Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

7/1/2005 - 6/30/2006

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

A Cultural Biography of American Scientist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)

FAIN: FA-51718-05

Christoph Irmscher
UMBC (Baltimore, MD 21250-0001)

I'm requesting support for a cultural biography of the American scientist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), once considered the most important American scientist but now mostly remembered for his stubborn opposition to Darwinism. Agassiz was equally famous as a paleontologist, ichthyologist, and geologist, and he pioneered the genre of popular science writing in America. At the same time, he was an unabashed racist. My biography, the first in over 40 years, will re-visit the central tenets of Agassiz's theories and discuss this cultural importance (Emerson regarded him as one of "my men"), the reasons for his unprecedented success in America, and the links between his science and his racism.

Associated Products

Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (Book)
Title: Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science
Author: Christoph Irmscher
Abstract: forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Winter 2012. Christoph Irmscher vividly illuminates a colorful and controversial titan of American natural science. With brilliant insight, Irmscher reveals how Louis Agassiz bridged the gap between specialist and amateur in 19th-century America, changing ordinary people’s relationship with science--and the role of the scientist--forever. Invited to deliver a series of lectures in Boston, the charismatic Swiss naturalist legendary for his study of glaciers, took America by storm. An obsessive collector and fieldworker, Agassiz enlisted the public in a vast campaign to send him specimens for his ingeniously conceived museum of comparative zoology. As an educator of enduring impact, he trained a generation of young scientists and teachers. But there’s a dark side to the story. Irmscher adds unflinching evidence of Agassiz's racist impulses and shows how avidly Americans looked to men of science to mediate race policy. The book’s potent, original scenes include the pitched battle between Agassiz and his student Henry James Clark as well as catty exchanges between Darwin and Harvard botanist Asa Gray over the great Agassiz’s stubborn resistance to evolution.
Year: 2012
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Catalog description in Fall 2012 catalog for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Type: Single author monograph