Talk:Louis Agassiz

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Proposal of an ice age : "In 1837 Agassiz was the first to ... Prior to this de Saussure"
but de Saussure is linked to Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 - February 22, 1913) so there is another De Saussure phe

look like Horace Benedict de Saussure phe 12:07, 19 Sep 2004 (UTC)


This page is missing completely Agassiz's writings on race -- they should be added in. --Fastfission 04:34, 21 Apr 2005 (UTC)

-- re polygenism: Agassiz was a special creationist, and as such held views which are difficult to briefly characterize in modern terminology. Thus, he held that all men belonged to one species, but that a single species could be created in more than one place, and so held that the various races of man were "one and the same species capable of ranging over the whole surface of the globe" (quoted in Lurie (1988:256)), but that various races had been created in different biogeographic regions. This account is, of course, fairly nonsensical by modern lights, but provides useful insights into Agassiz's ideas on the origin of biological diversity. Embedded in an account of his views on special creation, a discussion of Agassiz's views on polygenism would be interesting, especially if linked to their social and theological implications, but the mere mention of the word in the introductory paragraph, with no elaboration in the body of the article, seems more misleading than helpful. Lurie does provide such an account of Agassiz's views. 28 November 2005

  • I agree that there should be more elaboration in the body. I'm not sure total omission is the path either, though. One article I have found interesting on this point is Stephen Jay Gould, "Flaws in a Victorian Veil", New Scientist 79 (31 Aug. 1978), 632-633. I'm not sure if the account you've provided of A.'s views is completely accurate in my assessment (the piece A. wrote for Knott and Giddon's Types of Mankind does not encourage an idea that he thought all races were the same species, in my recollection), but I'll look over my papers again and try to come up with something fair and accurate. --Fastfission 01:39, 29 November 2005 (UTC)
  • Just as one word cannot do justice to Agassiz's views, my one sentence cannot do so either, and it thus cries out for amplification and even correction. I am not sufficiently a scholar of Agassiz to supply this myself, and would welcome the results of your study. 5 December 2005
I'd suggest that Progressive creationism is the closest to the position of Agassiz, but the term "creationist" is anachronistic and should be avoided: as was usual among scientists of his generation he believed in divine creation of species, but accepted that species had changed or at least differed over long periods of time. .....dave souza 08:41, 13 January 2006 (UTC)

Add external link[edit]

Please add a link to <>, which is editing and publishing all of the correspondence of Charles Darwin. Louis Agassiz was a significant correspondent of Darwin. Eadp 14:24, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Cape of Good Hope race article has an exact copy of the map in this article under Racial Classification section. The small amount text in this other article would fit better here. Corrigann 22:37, 2 May 2006 (UTC)

I was just finishing an english paper based on Louis Agassiz and his views on race. I was looking more into his beliefs and came across this article. This article misses a heavy amount of what Agassiz was all about... his work with Samuel Morton and his implications that the white man was the most superior race in the world. He also suggested to a commissioner under Lincoln's presidency that the government do all they can to seperate the white and black man from ever recreating or living as one.

Agassiz anecdote[edit]

The Agassiz statue, Stanford University, California. San Francisco Earthquake 1906

During the 1906 earthquake at Stanford University a statue of Agassiz fell from a building and embedded itself headfirst in the pavement. A professor is said to have remarked: "I always did appreciate Agassiz more in the abstract than in the concrete. . ." --Saxophobia 23:35, 26 June 2006 (UTC)--Saxophobia 23:35, 26 June 2006 (UTC)

Not really appropriate for the main page, but have added the picture from Commons --Bwmodular 08:57, 24 October 2006 (UTC)

The quip is attributed to David Star Jordon. --Wloveral (talk) 02:14, 26 April 2008 (UTC)

Some to the autorship of the glacial theory[edit]

Is racism notable?[edit]

I moved the sentence here:

Louis Agassiz was a hard racist. He developed the theories of racism and of apartheid. (Daniel Ryser, Wochenzeitung Nr. 24, 14. Juni 2007 / Hans Fässler, Reisen in Schwarz-Weiss)

Anybody with better knowledge than me, please, verify if this opinion is verifiable and notable enough to be included! What I'm thinking is that this could be the conclusion of a single person, written up in a non-specialist weekly paper, which is not to be included because of undue weight per WP:NPOV. Anybody know? Awolf002 01:42, 15 June 2007 (UTC)

