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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Ira Hirsh

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Interview with Dr. Ira Hirsh
By David M. Green
At MIT McCormick Building, Cambridge, MA
June 9, 1994

open tab View abstract

Ira Hirsh; June 9, 1994

ABSTRACT: Childhood in New York; early interest in music and drama; high school education; New York State College for Teachers at Albany (B.A.); Graduate work on experimental phonetics at Northwestern (M.A.);Air Force Service, including Army Medical Department’s work on hearing aids; Employment and Ph.D. training in psychology at Harvard University’s Psychoacoustic Laboratory (P.A.L.); Harvard post doc, including hush-a-phone project; publication of The Measurement of Hearing; summer teaching at University of Michigan; career at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID); psychoacoustics research; influence of Hal Davis and Dick Silverman on career; success of CID; Washington University , including campus demonstrations against Vietnam War; membership to the Acoustical Society of America (ASA); critique of later direction taken by ASA; membership to American Speech and Hearing Association, American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society, and the National Academy of Sciences (including National Research Council);editor of Psychological and Physiological Acoustics; marriage, children, and grandchildren; wife’s career favorite books, music, artists, entertainers, and hobbies; future plans. Also prominently mentioned are E.G. Boring, Ray Carhart, Donald Eldridge, J.C.R. Licklider, George Miller, Eddie Newman, and S.S. (Smitty) Stevens.

Transcript

Green:

What is your present address?

Hirsh:

My address is at the Central Institute for the Deaf, 818 South Euclid in St. Louis, Missouri, 63110.

Green:

What is your present telephone number?

Hirsh:

There it's 314-977-0265.

Green:

Who is your present employer?

Hirsh:

I'm no longer employed, I'm retired, but Central Institute allows me to have a room in which to work.

Green:

And, so you don't have any job title right now?

Hirsh:

Professor Emeritus, Washington University; Director Emeritus, Central Institute for the Deaf.

Green:

Before you retired from Central Institute for the Deaf, how long had you been there?

Hirsh:

Since 1951, that makes it 43 years.

Green:

Why don't you describe what you did at Central Institute of the Deaf and also mention the activity at Washington University.

Hirsh:

Well Hal Davis invited me out there in 1951 to take charge of the psychological part of his new research department. There were to be three parts -- Physiology which was his, Psychology which was to be mine, and Electroacoustics which was Keron Morrical, and subsequently Bob Benson, Jerry Cox, and Art Niemoeller. And I did research work in that laboratory for a number of years. In 1962-63 I went off to France to carry some of my work on time to that of Paul Fraisse in Paris, and then came back. In 1965 I succeeded Hal Davis as Director of Research until 1983. There was a 4-year hiatus when the Chancellor at Washington University asked me to come out and be Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1969. A very interesting period to be Dean.

Green:

Why was it such an interesting period?

Hirsh:

Well, there were a number of people in various departments at a university who were pretty opposed to the Vietnam War as were some of their students and there was a lot of activity in connection with that opposition to the war on our campus as well as others.

Green:

Do you think of any particularly memorable events?

Hirsh:

Well, I guess the worst thing that happened as far as the public was concerned was the torching of the ROTC Building which was in a wooden quonset hut on campus. And that got the neighboring community pretty mad at us.

Green:

Burn it down?

Hirsh:

No, not quite.

Green:

Wasn't there an effigy of you around?

Hirsh:

No, didn't quite go that far, but my friends at Central Institute did give me a construction worker's hard hat to wear on campus.

Green:

And then you went back to Central Institute after your work in the Dean's office.

Hirsh:

Yes, after 1973 my time was more evenly split between the Department of Psychology at Washington U and Central Institute. And then, more recently after I had retired from the University, mandatorily in 1992, I was called by the president of the Board of Managers of Central Institute and asked if I would serve as Director of the Institute until such time as they could find a more permanent director and I did that for about two years until quite recently.

Green:

So, when did you start your real retirement -- just the last few months, right?

Hirsh:

Yes.

Green:

All right, I think that covers enough of your background. Let's turn to the Acoustical Society of America. What year did you join ASA?

Hirsh:

I guess it must have been 1946, although the records of the society may prove me wrong. I was with Smitty Stevens at Psychoacoustic Laboratory at Harvard from 1946 to 1951 and I think it would have been in the second year that I was with him that he would be encouraging his graduate students to join the Acoustical Society.

Green:

On what ASA committees did you serve?

