States he was primarily a teacher and very popular lecturer. Emphasizing advanced and original work, he gave major impetus to the study of science directly from nature and influenced a generation of American scientists. His extensive research expeditions included one along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas from Boston to California (1871-72). His Contributions to the Natural History of the United States (4 vol., 1857-62) includes his famous "Essay on Classification," an extension of the theory of recapitulation to geologic time. Despite his own evidences for evolution, Agassiz opposed Darwinism and believed that new species could arise only through the intervention of God.

See biographies by J. Marcou (including letters, 1896), J. D. Teller (1947), and E. Lurie (1960, repr. 1967); L. Cooper, Louis Agassiz as a Teacher (rev. ed. 1945).

Agassiz, Lake, glacial lake of the Pleistocene epoch, c.700 mi (1,130 km) long, 250 mi (400 km) wide, formed by the melting of the continental ice sheet beginning some 14,000 years ago; it eventually covered much of present-day NW Minnesota, NE North Dakota, S Manitoba, central E Saskatchewan, and SW Ontario. The lake was named in 1879 in memory of Louis Agassiz for his contributions to the theory of the glacial epoch. Lake Traverse, Big Stone Lake, and the Minnesota River are in the channel of prehistoric River Warren, Lake Agassiz's original outlet to the south. As the ice melted, the water drained E into Lake Superior, and after the ice disappeared, N into Hudson Bay. The lake's disappearance (c.8,400 years ago) left lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Winnipegosis, Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, and other smaller lakes. The bed of the old lake, the Red River valley, has become an important crop-growing region due to its rich soil.

(born May 28, 1807, Motier, Switz.—died Dec. 14, 1873, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.) Swiss-born U.S. naturalist, geologist, and teacher. After studies in Switzerland and Germany, he moved to the U.S. in 1846. He did landmark work on glacier activity and extinct fishes. He became famous for his innovative teaching methods, which encouraged learning through direct observation of nature, and his term as a zoology professor at Harvard University revolutionized the study of natural history in the U.S.; every notable American teacher of natural history in the late 19th century was a pupil either of Agassiz or of one of his students. In addition, he was an outstanding science administrator, promoter, and fund-raiser. He was a lifelong opponent of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. His second wife, Elizabeth Agassiz, cofounder and first president of Radcliffe College, and his son, Alexander Agassiz, were also noted naturalists.

Learn more about Agassiz, (Jean) Louis (Rodolphe) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

The Agassiz family counts several notable individuals:

Various things have been named after the people:

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