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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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History Professor Gerald L. Geison dies

L. Geison, a history professor who was well known for his teaching and research on the history of medicine, was found dead in his home in Princeton Monday. He was 58 and died of an enlarged heart.

Professor Geison, a professor in the history department and the Program in History of Science, came to Princeton as an assistant professor in 1970.

Born in Savanna, Ill., he was a star basketball player and class valedictorian in high school. He won a scholarship to Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., where he was introduced to the history and philosophy of science. He went on to earn a doctorate in Yale University's Department of the History of Science and Medicine in 1970 and then joined the Princeton faculty.

Professor Geison was an especially popular and rigorous teacher at Princeton, noted Robert Tignor, the incoming chairman of the history department. His course, "Disease and Doctors in the Modern West," attracted many students each year for more than two decades, and was high on the list of non-science courses taken by Princeton pre-medical students. Professor Geison was scheduled to teach the course again in the fall semester.

"He was, above all, a passionate teacher of the history of science," said his colleague, Professor Angela N. H. Creager. "His devotion to his graduate students was legendary. He had a special ability to bring the best out of his students, in part because he knew how to give praise as well as criticism. Possessed of a keen editorial eye, Gerry was an astute reader of the works-in-progress of his students and colleagues. Always approachable and down to earth, he drew students to see science and medicine as human enterprises."

Professor Geison wrote two books, "The Private Science of Louis Pasteur" (1995) and "Michael Foster and the Cambridge School of Physiology: The Scientific Enterprise in Late Victorian Society" (1978), and edited four more. In addition, he wrote about 40 scholarly essays and book reviews and contributed 20 articles to the Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

His biography of Pasteur was viewed as an outstanding work of scholarship which penetrated the secrecy that had surrounded much of the legendary scientist's laboratory work. Professor Geison used Pasteur's laboratory notebooks and published papers to described some of the most famous episodes in the history of science - including their darker sides, such as the human risks entailed in Pasteur's haste to develop the rabies vaccine. A reviewer wrote in the "New England Journal of Medicine" that the book "requires us to reevaluate our heroes and consider the complexities of scienceinstead of merely clinging to comforting and heroic myths."

At Princeton, Professor Geison served as director of the Program in History of Science from 1980 to 1986 and was the program's director of graduate studies for many years. He was associate dean of the college from 1977 to 1979, master of the Graduate College from 1982 to 1985, and secretary of the Committee on the Course of Study from 1977 to 1979.

He received many honors and invitations to lecture on his work. The American Association for the History of Medicine awarded its 1996 William H. Welch Medal to Professor Geison's book on Pasteur. He was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, a visiting historical scholar at the National Library of Medicine and a visiting senior Wellcome fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London. He received a Howard Foundation fellowship in 1979-80.

Early in his academic career, Professor Geison was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and a research fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Professor Geison was a member of the editorial board of the "Journal of the History of Medicine" (1996), a contributing editor of "Osiris" (1984-1991), and advisory editor of "Isis" (1979-82). He was a member of the History of Science Society and served on several society committees. He also served as a referee and consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the American Physiological Society, and the university presses of California, Cambridge, Harvard, Notre Dame, Oxford and Princeton.

He is survived by two sons, Christopher and Andrew, both of San Francisco, Calif.; and five siblings: Carmen Kellogg of Rockford, Ill.; Roger Geison of Savannah, Ill.; Rita Huizenga of Moline, Ill.; Stan Geison of Bloomington, Ill.; and Lt. Col. Gordon Geison of Sterling, Va.

Plans for a memorial service have not been finalized.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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