Hirsh:

I've been a member of the Psychological/ Physiological Acoustics Committee, officially, and then I've been an observer in the Speech and Noise Committees because of my interest in those subjects.

Green:

You've held some other positions in the Acoustical Society. Would you care to recount those?

Hirsh:

I have been president. And now you may ask when, and we'd have to ask the secretary. I think it was in the late 1960s.

Green:

And before that, you must have held some other positions. Where you on the executive council?

Hirsh:

Yes. I was quite active in Acoustical Standards, both national and international. I was associate editor for Psychological and Physiological Acoustics when it first broke into two -- one psychological and one physiological. Now I understand it's broken into more parts.

Green:

Four. Is there any particular ASA meeting or meetings that stand out being something special, humorous or different?

Hirsh:

Oh, one of the earliest meetings I attended was in St. Louis, as a matter of fact, before I went there. That must have been about 1949. And the funniest paper I ever heard was given by a practical acoustician by the name of Pat Norris. After a long session on jet noise, he gave a paper on the quieting characteristics of owl wings. He pointed out that everybody knew that owl wings were quieter than anything, and he was going to try to quiet some fan noises, by changing the blades to owl wings. He made close-by measurements for the microphone, and lost three microphones in the process, until he realized that perhaps it would be better if he put the microphones out front rather than in the back. And that went on like that for about a half hour and the audience was on the floor.

Green:

Is there any ASA member that has especially influenced your future?

Hirsh:

Well, there was Stevens, Licklider, and George Miller. And subsequently, when I went to St. Louis, there Davis and Silverman and then a lot of colleagues in the psychoacoustics field, including you, over this period. I would say that the professional influence on research on hearing and on applied research as it pertains to clinical work has come from members of this society.

Green:

Is there anything you care to say about the ASA past, present or future?

Hirsh:

Well, I recently wrote Dick Lyon a letter. I just expressed a little worry that we might be moving too much in the direction of fashion by examining goals and mission statements and strategic plans. And that might be a necessary thing for us if somebody or some group thinks that something is broken, but I'm not sure that we want to invest too much in that sort of activity, since that's not the primary purpose of this society at least as it was early formulated.

Green:

Besides the ASA what other professional organizations do you belong to?

Hirsh:

Well because of some clinical interest which I'll get to later, I've been a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association for a long time, about the same amount of time, as a matter of fact, as the ASA, and the American Psychological Association. More recently, the American Psychology Society (APS) and then like most in the sciences Sigma Xi and things like that.

Green:

You're a member of the National Academy of Sciences, aren't you?

Hirsh:

Yes.

Green:

And you held some offices in that organization didn't you?

Hirsh:

Well, in the National Research Council which is the vehicle of the National Academy for advising government, one of the purposes for which President Lincoln set up the academy in the first place. I was Chair of the Commission of Behavioral and Social Sciences for about five years and have worked on several, even many, of their reports.

Green:

All right, why don't we turn to your history and begin with your early years. Where and when were you born?

Hirsh:

I was born in New York City in a part of the city called Harlem on 128th Street and Lenox Avenue, which as I understand it was a very quiet part of town at that time. But then, my family moved out to the suburbs of Long Island when I was about two.

Green:

Before entering college where were some of the places you lived?

Hirsh:

Well, I've already said that. It was the city and suburban community of Cedarhurst on Long Island.

Green:

What were your parent's occupation?

Hirsh:

Mother didn't work, except informally, and my father was in the real estate business -- real estate and insurance.

Green:

How would you describe yourself during those early years?

Hirsh:

How would I describe myself? I was just a regular school kid going to public schools -- terribly interested in music and drama. I had cousins who were in the musical-instrument and pawn-shop business. They used to stop by our suburban house with great collections of musical instruments and I used to play with them and find out how they worked.

Green:

What did you want to be as a youngster when you grew up?

Hirsh:

Well, the instruments were too difficult, so I decided I wanted to be an orchestra conductor. [laughter]

Green:

How long did you have that ambition?

Hirsh:

Well, it lasted quite a while -- into college as a matter of fact. I sang in choirs and choruses and when I got to college (which we'll get to, I guess, in a minute), a small college, there was no regular symphony orchestra or musical organization, except for a chorus. A classmate of mine and I organized the college symphony orchestra and we took turns conducting it.

Green:

What subjects, events or activities did you enjoy most in high school?

Hirsh:

Music and theater -- English was pretty good and history, math not so much. Science, I shied away from science except that I had a very good general science course in junior high school. And I found out how to make detailed, high-quality drawings for which I got a prize. It was a drawing of a system of a flush toilet, and I really understood how that device worked.

