Guyot, Arnold Henri (1807-1884)

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Guyot, Arnold Henri (1807-1884)

Swiss geologist and geographer

Arnold Henri Guyot's geological field studies advanced the knowledge of lakes , glaciers , ice ages , mountains, erratic boulders, evolution , and weather .

Guyot was born in Boudevilliers, Switzerland, on September 28, 1807. After graduating from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1825, he went to Germany to continue his studies in botany, zoology, entomology, geography, and theology. While living and studying with botanist Alexander Braun (18051877) in Karlsruhe, Germany, he met naturalist Louis Agassiz (18071873) and botanist Karl Friedrich Schimper (18031867), who would later coin the term "ice age." During this time, Guyot considered becoming a minister, but decided instead on a career in science. He received his doctorate in geology from the University of Berlin in 1835 with a dissertation on lakes. Among his professors at Berlin was the geographer Carl Ritter (17791859).

For the next four years, Guyot worked as a private tutor for the family of the Count of Pourtalès-Gorgier in Paris and traveled throughout Europe . Reacquainted with Agassiz in Paris in 1838, Guyot became interested in glaciers, though he disagreed with Agassiz on many points of interpretation. They decided to collaborate on a study of Alpine glaciers, but through a misunderstanding between them, the resultant publication appeared under Agassiz's name alone in 1847. Guyot and Agassiz remained friends, but Guyot only received credit for his work on this project in the 1880s, after both his and Agassiz's deaths.

Pursuing research in botany, geology, geography, glaciology, meteorology , and cartography , Guyot taught history, natural history, and physical geography at the Neuchâtel Academy from 1839 until the Revolutions of 1848 closed that institution and deprived him of his livelihood. In consequence, he, Agassiz, and many other first-rate scientists immigrated to America. Lectures he presented at the Lowell Technological Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, published as Earth and Man in 1849, quickly established his reputation in the English-speaking world.

In 1854, Guyot became professor of geology and physical geography at Princeton University, where he remained until his death in Princeton, New Jersey, on February 8, 1884. He founded what became the Princeton Department of Geosciences in 1855 and the Princeton Museum of Natural History in 1856. Princeton named him the first John I. Blair professor of geology in 1864. During his summers on vacation from Princeton, Guyot conducted extensive on-site meteorological studies of the Appalachians from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, to Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. These explorations eventually led to the creation of the Appalachian Trail. He encouraged his student, William Berryman Scott (18581947), later the second Blair professor, to lead a dangerous expedition to Colorado to gather fossils in 1877.

The "guyot," a flat-topped undersea mountain, was named for him by the sixth Blair professor, Harry Hammond Hess (19061969). Also named in his honor are three mountains, one in New Hampshire, one on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, and one in Colorado, as well as Guyot Hall, the geology building at Princeton.

See also Evolution, evidence of; Glacial landforms; Glaciation; Moraines; Mountain chains; Weather forecasting methods; Rock

Guyot, Arnold Henri

views updated May 21 2018

Guyot, Arnold Henri

(b. Boudevilliers, Switzerland, 28 September 1807; d. Princeton, New Jersey. 8 February 1884)

geography, glacial geology.

At the University of Neuchâtel, Guyot’s studies were classical while his early interest in nature was satisfied by collecting insects and plants. In 1825 he went to Germany to continue his education. He studied first at Karlstruhe, where he lived with the family of Alexander Braun, who was often visited by Louis Agassiz and Karl Schimper during their vacations. He later went to Berlin to prepare for the ministry. Guyot eventually abandoned theology for science, however, and terminated his education in 1835 with a doctoral dissertation on the natural classification of lakes.

