IHPST Professor Emeritus Janis Langins passed away on September 9, 2019. He was 74 years old. The cause of death was cancer.
Janis Langins received a Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering from McGill University, and a PhD in History of Technology from the University of Toronto. He taught as a sessional lecturer at various universities in the GTA, a period during which he and his wife Anna were raising five young children. Some ten years after he completed his PhD, he landed the job as historian of modern technology at the Institute. This was in 1989.
Janis was promoted to full Professor in 2003. He was active in the administration of the Institute, having been Director, Graduate Coordinator, Undergraduate Coordinator and Colloquium Coordinator. During his term as Director from 1998 to 2003, he oversaw the transfer of the IHPST from the School of Graduate Studies to the Faculty of Arts and Science.
Janis was also active in such professional associations as the Society for the History of Technology.
Janis had a relaxed and humorous personality and mentored younger colleagues as they struggled with tenure, teaching and childcare. Professor Emeritus Trevor Levere recalls him as a good man, a mensch, and a good friend. Jed Buchwald, another former colleague, reported that he was always the finest, kindest person around, as well as an excellent scholar. His scholarly work focused on the history of French engineering, and he wrote a major book Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution(MIT Press, 2004), a study of French fortifications in the eighteenth century. In the latter part of his career he gave courses on the history of energy-related technology, including the development of various electrical projects in Ontario. Throughout his career he fostered links between the Institute and the Faculty of Engineering. Janis has had many doctoral students over the years. On hearing of his death IHPST PhD graduate Michelle Hoffman wrote that he was always kind to her and supportive of her pursuits in general.
David Pantalony, Curator of Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation in Ottawa and an IHPST PhD grad, reports that the historic instrument project at U of T succeeded largely thanks to strong faculty support from Janis. In the late 1990s, when the collection was scattered and in danger, Janis lobbied for needed funds and student help to preserve and digitize the collection. Janis saw the value of this collection for research and teaching, but also for student training in several fields around campus. He was also actively involved in keeping this project on the radar of the leadership at the University. This work restored the earlier project from the late 1970s, and set the instrument collection onto a course that is now a thriving part of IHPST student life, as well as a valuable resource for the University.
A prominent part of Janis’s background was his boyhood roots in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. He grew up in Corner Brook in a family of Latvian heritage. He regularly returned for visits to the Rock and at the time of his death owned a house there. He and Anna also visited Latvia and retained a strong sense of Latvian identity throughout their lives in Canada.
Janis was an active long-distance runner, consistently placing near the top of his age division, and ran the Boston and New York marathons. Each Friday for thirty years you would see him and a group of guys and gals at noon engaged in a friendly running competition at the indoor track at Hart House. Janis and Anna walked the pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago in Spain, the way of St. James, a journey of personal contemplation and spiritual growth.
In December of 2017 Janis fell ill with a glioblastoma brain tumor. Despite the limitations that the disease imposed, he continued to engage with work in his field and avidly followed current events. His family knew that his death would come but it was still very hard to accept losing him. Janis was fortunate to have such a wonderful tight-knit loving family.