Louis Agassiz

Louis Agassiz (Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz) (zhäN lwē rôdôlf´ ăg´əsē), 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 a 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. His influence extended to the fields of zoology, paleontology, geology, anatomy, and glaciology. 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), E. Lurie (1960, repr. 1967), and C. Irmscher (2013); L. Cooper, Louis Agassiz as a Teacher (rev. ed. 1945).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Louis Agassiz: Selected full-text books and articles

Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science By Edward Lurie University of Chicago Press, 1960
FREE! Methods of Study in Natural History By L. Agassiz Ticknor and Fields, 1863
Essay on Classification By Louis Agassiz; Edward Lurie Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962
Correspondence between Spencer Fullerton Baird and Louis Agassiz--Two Pioneer American Naturalists By Spencer Fullerton Baird; Elmer Charles Herber Smithsonian Institution, 1963
The Lazzaroni: Science and Scientists in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America By Lillian B. Miller; Frederick Voss; Jeannette M. Hussey; National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution) Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972
Librarian's tip: "Louis Agassiz" begins on p. 24
Science and Religion in the Era of William James By Paul Jerome Croce University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Librarian's tip: "Louis Agassiz: Popular Science and Resistance to Darwinism" begins on p. 112
Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists By Keir B. Sterling; Richard P. Harmond; George A. Cevasco; Lorne F. Hammond Greenwood Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Agassiz, (Jean) Louis (Rodolphe) begins on p. 9
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.