Biographer of Famed Naturalist Louis Agassiz at MBL Falmouth Forum, March 7

Contact: Susan Joslin
508-289-7281; sjoslin@mbl.eduChristoph Irmscher WOODS HOLE, MA—The MBL Falmouth Forum will offers its fourth presentation of the season on Friday, March 7 with a presentation by author and professor Christoph Irmscher titled “Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science.”  The talk will be held at 7:30 PM in the MBL’s Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. Sponsored by the MBL Associates, the Falmouth Forum series is free and open to the public.

This MBL Falmouth Forum series is also supported by a generous donation from The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod.

Louis Agassiz was a famed Swiss-born nineteenth century zoologist and founder of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. He established the Anderson Summer School of Natural History on Penikese Island, in Buzzards Bay in 1873, a precursor to the Marine Biological Laboratory. Agassiz’s motto “Study Nature, Not Books” has informed science at the MBL for over a century.Christoph Irmscher’s recently published biography of the anti-Darwinist Agassiz, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science, has been widely reviewed and was Editor’s Choice of The New York Times Book Review in February 2013.Rebecca Stott wrote in The New York Times Sunday Book Review:  “Distinctly undelightful” is how Irmscher describes Agassiz in this new biography. Irmscher confesses that he struggled to reconcile the prejudices, the authoritarianism and the brilliance of his subject… 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. There’s no airbrushing in “Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science.”

Irmsher teaches and writes about nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and Canadian literature and culture. One long-standing interest is ecocriticism, specifically early American nature writing—hence the book on The Poetics of Natural History, an edition of the writings of John James Audubon, and the ecocritical anthology, A Keener Perception, which Irmscher co-edited with the art historian Alan Braddock. Another abiding passion is nineteenth-century American poetry. In Longfellow Redux, he tried to understand a period in which poetry was meant to be read by a broad, transnational audience.

In recent years, Irmscher has worked extensively with public institutions, the National Park Service, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Maine Historical Society, and Harvard University’s Houghton Library, where he guest-curated the 2007 Bicentennial Longfellow exhibit (the companion book for the exhibit is Public Poet, Private Man, published by the University of Massachusetts Press).

Irmscher was a consultant for, and appeared in, two award-winning documentaries on John James Audubon, the “American Masters” film directed by Lawrence Hott, and A Summer of Birds, directed by Christina Melton.

Irmscher is now at work on a new biography of writer, poet, and activist Max Eastman, tentatively titled When Love Was Red. His personal website can be found at

An optional buffet dinner will precede the lecture at 6:00 pm at the MBL’s Swope Center, 5 North Street, Woods Hole. Tickets are $30 (meal includes salad, pasta or potatoes, two entrees, wine, dessert, tax and gratuity) and must be purchased in advance at Eight Cousins Children’s Books, Main Street, Falmouth or at the MBL Communications Office (between 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM only), 127 Water Street, Woods Hole. Dinner tickets are available until they sell out or until 5:00 pm on Tuesday, March 4. For more information, contact the MBL Communications Office at (508) 289-7423 or

The remaining presentations of the MBL Falmouth Forum series are below. Visit the MBL Falmouth Forum web page at for details and updated information.

March 21, 2014
“Guano and Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History”
Gregory Cushman, Associate Professor of International Environmental History, The University of Kansas

April 4, 2014            Herman T. Epstein Endowed Memorial Lectureship
“The Accidental Universe”
Alan Lightman, physicist, writer, social entrepreneur, and professor of humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The poetry reading by Pulitzer-prize winner Stephen Dunn, originally scheduled for February 14th has been rescheduled for Friday, April
18 at 7:30 PM.

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.
The MBL Associates are a group of individuals and businesses that support the scientific mission of the MBL through their gifts to the Annual Fund. The Associates sponsor educational and research programs for the MBL and raise funds for special projects. In addition, they operate the MBL Gift Shop, located on Water Street in Woods Hole, the profits from which support scientific fellowships.