Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Memory of Dr. Margaret Osler

Last week the University of Calgary lost a superb teacher & scholar, who I deeply admired, and a witty and caring woman, of whom I was very fond.

Dr. Osler joined Calgary's department of History in 1975, and for the next 35 years enriched the world's understanding of the history of science and religion, intellectual history, the mechanical philosophy and the scientific revolution. She helped create the major and minor undergraduate programs in History and Philosophy of Science, the interdisciplinary M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Cultural Studies, and the Research Institute in Gender Studies. She also served as coordinator for the Science, Technology and Society program. Her published work is impressive in volume and quality, and her professional standing was of the first class. All of which was simply a result of her brilliant mind, impatience with guff, and wicked sense of humour.

During the coursework of my PhD I took a seminar with Dr. Osler on the development of the mechanical philosophy in the 16th & 17th centuries, roughly Gassendi through to Newton. It was utterly outside my field, but the opportunity to study with Dr. Osler was not to be missed simply because I was here in Calgary to study something else and didn't have an adequate background to study the topic at that level! My standing in the class could perhaps be best summarized by a comment on the paper I wrote, in the margin of which appeared "For flailing this isn't bad". That was all Maggie - succinct, penetrating, and witty.

As her teaching assistant, something I had the privilege to be more than once, I will always treasure that I was paid to listen to her lectures. How often to we get to listen to a world expert on an interesting field range over the topic with humour and wisdom? She told me more than once that when I "got over that political stuff" I should come and study a 'real' topic with her. I treasure that, and I choose to think that it was more indicative of her opinion of me than the time she snored through my lecture in her class. (In my defence I did better the next time!)

Outside of the University Dr. Osler was active in the Calgary community, dedicating time to the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association and the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, among others. Issues great and small were subject to her acute and occasionally acerbic wit, and to her warmth.

Goodbye Maggie, the world is a poorer and less interesting place without you. You touched many of us, and we won't forget.

The University of Calgary obituary is here:

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