Green:

Was that sort of a drafting course?

Hirsh:

No, it was just part of a general science course.

Green:

Did you have any special interest? Well, you talked about music, but any other special interest?

Hirsh:

No, that really was my outside interest in high school aside from the regular school work and you know, we had school work on school subjects in those days. We didn't do driving and sex education and family and so on.

Green:

Looking back was there any period, person or persons that had a strong influence on you or your future?

Hirsh:

I guess an older sister who was more seriously interested in theater, and a father who took the time to take me in on the Long Island Railroad to the Metropolitan Opera to see really high-class stuff, but no particular teacher in school, that I can remember, had an important influence.

Green:

Let's move on to college then. Where did you go to college and what was your major?

Hirsh:

I went to the New York State College for Teachers at Albany, which has become SUNY, Albany. The reason I went there is that my sister had gone and because, if you didn't live in New York City, it and the State College at Buffalo were the only schools where you could get an A.B. education paid for largely by the taxpayers of New York State. Otherwise, I wouldn't have gone to college and that was a pretty good college. We were all preparing to be high school teachers. About half the students had been high-school valedictorians. My majors were English and Mathematics.

Green:

And you stayed and completed your Bachelor's degree, Bachelor of Arts in that institution?

Hirsh:

Right. In the class of 1942. So in my senior year in January of '42 just after Pearl Harbor, I and a whole bunch of classmates went down and enlisted in various branches of the service. I was going to go into the Army Air Corps, and I got a letter that said we're going to call you in September of 1943. Training program was a little crowded, I guess. An English teacher at the college said I really ought to go on and do some things in matters related to the English language and speech. She recommended that I go to her alma mater which was Northwestern. And she wrote a very strong letter of recommendation, apparently, and I got a scholarship there, went there, and did about a year and a summer with Ray Carhart who taught me about experimental phonetics. Audiology hadn't been born yet.

Green:

Were there any special clubs you belonged to?

Hirsh:

In college?

Green:

You organized the symphony orchestra.

Hirsh:

The symphony orchestra was one thing, and I suppose you'll not be surprised to know that the debating society was the other. [laughter] And we had intercollegiate debates. We used to travel around and debate with similar clubs in other colleges.

Green:

During your undergraduate college days, at Albany, were there any special teachers or persons or professors?

Hirsh:

Well, there was an encouraging lady, Professor Phillips who was a philologist. And there was another one who taught some English, but was also the debate coach. And that, coincidentally, was a man named William Hardy whom I ran across later on in my clinical life as the guy in charge of clinical audiology down Johns Hopkins.

Green:

What's a philologist do?

Hirsh:

Studies the history of languages.

Green:

During that period, was there an inspirational model of science, scientist, religious leader or politician -- anybody you particularly remember?

Hirsh:

Ray Carhart and Clarence Simon.

Green:

Did you ever participate in a rally, protest or cause? If so, what was the issue?

Hirsh:

Well I don't know whether joining the service [laughter] is participating in a rally about a cause. The issue was that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.

Green:

Looking back would you go to the same college again, and take the same major if you could start it all over. If no, what college would you attend and what major would you take?

Hirsh:

Ah, well the trouble is if you knew what you were going to do later, then would you make the same choices? And I don't know. If it were possible to get a scholarship to a place that would have got me more quickly to some subject matter interest that I now have, I probably wouldn't have gone to the teacher's college at Albany. That was quite general, after all. Its strength was pedagogical; I didn't hear much about faculty research.

Green:

Now we're going to move on to your post-baccalaureate training. You say you went to Northwestern in the eighteen months before the Air Force called you up.

Hirsh:

Right.

Green:

How were you supported at that time?

Hirsh:

Carhart had a tuition scholarship available and I got a part-time job as radio announcer for the Columbia Broadcasting System in the Wrigley Building in Chicago.

Green:

What did you do in that job?

Hirsh:

I was a classical music disk-jockey.

Green:

Did you write a master's thesis?

Hirsh:

No, that was a master's degree that ended up with what would now be called clinical certification. But they didn't have that program then. I was supposed to be what they called a speech correctionist. The name has got more syllables now.

Green:

Who at that school had the greatest influence on your future?

Hirsh:

Ray Carhart did.

Green:

Well, it's unclear to me how we should proceed, but let's just do it chronologically. I take it you were finally called up.