There's little doubt that he had some racist theories; that was not unusual or particularly weird for scientists of his time. But if we say anything about, it needs to not extrapolate beyond reliable sources, and attribute anything we say via reference to a reliable source. Here are some places to look. Dicklyon 03:57, 15 June 2007 (UTC)
It is certainly notable that such an important scientist supported and developed racist theories, and it should be included like in the German language article. Béka 10:01, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
You can read an interesting study :
Edward Lurie (1954). Louis Agassiz and the Races of Man, Isis, 45 (3) : 227-242. ISSN 0021-1753
--Valérie75 07:50, 18 June 2007 (UTC)
It is a shame that the well-known and well-documented racism of Agassiz is not adequately treated in the article (as it is in the French and in the German Wikipedia; see also the discussion pages). The whole article is a pure hagiography unworthy of Wikipedia. Why not document and admit the dark sides of a scientist? Who wants to hide the truth? Who asks the scandalous question "Is racism notable?" (title of this text)? Let's be honest and show the racism of Agassiz (which he shared with many Americans and Swiss of his times). -- R. L., 18:00, 12 Sep. 2007 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:01, 12 September 2007 (UTC)

On September 14, 2007, the Swiss Federal Council (Swiss Government) criticized the "racist thinking" of Agassiz. -- R.L., 16:08, 14 September 2007 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Please provide a source, otherwise we'll have to remove that assertion from the article. I agree with you that this "dark side" should be documented, but wikipedia policy requires that we do that with verifiable sources, not hearsay. Dicklyon 23:39, 15 September 2007 (UTC)
Okay. On September 12, 2007, the Swiss Government (Federal Council) answered an interpellation by Carlo Sommaruga (member of the Swiss Parliament) about Louis Agassiz. It is interpellation 20073486. You can read it in (in German): The Government stated: "Es besteht kein Zweifel, dass der heutige Bundesrat sein rassistisches Denken verurteilt". My translation: "There is no doubt that the actual Swiss Government condemns his racist thinking." -- R.L., 10:58, 16 September 2007 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Many sources on Agassiz's racism exist: Stephen Jay Gould, "Flaws in a Victorian Veil," Chapter 16 in The Panda's Thumb, is a very accessible one. There are far more academic ones as well; basically any work on ethnology before Darwin discusses him extensively. Practically any book about Agassiz will feature some discussion of it. -- 14:33, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

It greatly disturbs me that those who condemn Agassiz as a racist fail to appreciate that the evolutionists (led by Darwin) used evolutionary theory to defend their racism by inferring from evolutionism that some races were more fit to rule than others. Evolutionists were the ones in the forefront of finding a "scientific" justification for racism which, ultimately, led to the eugenics movement which, in turn, led to the holocaust. The abolitionists opposed to slavery before the American Civil War where usually inspired by religious (ie. Christian) zeal rather than a scientific argument against slavery. (I am not aware of any scientific arguments which supported abolition.)

While it is doubtful that Agassiz did not hold any politically incorrect opinions (as was the case of all his peers in the mid to late 19th Century) I cannot accept that he should be branded a racist solely because of his opinions which were heavily influenced by his cultural context. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:52, 7 August 2014 (UTC)

Broken Link removed[edit]

Ryz (talk) 21:52, 22 January 2008 (UTC)


He's called Swiss-American in the intro and certainly spent a lot of his life in the US, but did he ever take American citizenship or self-identify as American? If not, then it's not correct to call him Swiss-American - he was simply a Swiss person who settled in America. Also, the article is written with a mix of Commonwealth English spellings and American English ones. It should be one or the other, not a mix. (talk) 13:48, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

I think it's reasonable to say that Agassiz became Swiss-American. He ended his life here, and was considered during his life one of the nation's great scientists by his peers. Whether he took citizenship or not, he became part of the United States by virtue of his fame. If he had traveled back to Europe every year to visit, that would be another matter. He and his family settled in the Untied States until his death - that's good enough.

