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

 

The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science Approves Resolutions on Preserving the Records of Modern Science

At a meeting in Brussels in December 2000, the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation, Division of History of Science of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS) appointed a committee to draft resolutions for preserving the historically valuable paper and electronic records of modern science and making them accessible to researchers. The committee was composed of Joseph Anderson, American Institute of Physics (chair); Fabienne Meyers, International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry; and Giovanni Paoloni, Scuola Speciale per Archivisti e Bibliotecari, Rome; and it was assisted by the Commission president, Rod Home, University of Melbourne; and in-coming president, Peter Harper, National Cataloging Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, UK.

The committee's resolutions provide a basic framework for preserving the records of scientific organizations and the papers of leading scientists internationally. They were approved by the General Assembly of the Division of History of Science of the IUHPS at the XXI International Congress of History of Science at its meeting in Mexico City this past July, and they have been forwarded to the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) for action. The resolutions are as follows:

PRESERVING THE RECORDS OF MODERN SCIENCE

INTRODUCTION:

I. THE RECORDS OF ICSU/MEMBER UNIONS:

Resolved that ICSU and each of the member organizations formally recognize its responsibility for maintaining its records and take the following steps to insure that they are appropriately cared for:

1. Identify and assess the current condition of the organization's inactive records, including official materials that may be in the possession of individual officers and former officers.

2. Prepare a brief report on the findings of the assessment.

3. Send a copy of the report to the IUHPS Commission on Bibliography and Documentation.

4. If not already provided for, develop plans to preserve the records by 1) establishing its own professionally-run archives, 2) transferring them to an independent archival repository, or 3) taking other measures to insure that the records are preserved and made accessible to scholars.

The Council is pleased to note that three international scientific unions have made formal agreements with major science archives to preserve their records on an ongoing basis and have already transferred material to the archives (see below for a list of the unions and the archives). Placing historically valuable Council and member organization records in major archival institutions, where they will be maintained according to modern conservation standards and made accessible to the scholarly community, is an appropriate and cost-effective way to insure that the records are available in the future to the organizations themselves and to others and that their history will be permanently preserved.

The Commission is willing to provide advice in conducting records assessments, helping to identify independent archives which may be willing to act as the official repositories, and other related activities. In negotiating with independent archives, the unions need to consider providing financial support to help cover the costs of maintaining their records. The following international scientific unions have transferred inactive records to independent archives:

International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry: records are held by the Beckman Center of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

International Union of Pure and Applied Physics: records are held by the Center for History of Science, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.

International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics: records are held by the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD, USA.

II. OTHER PAPERS AND RECORDS:

Resolved that ICSU alert the international scientific community to the importance, for the sake of both present accountability and future historical research, of preserving proper archival records of scientific work; and recommend that the budgets of all significant scientific projects should include a small margin to cover the cost of such archiving.

The unpublished papers of scientists who have made significant contributions to modern science should be preserved at the institution with which they were most closely associated. It is here that scholars will first seek a scientist's papers, and here that they will find administrative records of the institution, papers of colleagues, and related materials which will provide a well-rounded view of the scientist's work and the atmosphere in which it was effected. If the home institution does not have an archives program, scientists should contact their national history of science organization, national library, local or national archives, or other similar organization for advice and referrals on how to preserve personal papers.

Science organizations are responsible for their organizational records, and they should support professional archival programs to insure that historically valuable records are permanently preserved. Organizations that are unable to maintain their own archival programs should negotiate with existing public or private archives to care for their records.

A SPECIAL NOTE ON ELECTRONIC RECORDS:

In the past two decades electronic records in a variety of formats—e-mail, World Wide Web pages, data files, etc.—have become a very important means of creating, storing and exchanging information, especially in science. Electronic records are as important as traditional paper files in documenting modern science, and historically valuable electronic records should be saved permanently. Several national archives and international bodies are currently working to develop solutions to the preservation problems that these records present, and it seems likely that effective long-term systems will be available within the next few years. In the meantime, electronic records along with their accompanying metadata should be preserved on the server or, if storage space is a problem, downloaded to optical disk or magnetic tape. Saving only paper printouts of electronic records destroys contextual information and is not adequate for the historical record.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Additional information on preserving the papers of scientists and the records of science organizations, along with links to many international history of science programs and resources, is available on the Web sites of the American Institute of Physics Center for History of Physics (for preservation, visit www.aip.org/history/source.htm and for resources, visit www.aip.org/history/web-link.htm) and CASE - Cooperation on Archives and Science in Europe (www.bath.ac.uk/ncuacs/case.htm).


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