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Revisting Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science @ Lille Auditorium
March 7 @ 7:30 pm
Christoph Irmscher, Provost Professor of English, Indiana University
“Distinctly undelightful” is how Irmscher describes Agassiz in this evocative new biography. He confesses that he struggled to reconcile the prejudices, the authoritarianism and the brilliance of his subject, asking, “Can we love Agassiz?” It is a strange and complex question. “Do we need to love Agassiz?” we might reply. But the question, though odd, is a particular one in science biography. Agassiz and his peers stand in the shadow of Darwin’s extraordinarily liberal, kindly, generous good nature. Alongside Darwin, some of these men look selfish, mean-minded and bigoted. They are difficult to like. But irreconcilable contradictions make for interesting biographies. And Irmscher doesn’t allow the “undelightful” aspects to disappear in the service of myth making. Instead, he draws out the complexities of his subject and helps us to see them as part of the fabric of 19th-century science.