AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXIX, No. 2, Fall 1997

 

Center Associate Director Joan Warnow-Blewett Retires

Joan Warnow-Blewett, a key staff member of the AIP Center for History of Physics for 32 years, retired on 1 August 1997. She joined AIP in 1965 as Librarian of the Niels Bohr Library; in 1974 she was promoted to Associate Director of the Center.

In January 1965, when Joan came to work at the Niels Bohr Library, the AIP Center for History of Physics had not yet been founded. The foundation of the Library and the Project on the Recent History of Physics in the U.S. was still a fresh story. She has retained a tremendous appreciation for the physicists whose assertiveness, creativity and hope initiated these programs, and her career as Associate Director of the Center was inspired by the spirit of their plans to document modern physics. Over the years, Joan put these plans into action by making sure AIP would play a leadership role in guiding papers of historical significance into appropriate repositories.

Most important, she realized that the Center's plans must evolve to meet changes in the physics community, and she pioneered the "documentation strategy" approach to preservation. To meet the need Joan initiated documentation research projects, in which archivists were joined by historians, sociologists and scientists to study from an archival perspective new institutions such as the postwar national laboratory and the multi-institutional collaboration. Joan became widely known in the archival community for her innovations, as well as for her personal helpful cooperation with people at many institutions. For example, the AIP received the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of American Archivists in 1985.

Another component of Joan's responsibility was the National Catalog of Sources for History of Physics and Allied Sciences. As the Center's historical projects and preservation work expanded, so did the Catalog. Eventually its name was changed from "National" to "International" Catalog. Joan's major innovation was to persuade institutions outside the United States to conduct surveys to locate relevant collections in their countries and share the information with the International Catalog.

A friendly understanding between archivists and scientists was one of Joan's deeply felt goals. She promoted the idea that strong professional archival skills are more essential for those working with papers of scientists than a background in science itself. She enjoys telling how she came to the American Institute of Physics through a classified advertisement in the New York Times that, fortunately, didn't mention physics or science. She also likes to say that in order to save and care for papers of scientists, archivists don't have to marry a physicist--as she did.

Although Joan took up retirement status on August 1st she was immediately rehired by AIP on a part-time basis as Archivist Emeritus, serving as a valued adviser to Center staff, and continues as Project Director of the grant-funded AIP Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations. Her other duties have been taken over by R. Joseph Anderson, who has been promoted to Assistant Director of the Center. On completion of the collaborations study in 1998 Joan will go into retirement full-time (in North Carolina) with her husband, the eminent accelerator physicist John Blewett.


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