News at Princeton

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Web Stories

Bicentennial of Princeton geologist celebrated, Sept. 5-Oct. 26

The 200th birthday of Arnold Guyot, a Princeton University geographer and geologist whose extensive research was a basis for the U.S. Weather Bureau, will be honored with an exhibit, ceremony and public lectures at Princeton.

The Arnold Guyot Bicentennial Exhibit will be on display from Wednesday, Sept. 5, to Friday, Oct. 26, in the second-floor display area of the University's Frist Campus Center. Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman and Ambassador Christoph Bubb, consul general of Switzerland in New York, will speak at the exhibit's opening ceremony at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, in the Frist Campus Center. All bicentennial activities are free and open to the public.

Born in Switzerland on Sept. 28, 1807, Guyot was a professor of geology and physical geography at Princeton from 1854 to 1884. A University science building, Guyot Hall, is named for him. He gained international acclaim for his scientific endeavors in physical geography, glaciology, meteorology, cartography and science education. Before coming to Princeton, Guyot was a professor of history and physical geography at the Academy of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.  

Through his research on altitude and atmospheric pressure, Guyot established a standard method of gathering and recording meteorological weather data that led to the founding of the U.S. Weather Bureau. He also is credited with: discerning key laws of glacial motion; advancing ecological concepts of the interconnectedness of Earth, its inhabitants, the oceans and climate; and creating a lasting series of geography textbooks, color-coded wall maps and atlases.

"Guyot's significant contribution to science and education is not well known, even among some geoscientists," said William Bonini, chair of the bicentennial committee and Princeton's George J. Magee Professor of Geophysics and Geological Engineering Emeritus. "Guyot was working in the middle of the 19th century when the study of geology was just becoming interesting. His research had a very important influence on the understanding and teaching of geography and geology for several generations."

The University exhibit reflects three aspects of Guyot's life: Guyot as explorer, Guyot as educator and Guyot as scientist. His original microscope and Swiss ink well will be on display, along with the original copy of Guyot's 1849 textbook, "Earth and Man," and original copies of three textbooks from his widely used physical geography series. Many of the items are courtesy of the Princeton University Archives and the Historical Society of Princeton.

One of Guyot's many accomplishments was a series of physical geographic maps of the Appalachian Mountain chain, and the exhibit will feature a copy of a map from the series used by Union forces during the Civil War.

In addition to the exhibit and opening ceremony, the bicentennial will feature two public lectures on Monday, Oct. 15. Professor Karl Foellmi of the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland will give a geology lecture about phosphorites and indicators of past environmental change at 2 p.m. in 220 Guyot Hall. The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Geosciences.

Urs Ziswiler, ambassador of Switzerland to the United States, will give a lecture titled "Human Security in 21st-Century World Politics" at 4:30 p.m. in 16 Robertson Hall. The lecture is sponsored by the University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Ziswiler formerly served as the head of the Directorate of Political Affairs at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and as diplomatic adviser to the minister of foreign affairs.

Bonini, who will speak at the opening ceremony along with Princeton Department of Geosciences Chair Bess Ward, said the bicentennial is a fitting way to recognize the founder of geological studies at Princeton.  

"We hope that the wealth of materials and information presented during the bicentennial will cause people to associate the name Guyot with much more than just a building on the University campus," Bonini said.

Guyot was the first professionally-trained geographer to receive an academic appointment to an American university and was Princeton's first Blair Professor of Geology. In 1856, he established a natural history museum inside the University, filling it with thousands of geological, biological and archaeological specimens. Some of the items are still housed in Guyot Hall and the University Art Museum.

Guyot's tenure at Princeton also influenced Woodrow Wilson, who was a student in one the Swiss American's geography classes. Wilson was president of the University when Guyot Hall was named in 1909 and was president of the United States when he recognized Guyot as one of the founders of the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1916.

Back To Top