Guyot, A. (Arnold), 1807-1884

Alternative names
Birth 1807-09-28
Death 1884-02-08
English, French

Biographical notes:

Arnold Henry Guyot was a geographer and the first to formulate laws of structure and movement of glaciers. He published geography textbooks, 1866-1875, and was professor of physical geography and geology at Princeton University, 1854-1884.

From the description of Correspondence, 1857-1882. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122316399

Geographer and geologist.

From the description of Letter of A. Guyot, circa 1857. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79450594

American geographer and educator.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Cambridge, Mass., to Rev. Dr. Walker, 1854 June 20. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 743875364

Arnold Guyot was a Swiss-born American geologist, geographer, and educator. Born in Boudevilliers, near Neuchâtel, Switzerland, he obtained his doctoral degree at Berlin. Between 1839 and 1848 he taught physical geography and history at the Academy of Neuchâtel. In 1948 Guyot came to the United States, and in 1854 he was appointed Professor of Geology and Physical Geography at the College of New Jersey. The following year he began what is now the Department of Geological and Geophysical Sciences and started the institution's first systematic instruction in geology. In 1856 he founded what is now the Princeton Museum of Natural History. Guyot's main activities focused on hypsometric measurements of the eastern mountains from New England to North Carolina, on meteorology, and on the reform of geographic teaching in colleges and secondary schools. Guyot was involved in the formative years of weather forecasting in the United States, and his extensive meteorological observations led to the founding of the U.S. Weather Bureau. Guyot also developed topographical maps of the Appalachian and Catskill mountains. His published works include THE EARTH AND MAN (English translation, 1849), TABLES, METEOROLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL (1859), and CREATION, or THE BIBLICAL COSMOGONY IN THE LIGHT OF MODERN SCIENCE (1884). Guyot's many texts, geographic atlases, and wall charts continued to be published long after his death.

From the description of Arnold Guyot collection, 1829-1928. (Peking University Library). WorldCat record id: 74213228

One of the most prominent scientific refugees from the political turmoil of 1848, Arnold Guyot made fundamental contributions to the study of geology, glaciology, and meteorology on two continents. Born at Boudevilliers, Switzerland, in 1807, Guyot began his studies at the College of Neuchatel, where, like his classmate Leo Lesquereux (later a prominent paleobotanist), he originally intended for the ministry. After two years studying the classics in Germany and a two year course in theology at Neuchatel, he enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1829 to complete his path to the pulpit.

Yet in Berlin, Guyot's interests began to shift away from theology, if not from religion. Under the influence of friends like Louis Agassiz and the excitement of lectures he attended on philosophy and natural history, Guyot decided instead to pursue a doctorate in the sciences, writing a dissertation on "The Natural Classification of Lakes" (PhD, 1835) under the eminent geographer Carl Ritter. Throughout his stay in Berlin, and during the five years that followed, when he worked as a private tutor in Paris, Guyot traveled widely on naturalizing tours, collecting shells and rocks, making observations and scientific colleagues.

In 1838, Guyot took up the challenge of testing the theory of his friend Louis Agassiz that northern Europe had formerly been covered by glaciers, and although Agassiz took much of the credit for the results, Guyot won an invitation to return to join the faculty at Neuchatel to teach physical geography and history. Guyot became the first to describe the differential rate of flow within an ice sheet, to demonstrate that glacial flow occurred by molecular displacement rather than sliding of the entire ice mass, and the first, as well, to discuss the importance of the laminated structure of glacial ice.

When the Grand Revolutionary Council of Geneva closed the College in 1848, however, Guyot found himself without a job. During the summer, he (like Lesquereux) followed Agassiz to the comparative calm of the United States, and within a year, he published his first work in English. Based on a series of lectures he had delivered at the Lowell Institute, The Earth and Man (1849) was an instant success, drawing connections between physical environment and human society and character, and earning him a position with the Massachusetts Board of Education as a lecturer on geography and pedagogy.

Lured to Princeton in 1854, Guyot was appointed Professor of Geology and Physical Geography, a position he held for over three decades. Although he continued to do field work in physical geography for several years, his research shifted gradually toward meteorology. In his best known work, he made an extensive series of barometric measurements in the Appalachians to estimate elevation, and he helped establish a national system for weather monitoring, outfitting meteorological observation stations for the network being built by Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian. His Collection of Meteorological Tables, with Other Tables Useful in Practical Meteorology (Washington, 1852) became a standard in the field. He is remembered, as well, as an outstanding teacher, often bringing students into the field with him to learn basic skills, and as the key figure in building the Elizabeth Marsh Museum at Princeton into one of the nation's finest.

An evangelical Presbyterian, Guyot was also a key figure in the characteristically Princeton effort to reconcile religion and science during the 1870s and 1880s. His "Cosmogony and the Bible" (1874) and Creation, or the Biblical Cosmogony in the Light of Modern Science (1884) were sincere, and widely popular, efforts to proclaim that modern science supported, rather than undermined faith. His claimed, generally, that both the books of nature and scripture were complementary, having originated in the same author, and although he insisted that nature was divinely ordered, it was nevertheless bound by natural law. Although he was never warm to Darwinian natural selection, he even admitted that natural evolution of a limited sort was possible, stating that only three divine interventions were necessary to explain the natural world: the special creation of matter, life, and humanity.

Between 1861 and 1866, Guyot lectured at Princeton Theological Seminary on revealed religion, physical science, and ethnology, and he gave occasional courses at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Guyot remained at Princeton until his death in 1884.

From the guide to the Arnold Guyot Collection, 1857-1882, (American Philosophical Society)


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