Hirsh:

Yes. We got called up and I did go into the Air Force. I was a cadet and then a -- what did they call the civilians -- feather merchants. They weren't regular officers, but anyway I did get commissioned Second Lieutenant after the training at Yale. They took over one of the quads at Yale and trained buckets of KIWIs. KIWIs were Air Corps officers who didn't fly. And that included engineering officers, communications officers and I can't remember what the third specialty was. I was a communications officer. I'm not quite sure why that selection was made because I didn't know anything about the scientific parts or practical parts, but at any rate I learned all about amplifiers and radio transmitters and I was trained to fix them.

Green:

And how long were you at Yale in that training?

Hirsh:

Well, Yale was only a matter of months and then uh, I went out to Chanute Field in Illinois and I was an instructor in radio communications and that's when I really learned about such things as amplifiers and plugs, and why you don't put your hands on the DC terminals on the work bench.

Green:

And how long were you there?

Hirsh:

From about, well let's see I went into training about 1943. Finished at Yale in '44, late. And then I was at Chanute for only about a year. Then I got a telegram telling me that I was being transferred from the Air Corps, which was then part of the Army, to the Army Medical Department because somebody had gone through the training records of people in the health sciences and found that there were these guys in various parts of the Army that should be working at one of the three army hospitals for treatment of soldiers who had become hard of hearing or deaf. And so, we shipped out to Hoff General Hospital which is in Santa Barbara. That was one of the three. The other two were in Chickashay, Oklahoma and Deshon General Hospital just north of Pittsburgh. And I worked as what we would now call an audiologist -- what was then called an acoustic officer.

Green:

How long did you stay in the Army?

Hirsh:

I did that until the beginning of 1946.

Green:

And then what happened.

Hirsh:

Well, we had worked with putting hearing aids on the soldiers. We relied on very large volumes of test data that came from the Electroacoustic Laboratory and the Psychoacoustic Laboratory at a place called Harvard University. And I wrote the director (I think it was Rudy Nichols) and asked about a job now that I was an experienced hearing aid dispenser. And I got a reply from somebody by the name of S. S. Stevens. I knew the name because I read both Stevens and Davis and Fletcher's 1929 "Speech and Hearing." I was just looking for a job. Anyway, after I got out of the Army, I went over to Cambridge and was interviewed and Stevens thought my experience was relevant to what they were up to and what did I want to study. Well, I didn't want to study anything. I just came there to work, but he introduced me to a few other faculty members, E. G. Boring in particular, and they all expected that anybody who came for that kind of job was to be a graduate student. I never had any conception of being a graduate student or going on to get a Doctor's degree, but undertook that and, starting that spring semester, I took my first psychology course.

Green:

How were you supported then? You must have had the GI Bill.

Hirsh:

GI Bill. That supported me and my growing family.

Green:

We'll get to that later. Let's continue on the educational front. So you were a beginning graduate student at P.A.L. and go ahead and describe what happened.

Hirsh:

Well, there were a lot of very good people there at that time: Bob Galambos, C.V. Hudgins, J.C.R. Licklider, George Miller, Eddie Newman, Walter Rosenblith, and later Joe Zwislocki and Georg von Bekesy -- it was an amazing group, along with fellow students Kathy Safford Harris, Irv Pollack, and Mark Rosenzweig, among others. Anyway, I was doing some experiments on two-ear listening and discovered that it made a difference on how you put the plug on the output of the noise generator what the threshold for tones in noise would be and that's where all this masking-level-difference had come from. Licklider said that he had been finding the same thing with speech. He had been working with speech stimuli up in a different laboratory and we compared notes and that's where it all that came from.

Green:

And that was your doctoral dissertation.

Hirsh:

And that became my doctoral dissertation.

Green:

During that period of time who would you say had the greatest influence on your future?

Hirsh:

Oh gosh, quite a few there, but I think Stevens and Licklider and Eddie Newman were important characters. Boring was important too. For all that he was a big and famous psychologist, he had time for graduate students, he re-tickled my interest in history, and he and Stevens taught me how to write.

Green:

Did you take courses or seminars?

Hirsh:

Oh yeah, regular courses -- Physiological Psychology from Leo Postman; Statistics from Freddy Frick; a Speech and Language Course from George Miller, and learning and conditioning from G.F. Skinner. Yes, there was the regular curriculum. And then there was the pro-seminar where different topics came up about every two weeks. And the graduate students were supposed to report and the faculty member in charge would critique the summary and so on. It was a great education.

Green:

How long did it take you to get you Ph.D.? You went there in about 1946?

