Nonetheless, there is no arguing with the claim that Agassiz, a Swiss immigrant, was pivotal to the making of American science. He was “one of the first,” Irmscher writes, “to establish science as a collective enterprise.” He was extraordinarily prolific and influential in many fields, including paleontology, zoology, geology and glaciology. He pioneered field research and was among the first to propose that the Earth had endured an ice age. A charismatic teacher whose students in natural history went on to become the teachers and scientists of the next generation, he was also an obsessive collector, enlisting the American public in a vast campaign to send him natural history specimens so he could build a remarkable museum of comparative anatomy. The range of Agassiz’s interests and expertise seems remarkable to a modern reader, given the narrow specialties of contemporary scientific practice, but in many ways, it was this restless curiosity that made him a transitional figure. He may have forged the path for research as a profession ensconced in universities endowed with posts and chairs, but he also belonged to the older age of the polymathic natural philosopher.
more from Rebecca Stott at the NY Times here.