Henry N. Michael
Henry N. Michael, former professor and chair of geography, died Feb. 19, at the age of 92.
Born in Pittsburgh, Michael earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where he maintained strong working relationships throughout his life.
Michael arrived at Temple as an assistant professor in 1959, and served as chair of the geography department from 1965 to 1973.
In his first years here, Michael helped transform geography from a small section of the history program to its own department. He retired from Temple in 1980.
Each year, the geography department awards the Henry Michael Prize in Geography and Urban Studies to an outstanding student for achievement in geographical studies.
Michael’s research included studies of Siberia and the cultures of the Eskimos and other Arctic people, and research on the ancient bristlecone pine trees found in east-central California.
He is best known for his work using the pine trees, the ages of which could be determined based on their ring patterns, to help resolve problems of radiocarbon dating. He applied radiocarbon testing to the trees, which can live 4,500 years or more, and compared their known ages with the results. His research ultimately helped expand the known record for radiocarbon testing by thousands of years, creating “a reliable chronology for archaeologists and other scientists,” according to The New York Times.
Until last year, Michael continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, working at its Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology, where he was a senior fellow.
Described by former colleagues as an “enthusiastic geographer” and “intrepid traveler,” Michael traveled to Siberia during the Cold War, when travel there was difficult, and well into his 80s.
In demand as a lecturer on the Soviet Union, Michael amassed a huge collection of maps and slides of Russia, which he often used in his popular classes on the Soviet Union as well as his many guest lectures.
Michael was a founder of the Delaware Valley Geographical Society in 1964, and served on the society’s steering committee until recently.
He was honored with the society’s first lifetime achievement award in 2001.