Soon after, Guyot left Berlin for Paris, having accepted the responsibility of educating the sons of the Count de Pourtalès-Gorgier. While in this position he traveled extensively in Europe for four years. In the spring of 1838, Agassizmet Guyot in Paris, and finding him unconvinced about his new concept of a glacial age, urged him to visit the Alpine glaciers that summer. Guyot spent six weeks in the Alps making a series of fundamental observations on the moraines, the differential flow of glaciers, and the banded structure of the ice (blue bands). These results, although presented orally at the meeting of the Geological Society of France in Porrentruy, in September 1838, were not published because Agassiz and Guyot had decided to collaborate on a major work in which Agassiz would study the glaciers and Guyot the erratic boulders in the plains of Switzerland.

In the following years, Guyot saw with pleasure—and also with some bitterness—most of his conclusions confirmed by Agassiz, Edward Forbes, and others. But since Guyot’s original work had not been published, he did not receive proper credit for these findings. In 1847 Agassiz published only one volume, Système glaciaire, of the joint work, which he alone had written. It was not until 1883, after Agassiz’s death, that a short summary of Guyot’s contributions to the project was published.

Guyot returned to Neuchâtel in 1839, and was appointed professor of history and physical geography at the academy there. His major study of the distribution of erratic boulders in Switzerland was undertaken between 1840 and 1847. By tracing the boulders to their original outcrops along the northern slope of the Alps, he recognized eight erratic basins demonstrating the former existence of gigantic Alpine glaciers, as postulated by Agassiz. But Guyot wrote very little on the subject, having planned to publish a complete account of his investigation in the second volume of Agassiz’s work which never appeared.

The revolution of 1848 led to the suppression of the academy in June of that year, and Guyot followed Agassiz to America. At the Lowell Technological Institute in Boston he taught comparative physical geography. His lectures, Earth and Man, published in 1849, represent a far-reaching synthesis in which he visualized a divine law of progress common to Genesis, the evolution of the earth, and the history of humanity. In his later years, as shown by his work Creation (1884), he partially accepted the doctrine of evolution through natural causes.

In 1854 Guyot was appointed professor of physical geography and geology at Princeton. He spread the new concept of geographic education by means of field studies, and for that purpose prepared, between 1861 and 1875, a series of specially designed textbooks and wall maps which became very popular.

Under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, Guyot established the instrumental and geographic requirements for a national system of meteorological stations. In order to find the best location for these stations, he undertook a systematic topographical survey of the entire Appalachians from Vermont to North Carolina, a gigantic task which he completed in 1881 with the survey of the Catskills.

In his honor, the term “guyot” is applied to a seamount, generally deeper than 200 meters, whose top is a relatively smooth platform. Originally proposed by H. H. Hess in 1946 after extensive investigations in the Pacific, this term is now in common use throughout the world.


I. Original Works. Guyot’s chief work is Earth and Man, or Lectures on Comparative Physical Geography in Its Relation to the History of Mankind, translated from the French by C. C. Felton (Boston, 1849). A collection of meteorological and physical tables, with other tables useful in practical meteorology, prepared for and published by the Smithsonian Institution are in Smithsonian Institution Publication no. 538 (Washington, D.C., 1852; other eds., 1859, 1884), p. 747.

Other works by Guyot include “On the Topography of the State of New York,” in American Journal of Science, 2ndser., 8 (1852), 272–276.; On the Appalachian Mountain System,” ibid., 31 (1861), 157–187; “On the physical Structure and Hypsometry of the Catskill Mountain Region,” ibid., 3rd sec., 19 (1880), 429–451: “Observations sur les glaciers,” in Bulletin de la Societe des sciences naturelles de Neuchâtel, 13 (1883), 156–159, with a letter or introduction, pp. 151–156; and Creation, or the Biblical Cosmogony in the Light of Modern Science (New York 1884).

II. Secondary Literature. For works about Guyot, see J. D. Dana, “Memoir of Arnold Guyot (1807–1884).” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 2 (1886), 309–347, which has a complete list of Guyot’s publications; and C. Faure, “Vie et travaux d’Arnold Guyot,” in Globe, 23 (1884), 3–72.

Albert V. Carozzi

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