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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 6, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 20
Obituary: Hopkins Historian Owen Hannaway Dies at 66


By Lisa De Nike

Owen Hannaway, an expert in the history of science in early modern Europe who was known for his love of history and brilliant classroom oratorical style, died Jan. 21 at the age of 66 at Keswick Multi-Care Center in Roland Park. He was a resident of Guilford.

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Hannaway came to the Krieger School as an assistant professor in the Department of the History of Science in 1967. He later served — twice — as department chair before being designated as professor emeritus in 2000.

In a memorial service held Jan. 28 at Evergreen House, colleagues, former students and friends remembered Hannaway as a scholar, teacher and mentor whose penetrating mind and razor-sharp intellect were belied by a gentle manner, an excellent sense of humor and a distinct talent — cultivated at the Jesuit boys' school he attended during his early years — for public speaking.

"Owen would talk for two hours straight and was a riveting performer in the classroom," recalls Sharon Kingsland, chair of the Department of the History of Science and Technology. "The students were enraptured and inspired. His penetrating observations helped us understand what real scholarship was about."

Hannaway was born in Glasgow in 1939 and in 1957 entered Glasgow University, famous for being home to 19th-century physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), as well as to a series of eminent chemical historians dating back to the 18th century. Hannaway received his bachelor of science with honors in chemistry in 1961 and his doctorate in chemistry from the same institution in 1965. A year later, he moved to the United States and took a position as postdoctoral fellow in the History of Science Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In 1967, he came to Johns Hopkins and began what would prove to be a noteworthy and productive career. He became a full professor in 1977 and served as chair of the Department of the History of Science and Technology from 1978 to 1982 and from 1986 to 1989.

"Owen was spellbound by history and the power of ideas," remembers Pamela Smith, Hannaway's former Ph.D. student and now a professor of history at Columbia University. "His enthusiasm on reading a new interesting historical work and his intellectual curiosity were infectious."

Hannaway's scholarly interests included the history of chemistry from the Renaissance to today, as well as the history of science more generally and the history of exploration and American ornithology. His book The Chemists and the Word: The Didactic Origins of Chemistry (1975) is now regarded as a classic and is credited with stimulating historical interest in the relationship between pedagogy and the discipline of chemistry. In 1985, he co-edited Observation, Experiment and Hypothesis in Modern Physical Science (Studies from the Johns Hopkins Center for the History & Philosophy of Science) with Peter Achinstein. Colleagues also report that Hannaway was particularly adept at interpreting the visual materials that earlier scientists used to illustrate their ideas, and that he encouraged his students to take a more analytical approach to these images.

In 1999, the Chemical Heritage Foundation recognized and honored Hannaway with a symposium called "Chemists and Texts: A Symposium on the History of Chemistry in Honor of Dr. Owen Hannaway." He was the 1991 recipient of the American Chemical Society's Division of the History of Chemistry's Dexter Award for Outstanding Achievement in the History of Chemistry, and was awarded the Derek Price/Rod Webster Prize by the History of Science Society in 1988.

"Owen was the kind of scholar I admired immensely, combining immense erudition with interpretative reach and boldness," says Steven Shapin, the Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University and a colleague of Hannaway's. "I had the very highest admiration for his work ... and for his delightful conversation."

Hannaway is survived by his wife of 37 years, Caroline, a historian of medicine.


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