OBITUARY: Melvin Kranzberg

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The Independent Online
The history of technology is a late-comer to the range of academic disciplines, and Melvin Kranzberg did more than anybody in the Western world to secure its acceptance. This achievement was based on three foundations: first, his enthusiam and skill as a teacher, which won him generations of admirers amongst students and colleagues; second, his devotion to the creation of a society to advance the study of the subject; and third, his tireless commitment to the support of causes involved in the history of technology, both at home in the United States and, most outstandingly, through his international affiliations.

Together with others, he formed the Society for the History of Technology (Shot) in 1958, with himself as founding editor of its quarterly journal, Technology and Culture. He held this post until 1984, and used it to develop a lively international forum for the discussion of all aspects of technological history.

In national affairs, Mel Kranzberg was an adviser to Nasa on aspects of the space programme, and for a time advised President Jimmy Carter on science and technology. Internationally, he was associated with the creation of Icohtec, the International Committee for the History of Technology. This was set up in 1968 at the International Congress for the History of Science and Technology which met that summer in Paris. It was a sensitive moment in international relationships, after the "Prague Spring" and the student riots in Paris itself, but it was an act of faith in the importance of maintaining contacts between scholars across the barriers of the Cold War. Most years in this period, members of Icohtec contrived to meet for a symposium in either East or West Europe. Kranzberg's never-failing enthusiasm, his patient diplomacy and his infectious laughter played an important part in this. He attended virtually every meeting of Icohtec, including the 22nd symposium which was held in Bath in the summer of 1994.

Kranzberg arguably gave too little attention to his own scholarly career. His own thoughts were mainly expressed in editorials and conference papers and have not, as yet, been made available in a substantial form. This is a pity, because he wrote with a pithy topicality about technology and society. Students on both sides of the Atlantic have cause to be grateful for the two-volume textbook which he edited with Carroll Pursell, Technology in Western Civilisation (1967). And many will recall the memorable, if somewhat gnomic, epigram which became known to his students as "Kranzberg's First Law": "Technology is neither good nor bad - nor is it neutral."

R. Angus Buchanan

Melvin Kranzberg, historian of technology: born St Louis, Missouri 22 November 1917; Calloway Professor of the History of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology 1972-88; married lastly 1984 Louise Lester; died Atlanta, Georgia 6 December 1995.