MarkinBoston (talk) 02:55, 23 December 2010 (UTC)

Inline citations[edit]

Other than the section on racism, the article as a whole badly needs more inline citations. I've tagged one section, but others could be tagged as well. Peter coxhead (talk) 22:40, 2 December 2009 (UTC)

The racism thing[edit]

The article on Agassiz does a good job of dealing with Agassiz and racism as it is written today (Dec 22, 2010). There seem to be people who work themselves into a froth over Agassiz's racism to make themselves feel important and superior. Let's be clear - NO ONE writing on this site would have known about Agassiz's racism if not for Stephen Jay Gould's Book The Mismeasure of Man and his short magazine articles that were connected into books. It was Gould who revealed the incident from a Philadelphia restaurant found in Agassiz's letters. Yes, folks, Louis Agassiz was a racist. As was virtually every white person on the planet during the same years. Darwin was a racist(EDIT: No he wasn't :"I did not anywhere meet a more civil and obliging man than this negro; it was therefore the more painful to see that he would not sit down and eat with us." --Charles Darwin) , as was Lincoln, and every other figure of note during the time. While it is worthwhile to discuss Agassiz's racism as it appears in his work, as far as I know there is no known incident of Agassiz doing harm to a black person in his lifetime. Which is more than we could say about millions of white people in the Western World at the same time.

I saw a comment on a message board just about a week ago. Agassiz was mentioned regarding a school named after him, and the commenter huffed "He's one of the most notorious racists of all time!" Really? Someone read his private letters and put them in a magazine article 100 years after he died, and that makes him one of history's most notorious racists? Let's not project our own morality on to the people of the past - let's face it, they're just not as good and virtuous as we are. :-(

The same scientists who believed, with Agassiz, that blacks were biologically inferior to whites (that would be all of them) also believed that white women were inferior in the same way - also a favorite topic of Stephen Jay Gould. Is there a section here about Agassiz the Sexist? The truth is that Agassiz the Racist became a meme - parroted by people who don't even know the source, much less the context. It lets white people feel superior to someone who can't defend himself (being dead), and most importantly, it doesn't cost them anything. The article as it is covers the topic - to satisfy the sophomoric haters - while keeping the man's work in focus. That's a good thing - unless we're going to dig up the man's body and drag it through the streets for the crime of being a man of his time.

<rant off> MarkinBoston (talk) 03:12, 23 December 2010 (UTC)

Agassiz was not a racist. He was a polygenist who believed races were different, unique and were created separately in different locations. He was not political and he opposed slavery. Please look up polygenism, you will see it is not racist. Stephen Jay Gould's book The Mismeasure of Man is a dishonest book, filled with many distorted references. For example Gould claimed Samuel George Morton (another polygenist) had faked data to prove polygenism (skull data). This was just Gould's opinion and turned out to be completey false. Recent studies have confirmed Morton's data. Check out for example the study by John Michael "A New Look at Morton's Craniological Research".
Gould also claimed Agassiz was a sexist, this was completey false. The letters concering the restaurant, Gould blew out of context. Gould wrote the book mismeasure of man just to attack polygenists, it is not an honest book. Agassiz believed that all the races are different, this viewpoint is not racist. It is biologically impossible that all the races came from the same source (every race acts and looks completley different) Polygenism is the only logical explanation and science confirms it. (talk) 03:39, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
Thankfully, Wikipedia requires reliable secondary sourcing of scientific and historic perspective, to establish a preponderance (or at least strongly supported vein) of opinion on each scholarly subject. When 86…131 returns with such, we would be glad to hear more. In re: the historical observations and the assessment of Gould's Mismeasure: we might be more sympathetic if those opinions as well had been supported as being shared by any more established sources than 86…131 alone. Wikipedia does not much care what individual editor's believe; it is committed to a neutral POV and to encyclopedic rather than persuasive writing. Cheers, will look back time to time to see if you have anything of substance (by our definitions) to offer. See additional closing Talk section, this same date, on the flawed John Michael work almost cited, and on the current status of the debate on the George Morton matter. Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 16:49, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

Agassiz-Harvard, Cambridge[edit]

Apologies, that last edit was mine. A number of my friends were having trouble finding this info., since "Agassiz" searchstring comes here, with no hotlink to the relevant AgCam page. Dak06 (talk) 12:43, 23 April 2011 (UTC)

Closing note on the related George Morton matter[edit]

The Mismeasure essays by Gould that attack Agassiz also attack George Morton, and after a period of some rumination, it appears that opinion is solidifying around the point that, with respect to his research on this subject, Gould performed something of an historical/scientific "hack job" on Morton. Contrary to the foregoing IP editor's comment, it was not Michael's work that has turned the matter around. As was recently stated, questions about Gould’s characterization of Morton led Michael to reconsider the primary data of Morton:

Unfortunately, the Michael study has multiple significant flaws rendering it uninformative... It is rarely cited and, as noted by Kitcher, ‘‘virtually nobody has reacted to Michael’s article by seeing it as a refutation of Gould’’. (Citation below)

