Closing of CMRAE Disappointing
The Tech received a copy of the following, addressed to Provost Mark S. Wrighton:
I am extremely dismayed by your decision to close the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology and beg you to reconsider it. The benefits of having this program on campus far exceed the relatively small cost to the Institute, and we shall all be intellectually poorer without it.
CMRAE is the descendant of the Lab for Research on Archaeological Materials, started by the late Institute Professor Cyril Stanley Smith in 1967. That laboratory was one of the very first to apply the scientific techniques of materials science towards the study of historical artifacts; CMRAE continues that tradition today. Its research program "emphasizes rigorous laboratory study of artifacts ... in order to determine the nature and structure of the materials of which they are composed."
Rigorous laboratory study. These words underlie the decision of the eight local institutions which founded CMRAE to center the program here at MIT. While CMRAE's mission is an interdisciplinary one, encompassing the study of history, archaeology, and anthropology, it rests on a solid scientific foundation - allowing the artifacts to speak for themselves - which is best built at a technical institution.
With what is arguably the best materials science department in the United States, we have at MIT the intellectual talent and research facilities necessary for this work. Like the lunar samples brought back by the Apollo missions, each artifact is an irreplaceable treasure. When performing microstructural evaluation, painstaking metallographic techniques and state of the art methods of non-destructive analysis are necessary to minimize the inevitable damage to the artifact. Microstructural evaluation is an art, a science, and a big business in the "real world."
CMRAE helps keep MIT on the leading edge - its program has been widely praised by scholars in its own field, who are more qualified than myself to judge it. But I will add that my own educational and professional interactions with Professor Heather N. Lechtman have been extremely valuable. Her extensive field work, laboratory experience, and technical understanding of materials science add immeasurable depth to her lectures and writings on ancient cultures.
This is what we expect from the faculty of MIT - lectures given not just by lecturers, but by the leading researchers in the field. How can we expect Professor Lechtman and Associate Professor Dorothy Hosler to maintain this edge without the use of their research facility? Is this how we pursue excellence at MIT?
CMRAE has benefits to people outside of the field of archaeometry. As a student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, I have always taken great pride in the Center's existence. It seeks to document the unrecorded skills, knowledge and values of our own intellectual forebears using the same tools that I use in my own materials research. When we analytically investigate an artifact, we see not only the artist or craftsman who gave it shape, but also the engineer who gave it strength and structure.
Like the Sloan School and the Linguistics Department, CMRAE excels not by emulating other archaeological programs, but by applying an innovative and rigorous scientific approach to what was traditionally a humanistic endeavor. While there is little room at the Institute for a graduate history program in the typical sense, there is no more fitting place for conducting a scientific inquiry into the historic past.
It is ironic that as the CMRAE decision was made, the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology was enticed to settle at MIT. At that time, Tech Talk noted that "[Provost] Mark S. Wrighton, who played a key role in establishing the Dibner Institute and Burndy Library at MIT, said all of the consortium members have long-standing commitments to the study of the history of science and technology."
I do not see that commitment in the present action. CMRAE is a world class program combining science and the humanities, and its cost is low when compared to its benefits. It is certainly true that CMRAE should seek outside funding; however, it is unreasonable to expect the government or private foundations to support a program which receives no moral or financial support from the Institute itself.
I myself am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with Professor C. S. Smith about the benefits which accrue from the melange of science and the humanities, an issue which filled the later years of his life. Professors Lechtman and Hosler keep this spirit alive at MIT to the benefit of students and scholars alike. Please reconsider your decision to close CMRAE.
Robert B. Calhoun G