Hirsh:

I went there the spring semester of '46 and I got my degree in '48. I don't think you can do that at many universities these days.

Green:

So now we're up to '48 and you have your Ph.D..

Hirsh:

Remember that, I have to inject this because Smitty Stevens told it to me a couple of times. They often had very bright students coming from psychology backgrounds and the trouble for those students was to find a suitable dissertation to work on. I came with some ideas about binaural hearing as they applied to hearing aids. I didn't know much about psychology and he thought that was a rather easier way to do it than the other way around.

Green:

Can you recall briefly the requirements for a Ph.D. -- I mean you must have had to pass the pro-seminar, of course, since all incoming graduates do that, but then there were some qualifying exams of some sort?

Hirsh:

Right.

Green:

And you took those in how many topics?

Hirsh:

As I recall, four, four general areas -- sensational perception, maybe physiological, history was one, and something statistical, mathematical, or quantitative.

Green:

How many languages were you required to take in those days?

Hirsh:

One

Green:

And you chose?

Hirsh:

French, which I had known.

Green:

Who taught French then?

Hirsh:

No French "teachers," but J.G. Bebe-Center was a great guide in psychological French.

Green:

This is the second side of the first tape. So when we turn the tape over we had gotten you up to 1948, and you had received your Doctorate Degree in Psychology from Harvard University. What did you do next?

Hirsh:

Well, Stevens offered me a job as research fellow for an indefinite period of time. We call it now a post-doc appointment. And I had an opportunity to take a faculty position at one or two universities (I guess they should now be nameless) at twice the salary that he had offered me. And I told him that I had interest in helping the hard of hearing, and so on, and he persuaded me that the way to help the hard of hearing was to get the basic information out to the people who were going to work with them. I didn't have to work with them myself and I would have more long lasting effects. And so, he got me cheap for a couple of years. And then, Hal Davis was already working in that laboratory on a hearing aid project. So he and the P.A.L. were interacting and then in '47 he moved out to St. Louis. We'd worked a little together on the hearing aid project.

Green:

This was Hal Davis?

Hirsh:

Right. And then, it was several years later in 1950 that we talked about my joining him in St. Louis in this research position at the Institute. And during the period that I was research fellow, I did do some other things, including a project for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman on the hush-a-phone. Somebody had asked Stevens if he had somebody who could come down and tell the residents and the young otologists at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary about acoustics and auditory testing and so on. We talked about that and he recommended me to go down there and I did. And met with that group for two years -- different group the second year. And that became at first an outline; and then more fully lectures; and eventually a book called "The Measurement of Hearing" which was published in l952. But it was written while I was still there before I left for St. Louis.

Green:

I just wanted to go back and find out what the hush-a-phone was. You did a project about hush-a-phones?

Hirsh:

Yes. That's a box with a hole in it, and you put it on the transmitter end of your handset, your telephone, and then you talk into the box so that other people can't hear what you’re saying. And we needed to do some intelligibility testing.

Green:

Right. I didn't think it would be easy to find out what a hush-a-phone is in the Encyclopedia Britannica. All right, so now we've covered actually your military history. And this list of questions reminds me -- what was your highest rank when you left the Air Force?

Hirsh:

Captain.

Green:

And that's when you went to Harvard. So now you've spent two, three years at the post doc. Tell us what happened next.

Hirsh:

Well, my family and I were on a trip. I taught summer session at the University of Michigan in 1950 for the Department of Speech, or Speech and Hearing. I can't remember what it was called. And met some people you probably know. Well you might not know because speech was over away from the traditional psychology and engineering campuses. At any rate I had been communicating with Hal Davis and Dick Silverman, and we decided to drive down after summer session was over to St. Louis, and sort of have an interview and look around. It looked very likely that I would go there at that point. And we did.

Green:

Who was at Michigan Hearing and Speech Department?

Hirsh:

Densmore was head of the whole Speech Department and the speech therapy and hearing business was one of the sections under Harlan Bloomer.

Green:

Was Gordon Peterson there at that time?

Hirsh:

No, Gordon Peterson at that point was still at psychoacoustic lab at Harvard. He went there afterward.

Green:

But, he also went to Bell Labs in between, I think.

Hirsh:

Yes. He and Barney did the famous work on vowel formants.

Green:

Yes. Okay. So, after college what was your first place of employment, your first title, and what did you do there?

Hirsh:

After college and one year of graduate work, my employer was the United States Army. After graduate school at Harvard my first employer was Harvard as a post doc and the second employer was Central Institute for the Deaf.