Rather, a recent study has arrived at the same conclusion, and for its thoroughness, is seeing some acceptance. In a further perspective on that study, its authors state:

our results falsify Gould’s hypothesis that Morton manipulated his data to conform with his a priori views. The data on cranial capacity gathered by Morton are generally reliable, and he reported them fully. Overall, we find that Morton’s initial reputation as the objectivist of his era was well-deserved. That Morton’s data are reliable despite his clear bias weakens the argument of Gould and others that biased results are endemic in science. Gould was certainly correct to note that scientists are human beings and, as such, are inevitably biased, a point frequently made in ‘‘science studies.’’ But the power of the scientific approach is that a properly designed and executed methodology can largely shield the outcome from the influence of the investigator’s bias. Science does not rely on investigators being unbiased ‘‘automatons.’’ Instead, it relies on methods that limit the ability of the investigator’s admittedly inevitable biases to skew the results. Morton’s methods were sound, and our analysis shows that they prevented Morton’s biases from significantly impacting his results. The Morton case, rather than illustrating the ubiquity of bias, instead shows the ability of science to escape the bounds and blinders of cultural contexts."

The source of this quote, in PLoS Biology, appears appended; it is suggested that such careful work with good sources, and not scientific or historical polemic, is what is required in both the Morton and the Agassiz historical matters. Cheer. Le Prof. Leprof 7272 (talk) 17:13, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

Source for the foregoing (point article for further digging on Morton, and the limitations of Gould essays in shaping historical debate):

  • J.E. Lewis, D. DeGusta, M.R. Meyer, J.M. Monge, A.E. Mann& R.L. Holloway (2011) The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias. PLoS Biol 9(6): e1001071. doi:10.1371/ journal.pbio.1001071, see [1], accessed 8 June 2014.

Prominent source in polygenism section[edit] corrected, for the chapter is by Paul Blowers, not Mandelbrote (whose name will continue to appear, because I am not changing the many name= appearances). And Mandelbrote is one of two of the volume's editors. Bottom line, I corrected and completed the citation, so it can now actually be found and consulted. Unfortunately, the link provided is to limited access content. If someone finds a more openly accessible version of the book chapter, perhaps at ResearchGate, its URL should be substituted here. Finally, this important section overly relies on this single citation, and so a section tag was placed. The source is clearly reputable and high quality, but it still appears with far too great a frequency for an encyclopedic article, and especially in a section that is critically important in contemporary times—perhaps those renaming schools and such consult this article before deciding? This section needs to be improved, broadly speaking. To begin (to the original editor who has access to Blowers chapter): Who does Blower cite in his section of that chapter? To others, besides the Morton reevaluation (that discredits Gould), what else is going on in recent scholarship on this matter? Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 17:58, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

In polygenism, combined Gould and other racism accusations[edit]

…and placed these combined, common statements together as article's "last word". I also reworked the Sections opening, so that the title concept's definition appears first, and before an outlink to a related WP article (so reader gleans critical content here, before leaving). I also added the names of some cited opinion-holders, especially when a bold claim is being made, and so the over-used Blowers author's name appears a couple of times. (See above for agreement and tagging, to expand the sources for this section.) I also made some small touch-ups throughout, including correcting a couple of last appearance of the "Mandelbrote" reference, see above. This is all for me today. See how this fits. Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 19:47, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

Initial bold edit of lede to broaden its coverage of the article material[edit]

…was performed, to capture the scope of his scientific work, some of the modern objections, and the broader impacts of his teaching style (as are nicely covered in the article). I am neither an organismal biologist nor an historian of science, and so this bold edit should be seen as an invitation to all who are expert to broaden the lede to cover the article. As well, I have sought to (and encourage others also to) remain committedly neutral in POV regarding the unfortunate but historically understandable themes of his work that have brought him to the fore, esp. since Gould's essays. Cheers, bonne écriture/composition. Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 16:33, 8 June 2014 (UTC)

Moved here because lede was last edit to be performed, posting now. Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 21:20, 8 June 2014 (UTC)
Here are further web articles that might point to further biographical information, to be sourced and included here. In particular, the matter of the originality versus derivative or emulator nature of Agassiz'z contributions, of his reception by faculty colleagues, of a failed business enterprise in Europe and its connection to his failed first marriage are described elsewhere but passingly or not at all in the WP article. Hence there is much that can be done (with caveats again for solid referencing—not these, from the web, but rather the sources they use—and for maintaining a neutral POV). Cheers, Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 21:35, 8 June 2014 (UTC)
Le Prof Leprof 7272 (talk) 21:35, 8 June 2014 (UTC)