AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXII , No. 2, Fall 2000


The NAHSTE Project: Navigational Aids for the History of Science, Technology and the Environment
by Andrew Thomson

Edinburgh University Library is leading a research project
using Internet technology to provide access to scientific archives. Archivists from the Navigational Aids for the History of Science, Technology and the Environment (NAHSTE) project are collaborating with colleagues from the University of Glasgow and Heriot-Watt University to catalog materials held by each institution relating to the project's themes. The final on-line compilations of descriptions and records will allow seamless searching across the partner institutions through chronological and subject-based navigational aids. Cross-linkages to the wider Scottish scientific historical records, held by collaborators outside the Higher Education community, will also be provided. The work is funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme.

In the first few months of the project, much time has been spent researching and creating collection-level cataloging entries for the archives named in the original proposal, so that they conform with the General International Standard of Archival Description ISAD(G). This process has unearthed a host of manuscript treasures, some of which are a "well-kept secret," particularly those from the period of the Enlightenment.

The papers of John Robison form one such collection. Robison was professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1774-1805. The University Archive holds some 40 volumes of his lecture notes, which cover a broad range of scientific subjects including mechanics, hydrodynamics, astronomy, optics, electricity and magnetism. The intellectual developments that took place during the Scottish Enlightenment are also documented
in correspondence between Robison and other prominent scientists of the period, such as the chemist Joseph Black. Robison's writings were varied and influential. From 1793 to 1801 he contributed well over forty articles to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1804 he brought out his Elements of Mechanical Philosophy, of which, however, only the first volume, on Dynamics and Astronomy, was completed.

Early science teaching is represented by another impressive body of scientific material, the papers of David Gregory, who was professor of mathematics and astronomy at Edinburgh University from 1683-1691. Among the papers are several manuscripts of his works, including Lectiones mechanicae sive geometria de motu,1689-1690; Notae in Isaaci Newtoni principia philosophiae, 1693, and treatises on mathematics and astronomy, 1683-1694.

Scientific developments in the 20th century relating particularly to physics and astronomy are characterized by a set of compact disc recordings of interviews with the physicist and astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell, which reveal his work on cosmic rays in 1930s with Patrick Blackett, and his invaluable research on radar during the second World War; and from the Archives of the University of Glasgow, the administrative, financial, staff and production records created by the company Barr and Stroud Ltd, Optical Instrument engineers.

Additional information on the project can be found on the Web at

Photograph of a student's lecture notes from 1694This photograph was taken from the David Gregory Collection. The original drawing was done by a student, Francis Pringle, in 1694, as part of a series of lecture notes that he took down at Oxford University (whilst Gregory held the Chair of Astronomy), and is taken from Gregory's work Geometria de Motu, relating specifically to mechanics. Photo courtesy of Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.

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