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Cambridge could rename neighborhood named for 19th-century racist

The Harvard Crimson reports the Cambridge City Council voted unanimously yesterday to begin looking at a new name for the Agassiz neighborhood, named for the 19th-century Harvard professor who, when not doing groundbreaking work in fields from ichthyology to glaciology, found time to dabble in scientific racism (one guess which race he found inferior).

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ages and ages ago that centered around Moses and the lost tribes of Israel. I'm gonna butcher the synopsis here but bear with me;

As much of the physical world was unknown to scholars and explorers at the time, the only lens they used was that of the story or christianity. Which, inadvertently meant "White Jesus, moses, etc..."

So when new discoveries were made that didn't line up with what was expected and explorers found giant lost cities inhabited by brown folks, they just couldn't process it. The thought process was it just HAD to have been made by white people because they KNEW there was a lost tribe out there.

This is how you get folklore of supposed white bearded men in the Amazon. The confused (and entirely wrong) explorers brought back stories more so of what they WANTED to find versus what they actually found.

This is to not excuse the topic at hand but this instant cancelling of legacies because someone at the time was more misinformed than they were evil is troubling.

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White scholars and explorers knew people in Africa and the Middle East didn't look like them, yet they still depicted Jesus as white. Why do you think they did that?

Agassiz's legacy isn't getting cancelled, it's just being put in it's proper context, which is he had a lot of racist ideas and we shouldn't be celebrating him because of that. Whether you think he was "misinformed" or evil is irrelevant, the end result is the same: he promulgated racist ideas that legitimized a world view that still negatively effects people today.

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We agree on your first point and maybe I didn't explain it eloquently enough.

OF COURSE they knew people looked different

I should have been more specific in saying my original comment was about Spanish and European explorers and what drove them and how they interpreted what they found as they tore through the Amazon.

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If we agree Agassiz' master race "science" was based on racism (duh), then why are you defending commemorating him for that racist science? It's not like he wrote the declaration of independence or something, he's famous for being a "scientist."

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There's plenty of racism in our history. But I haven't heard of folklore of white bearded men in the Amazon. Have a cite?

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Henry Stanley for one thought he found one of them in Africa and it was used to justify colonialism.

Like I said at first, i was gonna butcher the story, but seems everyone would rather be mad then talk about it. I'm no red hat, or even conservative for that matter, but not being able to calmly discuss anything anymore in regards to history is the reason we're where we are as a country.

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there’s just nothing to discuss.

not naming a city after (or building a statue of, or taking a day to remember) a racist isn’t “cancelling” him. it’s a blatantly false equivalence that’s engineered to protect the status quo.

you say you aren’t conservative — which btw, the second you have to tell someone that you aren’t, you should probably examine what you’ve argued thus far — so imagine there was a high school named after robert e. lee in cambridge. would you support its renaming?

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"This is to not excuse the topic at hand but this instant cancelling of legacies because someone at the time was more misinformed than they were evil is troubling."

And also there is now far too much of viewing the past through the values,concepts and mores of today. This is known as "presentism" and is an inaccurate way to view history and an inaccurate way to further society along.

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There's a related concept called chronological snobbery: the belief that "intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century."

Suggesting that nobody knew racism was wrong in the 19th century, a timeframe that included the Civil War, may reasonably be seen as chronological snobbery. Sure, it was socially acceptable to be a racist, but every American alive at the time had ample opportunity not to be. Agassiz made his choice.

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We're just saying that maybe, knowing now what we know now, maybe we shouldn't continue to memorialize his work. There's nothing "presentist" about that.

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They're (maybe) renaming a neighborhood. They're not tearing the dude's name out of books or removing him out of photos.

The area was named something different in the past. It will almost certainly be called something different in the future, whether this name change goes through or not. Why should we have to keep memorializing this particular guy just because people in the past thought we should?

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people really have to stop equating not memorializing racists with erasing history

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I know Cambridge already renamed the elementary school in the area for the same reason. Was the Agassiz School in JP [technically closed but still running some programs like After School] named for the same professor?

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His wife Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz and his daughter Ida Agassiz Higginson (married the BSO founder) have many things named after them in Boston and Cambridge. Feminist pioneers that are now 'problematic'.

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Simple solution: rename it the "Alexander Agassiz" neighborhood or the "Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz" neighborhood.

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Agassiz was one of the most renowned naturalists of his time, but he was not exactly prescient. Here is his review of Origin of Species, by his esteemed colleague Charles Darwin:

A scientific mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its methods, and mischievous in its tendency.

Agassiz was a creationist (19th century variety), and a scientist in the old manner, which is to say he formed his scientific theories to agree with his religious and philosophical presumptions, which is why he was such easy prey for pseudoscientific racism.

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And now they can also start to look at street names, they will find some problematic ones I'm sure

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