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Buck To Retire By Fall

40-year teaching veteran oversaw growth of History of Science department

By Emily J. Nelson, Crimson Staff Writer

A key architect of the College’s History of Science undergraduate program will retire this semester after a four-decade academic and administrative career which included 30 years at Harvard.

Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer Peter Buck, who began teaching at the College in 1966, has been involved with the department over a period that saw considerable growth.

Franklin L. Ford Professor Steven Shapin—who co-taught the History of Science sophomore tutorial with Buck the past two fall semesters—spoke highly of his departing colleague.

“I think the world of him,” Shapin said. “He will be very sorely missed.”

Shapin said Buck oversaw a “very considerable revision” of the undergraduate program and described Buck as “caring,” “versatile,” and “a genuine intellectual.”

As director of undergraduate studies, Buck’s central responsibilities were supervising the tutorial program and advising undergraduates.

Buck first began teaching as a junior faculty member at Harvard in 1966.

He left the University to teach for ten years at MIT, but returned to Harvard in 1987 when he was appointed dean of the summer school and became a member of the History of Science department.

Buck said the department only included three faculty members, 30 undergraduates, and 20 graduate students when he first joined.

Today, the numbers have risen to more than a dozen faculty members, 90 undergraduates, and 50 graduate students.

“The main thing that has happened is the department faculty have become a good deal more engaged with the undergraduate program,” Buck said.

The tutorial program, for example, is now almost completely taught by faculty members, according to Buck.

Buck said that although he is looking forward to his retirement, he will certainly miss teaching.

“Teaching history of science has been enormously satisfying,” Buck said. “I’m going to miss it.”

Former students of Buck also praised his teaching abilities and personality.

Briahna J. Gray ’07, who took History of Science 97a under Buck, called the professor “a delight.”

“He is genuinely intellectually engaged,” she said. “He is always available and encourages you to come in and talk to him.”

Kyle D. Kovacs ’08, who also took History of Science 97a with Buck, wrote in an e-mail that Professor Buck is “as personable as professors at Harvard come. He gave every lecture with a smile.”

Buck said that he plans to spend a large portion of his retirement writing books at a house in the Berkshires that he and his wife bought a few years ago.

“I have one book [about small hospitals] that I started writing 20 years ago,” Buck said. “I really do have ambitions to go back to being a serious scholar.”

A new director of undergraduate studies has not yet been named.

According to Buck, the incoming chair of the History of Science department, who will replace outgoing chair Allan M. Brandt at the end of the semester, will make the appointment.

“I think the department is large enough now that the departure of any one person will not make any difference to it,” Buck said. “It’s the best history of science department in the country.”

—Staff writer Emily J. Nelson can be reached at

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