AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIII, No. 2, Fall 2001


The History of Science Archive at the Museum of Astronomy, Rio de Janeiro
by Alfredo Tiomno Tolmasquim, Information and Documentation Coordinator, History of Science Archive, Museum of Astronomy

New approaches in the history of science—increasing interest in comparative studies, scientific colonialism, the reception of scientific theories, the creation of research networks and more—have shed a new light on scientific archives in countries on the periphery of scientific research. Their value goes beyond the preservation of national memory, contributing to the study of the complex mechanisms involved in the production and reproduction of scientific knowledge. This is particularly the case for the History of Science Archive at the Museum of Astronomy and Related Sciences in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which has made invaluable contributions to the work of many researchers from Brazil and other countries.

Einstein's visit to the National Observatory, Rio de Janeiro, in 1925.
Einstein's visit to the National Observatory, Rio de Janeiro, in 1925. Photo courtesy of Alfredo Tolmasquim.

Unlike memorialization projects, which aim to preserve the documentation accumulated by a given scientific institution over the years, the History of Science Archive is a documentation center responsible for permanently acquiring new archives, preserving them, making them available for consultation, and developing joint projects with other scientific institutions for the preservation of their historic archives. The History of Science Archive is just part of one of the lines of research undertaken by the Museum of Astronomy, dedicated to the history of the exact sciences and natural history and studies on the preservation of documental archives of scientists.

The archive covers the areas of physics, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics, and also preserves documents from other areas of knowledge and scientific institutions. It currently includes 30 records series and collections totalling around 1,300 linear meters of documents; 8,000 iconographic pieces; and 450 hours of recorded oral and video tape. Examples include documents relating to the Brazilian National Observatory (originally the Imperial Observatory), set up in 1827; the Brazilian Center for Physics Research, founded in 1949; the Brazilian Physics Society, created in 1965, as well as scientists like the astronomers Luis Cruls (1848-1908) and Henrique Morize (1860-1930), the physicists Jacques Danon (1924-1989) and Bernhard Gross (1905 - ), and the mathematician Leopoldo Nachbin (1922-1993).

Symposium New Techniques of Research, Brazil, 1952 Symposium New Techniques of Research in Physics, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1952. L-R: Isidor Rabi (6th), Richard Gans, Antonio Cardoso (Rector of the Sao Paulo University), Eugene Wigner and Sergio Benedetti. Photo courtesy of Alfredo Tolmasquim.

After organizing a set of documents, the History of Science Archive publishes its inventory, including a biography of the scientist or a history of the institution; information on the formation of the archive; the way it was organized and a description of the folders and indices. More than a tool for researchers to use in their studies, the inventory has also come to the attention of scientists and their kin, which then led to the acquisition of new archives.

The History of Science Archive has recently been involved in making a computer-based database of the archive available for access online, thanks to financial support from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies of Harvard University. Further information about the History of Science Archive and its holdings may be found at (in Portuguese). The address is History of Science Archive, Rua General Bruce, 586 Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20.921-030 Brazil; phone: (5521) 258 04531,or send an e-mail to
Brtish and Brazilian Commission membersMembers of the British and the Brazilian Commissions to observe the Solar eclipse in Passa Quatro, Brazil, 1912. Included are Arthur Eddington and Charles Davidson, renowned British astronomers. Standing, last line, L-R, Pierre Leux, Rodolpho Hess, Alyntho Aguirre,Leslie Andrews. Standing, middle line, L-R, Domingos Fernandes da Costa, H. Lee, Alix Lemos, Charles Davidson, Marc Ferrez (behind), Melan Stefanick, Arthur Eddington, J.J.Atkinson, Ferreira da Silva. Sitting, L-R, Gualter Soares, Henrique Carlos Morize, James H. Northington, Henrique Morize, Jaromir Kraliceck, Mario de Souza, Augusto Sarcasoaux. Photo Credit: Gazeta de Noticias, courtesy Alfredo Tolmasquim.

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
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