Green:

What was your title at Central Institute for the Deaf when you went there?

Hirsh:

We called everybody Research Associate. There was no hierarchy.

Green:

What did you do there at Central Institute of the Deaf?

Hirsh:

Well, in my lab the experimental subjects were auditory fatigue or temporary threshold shift following exposures to tones and noises; perception of speech by normals in the presence of different masking noises and different filtering conditions, where I was trying to test some aspects of the articulation index that worried me a little -- particularly the linearity that was assumed between 0 and 30 dB in each of the twenty bands. And, made some new recordings for speech testing that became pretty widely used in the United States as auditory tests. I had a number of post docs then, and many of them from abroad like Ralph Naunton from England, and Giulio Pestalozza from Italy, Tauno Palva from Finland, Michel Burgeat from France, Igor and Anna Nabalek from Czechoslovakia, and Sanetome Eguchi from Japan. Most of them were otologists who wanted some experience in psychoacoustics. My first American post doc was Bob Bilger. Later there was Lois Elliott, Pierre Divenyi, and Linda Swisher.

Green:

It's not clear to me, but let's just review what you said earlier and sort of summarize. So you stayed there at CID and worked in the psychoacoustics area for a number of years. When did you become director of research? Hal Davis was the original director of research.

Hirsh:

Silverman was director of the Institute.

Green:

Yes, and at what time did you become the director of research.

Hirsh:

That was in '65.

Green:

So there was a period, '51 to '65 that you were running the Psychoacoustics Research Laboratory and doing research in those topics.

Hirsh:

It was different from my psychoacoustics lab experience in Cambridge because I was able to rekindle clinical interest that had come up in the Army. And, some part of my time was spent in clinical research, particularly with the medical post docs that came aboard.

Green:

Who were some of the other students? Do you recall anybody noteworthy?

Hirsh:

Ann Geers did her Psychology Ph.D. with me, and is now in charge of clinical activities at CID. In the Communication Sciences program at CID (Washington Univ.) my Ph.D. students included Judy Lauter, Craig Formby, J.P. Gagné and Punita Singh.

Green:

Chuck Watson was a student of yours, wasn't he?

Hirsh:

No?

Green:

No, he was just there. He came from Indiana University where he worked with Jim Egan.

Hirsh:

Right.

Green:

All right lets go on to your publications. You already told us about the book you wrote as the result of...?

Hirsh:

A lecture series.

Green:

A lecture series at Harvard. That was called "The Measurement of Hearing" wasn't it?

Hirsh:

Right.

Green:

And were there any other books?

Hirsh:

No, chapters in books. And then the experimental papers started with the dissertation.

Green:

And roughly how many publications list on your curriculum vitae?

Hirsh:

About 120. I slowed down in recent years.

Green:

How many publications per year recently?

Hirsh:

Oh golly, [laughter] maybe one.

Green:

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about your professional career before we turn to more personal matters in family and that sort of thing? Any incidents at CID that were especially memorable or interesting?

Hirsh:

Well you know that I regard both Hal Davis and Dick Silverman as especially interesting people. They were very important in my career after I got to St. Louis. The Institute itself, I mean in the Research Department, was a very different experience both for me and for other research associates because it was a department about a common subject matter. And several different disciplines were represented in that subject matter. Everybody was interested in speech and hearing, but sometimes they were electrical engineers or electroacoustic engineers. There were psychologists. There were physiologists. And that was, I thought, a more interesting way to do research than the kind of research that has to go along with a disciplinary department, where there is some common disciplinary background, but everybody is working on different topics. And I think that's a productive way to organize an institute that's involved in research, as opposed to an academic department that has responsibilities for teaching where research is also done.

Green:

Well, I don't want to push your modesty too much, but that Institution at the time was probably the leading research institution in the field of hearing in the world.

Hirsh:

That's why I went there.

Green:

Certainly, before that time, during the war, Smitty's operation at P.A.L. was, of course, very influential. From the end of the war until the last decade or so, CID was clearly the most influential research institute. And the number of people that went through that Institute and are now populating other areas in the field of hearing are certainly legion. Was it exciting?

Hirsh:

Yes. Why was it exciting? There was a leadership, this again goes back to Davis, that involved a very informal atmosphere, but everybody was expected to show up at the lunch table in the seminar room for lunch at least a certain number of days a week. It wasn't organized formally, that is to say, sometimes the talk would be politics; sometimes it would be sports; and sometimes it would be science -- one aspect or another. And that was really very important and exciting. We don't do that anymore. It's very frustrating.

