AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIX , No. 1, Spring 2007


The Sokendai Oral History and Archives Project
by Kenji Ito, Associate Professor, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), Kanagawa, Japan

An oral history and archives project on physics and other scientific fields is underway at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies, known as Sokendai, after its Japanese name, Sôgô Kenkyû Daigakuin Daigaku. Sokendai is a unique Japanese university. The university itself is new and not well-known, but it is composed of 16 leading national research institutes (inter-university research institutes or IURIs) in physics and other natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences in various places in Japan. Some of them are not only top research institutes in the country, but among the leading research centers in the world.

The goal of Sokendai’s oral history and archives project is to collect oral histories related to IURIs and to facilitate development of archives at each institute. It also aims to serve as the research center for the history of the IURIs. Our project thus has two main activities. First, we coordinate catalogs of the archives at IURIs. Several IURIs have developed or intend to develop their own archives separately. We are trying to set a standard for online catalogs of the archives following the EAD (Extended Archival Description) standard, and establish a common platform to allow searching over all Sokendai’s IURIs. Second, we conduct oral history interviews at these national institutes. The main theme of these interviews is studying the process by which an IURI was established in various disciplines. We are presently concentrating on a few of the institutes and conducting extensive interviews for an in-depth case study. Currently we have two main foci. One is KEK (National Laboratory for High-Energy Physics) in Tsukuba, and the other is the Subaru Telescope of Japan’s National Observatory in Hawaii.
Our project on KEK will be unprecedented in a couple of ways. In its own right, KEK is one of the most important laboratories in the world, comparable to CERN. But whereas a comprehensive history of CERN has been written by leading scholars, much less has been done about KEK. Sokendai’s project attempts to explore various aspects of this large laboratory, conducting interviews not only with leading scientists of the laboratory, but also with graduate students, technicians, secretaries, spouses of scientists, and local residents in the neighborhood. By illuminating the laboratory’s relationship with outsiders, we combine community oral history with studies of laboratories and institutional history.

It is also notable that this project is in itself an attempt to emulate a “big science” approach. We organize collaborative research projects and make long-term plans. Indeed, the project aims to integrate not only those who work at Sokendai or its IURIs around the country, but also scholars from other universities and even from other countries. The US-based scholars Sharon Traweek (University of California, Los Angeles) and Mary Palevsky (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), have conducted interviews for this project. We are actively seeking collaborators from overseas and invite visiting scholars.

The Sokendai Oral History and Archives project is hosted at and funded by the Hayama Center for Advanced Studies in Shonan Village, Hayama, Kanagawa, where Sokendai has its headquarters. The core team of the project consists of two faculty members, some postdocs, and a few graduate students. In addition, we have many collaborators at Sokendai’s IURIs and other academic institutions. Historian of physics Kenji Ito took charge of this project in April 2007. His email address is Currently the project has a website only in Japanese, at .

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