Professor Elting E. Morison dies at 85


Elting E. Morison, one of the nation's most distinguished historians and a founder of MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS), where he was a professor emeritus, died April 20 in Peterborough, NH. He was 85.

A funeral service was held April 23 in the Unitarian Church, Peterborough. He was buried in Pine Hill Cemetery, Peterborough.

His colleagues at STS are planning to honor his life and work in the fall with a special event that will focus on Professor Morison's contributions to the history of technology and to MIT.

Professor Morison, who held the Elizabeth and James R. Killian Class of 1926 Chair, commanded wide attention for more than half a century with his writings on the social, political, intellectual and industrial history of the United States. The Boston Globe, reporting his death, called him "an educator and industrial historian who believed that technology could only be harnessed to serve human beings when scientists and poets could meet with mutual understanding."

He first came to MIT in 1946 as an assistant professor of English in the Department of Humanities. Later, as a professor of industrial history at the Sloan School of Management, he directed a program designed to reveal the sweep of technological change as reported in the history of science, technology and industrial development.

In 1966 he joined Yale University as master of Timothy Dwight College and professor of history and American studies. He returned to MIT in 1972 as the holder of the Killian chair.

In the 1970s he played a major role in conceiving and planning what has become the interdisciplinary STS program through which MIT faculty and students focus on the ways in which scientific, technological and social factors interact.

Professor Morison was born in Milwaukee on December 14, 1909. He received the BA degree from Harvard in 1932 and the MA in 1937. He was assistant dean at Harvard from 1935 to 1937. During World War II he served in the Naval Reserve.

In 1948 he became director of the Theodore Roosevelt Research Project which resulted in the publishing of an eight-volume series, The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, of which he was editor from 1951-54.

Other works include Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy (1942), which won him the American Historical Association's John H. Dunning Prize;Turmoil and Tradition (1960), a biography of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of State in the Hoover administration and later Secretary of War in the Roosevelt administration, which earned the Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians; Men, Machines and Modern Times (1966) which won the Academy of Management's McKinsey Award; and his last book, From Know-How to Nowhere: The Development of American Technology, published in 1974.

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Forbes) Tilghman Morison; a son, Nicholas G. Morison; two daughters, Mary Morison Nur and Sarah Morison Ford; a brother, John Morison; four stepsons, Benjamin, William, Christopher and James Tilghman; and three grandchildren.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 26, 1995.


Topics: Obituaries

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