Green:

Well, I'm sure aside from the luncheons there were, of course, the usual seminars and reports and so on.

Hirsh:

Sure.

Green:

Was there any sort of like a lab meeting, regularly each week or every other week or something where you did talk about the topics in sort of a systematic fashion?

Hirsh:

The labs separately had meetings, although they weren't so big that you would call them meetings. And Hal Davis met with whoever was his research associate at the time or research associates -- people like Tasaki and Riesco and Fernandez and others later on. That was usually no more than two or three, possibly four people. Don Eldredge came along in this same group. In my case, I never had more than two research associates working with me. Then Chuck Watson came and in a sense he organized his own little lab group, as did Jim Miller when he first came to do the animal behavior work. But not so formal, as when more recently somebody like Bob Gilke when he was there. He had regular lab meetings and other people besides the ones who were working in his lab came to them.

Green:

All right. Why don't we turn away from professional to more personal matters and talk about your family. Why don't you describe your family -- Shirley and so on.

Hirsh:

My wife went to the same college and we sort of went out together the last two years of college. And while I was out at Northwestern, she came out there and we got married. And that's how that marriage started. That was 51 years old, that marriage, just this past spring. After the war, when we got to Cambridge for graduate study we had one daughter. A son and second daughter were born while we were there. For our son, I borrowed Eddie Newman's Model T and crossed what was then known as the Cottage Farm Bridge across the Charles to get down to the Boston Lying-in Hospital. I was rather worried both about the Model T and about Shirley [laughter] who was already in labor, but that all happened all right. So we had three kids while I was still studying.

Green:

Where were the other children born?

Hirsh:

Eloise was born in Champaign, Illinois while I was at Chanute Field. And Dick and Libby were born in Boston, and Don was born in St. Louis.

Green:

So just to summarize -- Shirley is your wife of 51 years and you have three children?

Hirsh:

Four. We had a fourth after I got to St. Louis. There was an ASA meeting here at this very place in 1956. And we had very long arguments about whether I should come to the meeting or not because the child was to be born, and I was supposed to get the Biennial Award. And finally, I decided, we decided that I should come to the meeting and then I got word when I was staying at Rosenblith's house that a boy was born. Don Eldredge had taken Shirley to the hospital, and the boy's name was Donald.

Green:

We better return to the awards in the society because I think we somehow omitted those in the course of this list. Is there anything special that you'd like to mention about the family or any member of the family -- the children and so on?

Hirsh:

Well, they were supportive. That's what everybody says about these careers that are not usually surrounded by millions of dollars of income. They were also supportive in music. They've all been musical, although Shirley claims that she plays the role of audience. The kids have all sung and played instruments. Oh, it was a pretty good outfit. I read a lot of things about why families are failing these days. I think we got things done right, mostly, along the way.

Green:

Are there any grandchildren?

Hirsh:

Oh gosh yes, buckets of them. Seven.

Green:

Seven grandchildren. What's the age of the oldest and the age of the youngest?

Hirsh:

The oldest is ten, I guess, and the youngest is just past one.

Green:

Do any of the children live near you and you see the grandchildren?

Hirsh:

Yes, the youngest son lives near us and he has the most children so the most numerous family is nearby and we see those kids quite often.

Green:

All right, any other thing that you'd like to mention about the family before we turn on to personal interests and the conclusion of this interview?

Hirsh:

Well the business about uh, I guess I should say something about how Shirley was spending her time, all of her free time, besides taking care of those three kids when we were in Cambridge. She'd been doing editing work in Chicago while I was at Northwestern. And even when I was at Yale she worked for the alumni office. The editing got turned into a very nice relation between her and George Miller, Walter Rosenblith, when they put out that bibliography on hearing back in 1949. And she was essentially a putter-together of that whole enterprise. As she was later a secretary to, or assistant, to Eldredge and Davis when they started the CHABA Office at Central Institute. And then, most recently, when Hal Davis didn't have anything more for her to do of an editorial nature, wondered if she'd like to work around some of these computers that draw -- evoked potentials from babies' heads. And she did, and that's what she was doing until about a half a dozen years ago years ago when she retired. But she's always been both outside working, mostly part-time, and running a fine family.

Green:

I remember the first time I visited Central Institute of the Deaf, I think she picked me up at the airport -- I always thought she worked full-time at the Central Institute of the Deaf. Let's move on to personal interest. What's your favorite form of entertainment?

