Unprecedented Cutbacks in History of Science Funding
The competition for funds in the history of science, as in all academic fields, has been increasing for some years, and the damage will almost certainly be redoubled by anticipated cuts in the U.S. Federal budget for granting agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Support by private foundations and individual donors has apparently held steady or even increased, but this has not sufficed to compensate for the marked decline of funding from governments in the U.S. and both Western and Eastern Europe.
More than government grants, the bulk of support for teaching and even for research in the history of science has always come from the budgets of universities, along with museums and other educational institutions, in connection with the employment of historians as professors, curators, and the like. This employment is now under more severe stress than the profession of history of science has experienced since it first burgeoned in the 1960s. Surveys carried out by the History of Science Society tell the story. The most recent HSS Employment Survey, conducted by Julie R. Newell and published in the Society's Newsletter of July 1995, covers the academic year ending in fall 1994. Earlier surveys found offers of 42 professional positions in history of science world-wide in 1990-91 and 48 in 1991-92; at the time the numbers were considered low but not dismal. This dropped to 23 positions in 1992-93, and has now reached a level of only 15 positions filled in 1993-94. Respondents indicated an average of 83 applicants, many of them well qualified, for each permanent position (up from 67 a year ago).
The weakness of financial input has not, so far, affected outputs in the history of physics and allied sciences. Informal conversations we have held over the past year with staff of some leading teaching institutions indicate no general decline in the number and quality of undergraduate nor even graduate students. Teachers who have offered new courses tell us that they attract strong enrollment. Membership in the Forum for History of Physics of the American Physical Society has risen from 2,200 in 1991 (5.4% of all APS members) to 3,344 in 1995 (8.0%). And as the bibliographies elsewhere in this Newsletter indicate, the volume and variety of publication have continued their long-term steady growth.