Irmscher to examine influential — and racist — figure in science for Assembly Series


The problems of racism in America have deep roots. That’s what literary critic and biographer Christoph Irmscher, PhD, will remind the Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27.

Irmscher’s lecture,”Talking About Race in 19th-Century American Science: Louis Agassiz and His Contemporaries,” is the annual Thomas Hall Lecture in the History of Science. It is free and open to the public and will be held in Rebstock Hall, Room 210, on the university’s Danforth Campus.

The talk is based on Irmscher’s most recent biography, “Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science” (2013). Agassiz is the charismatic, brilliant and controversial Swiss immigrant who came to America 150 years ago and became the most famous scientist of his time while establishing the foundation for modern American science. Agassiz also was a white supremacist who vehemently disagreed with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Irmscher’s biography doesn’t shy away from the scientist’s dark side, but rather paints a full picture of a man who was extraordinarily prolific and influential in so many scientific fields, yet blinded by his own prejudices. “Louis Agassiz” was selected by The New York Times Book Review as an editor’s choice in its February 2013 issue.

Irmscher is the provost professor of English and the George F. Getz Jr. Professor in the Wells Scholars Program at Indiana University Bloomington. He is the author of several books, including “The Poetics of Natural History,” “Longfellow Redux” and “Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200.” He also is widely recognized as the leading authority on John James Audubon.

He served as a consultant on PBS’ “American Masters” documentary on Audubon, and he was featured in the Louisiana Public Television documentary “A Summer of Birds.”

Irmscher earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Bonn in Germany.

For more information on Irmscher’s work, visit here. For information on upcoming Assembly Series programs, visit here.