Critical Section

RIP Edwin Munger

Friday,  09/10/10  06:12 PM

Edwin Munger, Caltech Professor of GeographyI just saw an obituary for Edwin Munger in the Summer issue of Caltech's Engineering & Science magazine, and wanted to add a few personal notes.  I took several classes from Professor Munger while at Caltech in the late 70s, and I venture to say that they were among the most important and formative of any I took, despite being concerned with "Africa studies", while I majored in Biochemistry.

Prof. Munger's classes were relatively unstructured; he taught via anecdotes, of which he had a limitless supply, and often invited visiting African dignitaries to come and speak and answer questions.  (A sample assignment: think of at least one good question to ask the President of Namibia.)  There was a fair amount of reading involved - this was pre-Internet, pre-Google, so finding relevant material involved spending serious time in the library - and a fair amount of writing too.  I remember being struck that Prof. Munger always read and edited everything I wrote, and was as concerned with style and logic argument as with facts and knowledge.  He had a great sense of humor, and his criticisms, while plentiful, were of a kind and constructive nature.  I think my approach to learning and communicating was strongly influenced by taking his classes, and those are things which have been most useful in my subsequent career.

Prof. Munger influenced an entire generation of Caltech scientists-to-be in this way, and leaves an immense legacy.  He will be missed.

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