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Agassiz, Louis

Agassiz, Louis

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).

(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.

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The Agassiz family counts several notable individuals:

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