Reading the Shape of Nature: Comparative Zoology at the Agassiz Museum
Reading the Shape of Nature vividly recounts the turbulent early history of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard and the contrasting careers of its founder Louis Agassiz and his son Alexander. Through the story of this institution and the individuals who formed it, Mary P. Winsor explores the conflicting forces that shaped systematics in the second half of the nineteenth century. Debates over the philosophical foundations of classification, details of taxonomic research, the young institution's financial struggles, and the personalities of the men most deeply involved are all brought to life.
In 1859, Louis Agassiz established the Museum of Comparative Zoology to house research on the ideal types that he believed were embodied in all living forms. Agassiz's vision arose from his insistence that the order inherent in the diversity of life reflected divine creation, not organic evolution. But the mortar of the new museum had scarcely dried when Darwin's Origin was published. By Louis Agassiz's death in 1873, even his former students, including his son Alexander, had defected to the evolutionist camp. Alexander, a self-made millionaire, succeeded his father as director and introduced a significantly different agenda for the museum.
To trace Louis and Alexander's arguments and the style of science they established at the museum, Winsor uses many fascinating examples that even zoologists may find unfamiliar. The locus of all this activity, the museum building itself, tells its own story through a wonderful series of archival photographs.
What people are saying - Write a review
We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.
In the Prime of His Admirable Manhood
I Have Been Disappointed in My Collaborators
Our Work Must Be Done with Much More Precision
An Object Worthy of a Lifes Devotion
The Many Plans Started by My Father
Shall We Say Ignorabimus or Chase a Phantom?
The Slender Thread Is Practically Severed
Results Unattainable by Museum Study Alone
Agassiz to Lyman Agassiz's students Alexander Agassiz Allen American animals Annual Report arrangement assistants Baird Barbour biogeography biology Boston Society Brazil Cambarus Cambridge cave characters collections College Comparative Zoology Archives crayfish Crustacea curator Darwin distinct Echini Eigenmann Eliot embryology Essay on Classification evolution evolutionary evolutionists father Faxon Fewkes fish fossil G. R. Agassiz Garman genera genus geographical groups H. L. Clark Hagen Harvard University Archives Henshaw Huxley Hyatt Ibid idea idem insects institution islands laboratory later lecture Letters and Recollections living Louis Agassiz M.C.Z. Archives material monograph Morse Mortensen Museum of Comparative Natural History naturalists Newport Origin of Species Packard pedicellariae pellucidus Professor published Samuel Garman scientific scientist Scudder sea urchins Shaler Society of Natural specimens systematics T. H. Huxley taxonomic taxonomists teaching Thayer Theodore Lyman theory Thomas Barbour thought tion Uhler Verrill wrote Wyandotte Cave zoologists