Hirsh:

My favorite form of entertainment. Well you might guess it's something musical. When it’s in season, it's opera. We go to the symphony throughout its season. Theater much less than it used to be. And then, I still like to participate in music. I still sing in choruses. That's aside from work you mean?

Green:

Yes, sure. This is going to be name your favorite and then I'm going to ask you things like authors, movies, music, so on. Name your favorite author or book.

Hirsh:

Generally.

Green:

Guess so.

Hirsh:

Gosh, I hadn't thought about that for a long time. Oh gosh, I'd have to give you a half a dozen. I don't know what a favorite book is. Hmm, in the serious books like "The Idea of a University" by Cardinal Newman or Henry Rosovsky, one or the other, but that's sort of professional reading. Non-professional but serious would include biographies, like Gore Vidal's Lincoln, or McCulloch's Truman.

Green:

Do any light reading?

Hirsh:

I don't much. Which sort of -- I'm going to take that up. Shirley does a lot of mysteries -- she knocks them off. And once in a while I get a hold of one of those and that holds on to me through late bedtime. But I don't have the great book in my head to answer that question.

Green:

How about movies or movie stars?

Hirsh:

Goodness, movie stars. I think Katherine Hepburn is a great and delightful talent from her young roles to her very recent old roles.

Green:

Here's one you may be better prepared with. What sort of -- is your favorite music, singer or song?

Hirsh:

My favorite music runs to not quite modern, just before modern, and Russian and French composers.

Green:

How about singers?

Hirsh:

Those would tend to be opera stars, like Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and the pair of tenors that are vying with each other -- Pavarotti and Domingo.

Green:

You have a favorite TV program?

Hirsh:

Well, at the moment it's Northern Exposure, but that changes with life.

Green:

Favorite sports or team?

Hirsh:

You mean that other people play or that I play?

Green:

I take it that other people play.

Hirsh:

That other people play. Oh well, that would be figure skating competitions because we've done that ourselves.

Green:

Any favorite skaters that you want to mention?

Hirsh:

Well, I think Robin Cousins. And not the two most recent ones, I mean the two that battled in front of the television cameras, but generations -- not generations, but a few years before them starting with Dorothy Hamill and coming up through Peggy Fleming on the lady's side. They were both quite good as was the young lady from East Germany -- Katerina Witt. Some of those names I remember.

Green:

What's your favorite art or artist?

Hirsh:

That's also quite contemporary. Among the well-known, hanging in the museums, it would be Lionel Feininger.

Green:

Do you have a favorite quote?

Hirsh:

Oh well, yes. I've got one that I used to hang up in the lab in the control room from H. A. Kramers. That is "Nothing resembles a new effect so much as a mistake."

Green:

Do you have any hobbies that you engage in today?

Hirsh:

Well, figure skating is one. And, those are sports I guess. Are those hobbies?

Green:

Yeah.

Hirsh:

And fishing is about to be reconstituted, fly rod mostly. And tennis was, but the body is getting a little uncooperative.

Green:

What are your future plans?

Hirsh:

Our future plans, in general, are to continue living in St. Louis about nine to ten months a year; and to come up to the nearby Berkshires to a house that we share with my daughter; and to spend summers up there and travel. We haven't really travelled without it being associated with a meeting, and we might even try that.

Green:

Just plain travel.

Hirsh:

But not so much, I mean I hear about older people saying "I'm going to travel now," and then they get into some tour group and I can think of nothing more boring than a tour group.

Green:

Is there anything else that you would like to add, any general comments that you'd like to make or any topic that you'd like to cover that we haven't talked about? And I thought of one last question before we quit.

Hirsh:

All right. I spoke glowingly about the idea of a research institute that was focused on a subject matter and was attacked by several different disciplines. And in this context I'd like to say that that's one of the beauties of the Acoustical Society. It's a subject matter or a bunch of subjects and you've got all sorts of scientists and quite a few non-scientists as well addressing acoustical topics. That's what makes it an interesting society to come to.

Green:

I think somehow in the set of questions we had, we omitted your honors that you've acquired from the Acoustical Society. Why don't you just recount them? We remember the Biennial Award.

Hirsh:

Oh yes. I mentioned that in '56, and then in '92, I got the gold medal of the Society which was a very nice thing. There have been honors from the American Speech and Hearing Association. I have a medal from the Royal Society of Medicine named after Edith Whetnall who was a very important person in finding deaf babies and getting them ready for their education. I have a tuning fork given to me as President of the Society. Still dings when I hit it. I finally got elected to Phi Beta Kappa when I was Dean of the Faculty. [laughter]