Howard R. Bartlett, professor emeritus of history and head of the Department of Humanities for a quarter of a century, died December 27 at a convalescent home in Topsham, ME, at the age of 91. Until recently, he had lived in South Harpswell, ME, where he went following his retirement from MIT.
Professor Bartlett, who played a key role in the development of the humanities curriculum at MIT, came to the Institute in 1929 as an instructor in what was then called the Department of English and History and later became the Department of Humanities.
At the time he recalled in an interview, there were only 16 or 17 faculty members in the department. "We all taught everything in those days, including composition, engineering report writing, public speaking, and a modest amount of literature and history," he said.
He was appointed assistant professor in 1935 and associate professor in 1938. He became acting head of the department that year and in 1940 was made department head with the rank of professor. He continued in that post until 1963, when he relinquished his administrative duties to return to teaching. He retired in 1967, but continued to teach as a senior lecturer until 1970.
During his time as department head, the role of humanities became increasingly important at MIT, as represented by the establishment of the School of Humanities and Social Science in 1950 and the inauguration of a "double major" in humanities and science or engineering in 1955. This was followed by the establishment of a humanities major in 1966, which was in great measure the culmination of Professor Bartlett's work.
Professor Bartlett was born in Auburn, ME, in 1901. He received a bachelor's degree in history and sociology from Dartmouth College in 1923, and a master's degree in history from Harvard University in 1929. After spending four years in business, he taught history for one year at Haverhill High School before coming to MIT.
Early in his career, Professor Bartlett's special interest was American economic history. He later concentrated on contemporary social and political history-specifically, the changes wrought by technology and the manner in which various cultures, particularly those of underdeveloped nations, adjust to them.
In 1963, as a consultant to the Ford Foundation, he helped establish the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India. He had previously been in India in 1957 as a consultant for the State Department's International Exchange Service and the Indian Ministry of Education.
In 1958, Professor Bartlett and his late wife, Helen, took up residence in Burton House, an MIT dormitory, as the first step in what has become the highly successful house master system at MIT, in which all dormitories have resident masters and tutors.
He was house master until 1963, when he and Mrs. Bartlett returned to their home in Winchester. In Winchester, Professor Bartlet was a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Schools and chairman of the School Committee.
Mr. Bartlett's wife died in 1987. Their only child, Linda Hersey, died in February. He is survived by his son-in-law, Elliott Hersey of New Boston, NH, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
A version of this article appeared in the January 6, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 17).