A Federation of History-Minded Scientists and
Science-Minded Historians and Archivists

By Greg Good

This is a complicated situation. We have scientists interested in history and historians interested in science. We have volunteers (those same scientists and historians) who serve on history committees for the different societies and staff members of those societies who take their history seriously. Then we also have a few professional historians, librarians, and archivists who are in fact educated and paid to help everyone else preserve and make known those histories. I am one of the paid historians and Joe Anderson is one of the paid librarian-archivists, and we are the first to admit that we could not do our jobs without all of the others.

In the fall of 2009 the History Center and the Niels Bohr Library & Archives sponsored a gathering of people from AIP’s member societies, affiliated societies, and a few other allies with a similar interest in history. Altogether, over 25 people participated, representing (I’ll use acronyms here) AAS, AAPT, ACA, AGU, APS, AVS, and OSA (member societies); AMS, ASCE, ASME, MSA, and SPS/∑Π∑ (affiliates); Chemical Heritage Foundation, IEEE, Microbeam Analysis Society, Mineralogical Society of America, NOAA Library, and the University of Maryland History Department (good friends and colleagues). Did I forget anyone?

The purpose of the meeting was communication. Some of the societies have big historical enterprises. The Forum for History of Physics (APS) is quite large! (See “Building the Community” in this issue.) Interest at the AGU in the history of geophysics is growing. The Historical Astronomy Division of the AAS, the History of Geology Division of the GSA, IEEE’s History Center, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation are also quite large and active in promoting history of the physical sciences and engineering. The last two (IEEE and CHF) are like our operation at AIP: paid professionals who focus all their time on history and heritage. Many other efforts are smaller, and status varies from a single interested retired scientist/engineer to a single society staff member who shoehorns history in alongside membership duties, etc. In short, there was a lot of diversity in the room.

The society reps around the table spoke about their societies’ projects and activities. They also spoke of challenges they face. Many sponsor historical sessions at their annual meetings. Some record the talks. Some encourage oral history interviews, some preserve their societies’ archival records. Some commemorate historic sites. Some make prestigious awards to senior scholars, while others provide fellowships for doctoral dissertation writers in their respective areas of history of science and technology. A few also work hard to recruit young scientists into their historically minded ranks. A few award travel grants to students who want to present a paper or poster at the annual meeting.

Below I will highlight the activities of a few of our member and affiliated societies. I don’t mean to slight anyone else. In fact, I encourage readers who represent a cognate group to submit a short report of a few hundred words for the Winter 2010 History Newsletter. This newsletter should indeed provide an “umbrella” function for everyone interested in the history of physics and allied sciences. The Center and the Niels Bohr Library look forward to a follow-up to this meeting in 2011, but we should continue communicating and collaborating in between!

History at the Member Societies

Acoustical Society of America maintains a web page on the history of the society. http://asa.aip.org/history.html.

American Association of Physics Teachers’ Committee on the History and Philosophy of Physics sponsors sessions at annual meetings, including a popular “living history” workshop by Benjamin Franklin (Robert A. Morse). http://www.aapt.org/aboutaapt/organization/history.cfm. One notable part of the committee’s mission is to deepen a “historical perspective in physics education at all levels.” The association‘s staff has also worked with us to preserve its archival records.

American Astronomical Society’s Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) meets at least annually. It usually meets alongside the AAS annual meeting, but it sometimes meets separately or with another AAS division. The division sponsors very popular historical sessions and has also held a Cultural Astronomy Summer School, a two-day workshop. It publishes a newsletter and maintains an extensive web site. The division awards the prestigious Leroy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy every second year. In 2010, it presented the award to Michael J. Crowe, known for decades of publishing on history of mathematics, history of astronomy, the astronomer John Herschel, and especially on the ‘plurality of worlds debate’. Crowe is Professor Emeritus, Notre Dame University. HAD will award its first HAD Book Prize for Historical Astronomy in 2011. http://www.aas.org/had/. The society’s staff has worked with us to preserve its archival records.

American Crystallographic Association is developing a web page on its history and is seeking to locate and transfer older materials to the Niels Bohr Library and Archives at AIP.

American Geophysical Union’s History of Geophysics Committee raised $15,000 toward supporting its Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. The award—$5,000—will be given annually, starting in 2011. The AGU’s staff and History Committee have worked with us to preserve its archival records. The Committee and AIP’s History Center are planning a major re-survey of AGU Fellows.

American Physical Society’s Forum for History of Physics awarded the Abraham Pais Prize ($10,000) for 2010 to Russell McCormmach, Professor Emeritus, Oregon State University, “For the study of German science in the 19th and 20th centuries and a major biography of Henry Cavendish (with Christa Jungnickel, his late wife), and for founding the journal Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences.” The Pais Prize was awarded to Stephen G. Brush, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, in 2009 “For his pioneering, in-depth studies in the history of nineteenth and twentieth century physics.” The Forum also sponsors very popular historical sessions at APS meetings. http://www.aps.org/units/fhp/. The society’s staff has worked with us to preserve its archival records. George Zimmerman, an FHP volunteer, has been especially effective in promoting departmental histories and web posting of conference talks.

AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing has a History Committee charged with preserving books, photos, and instruments related to their history. They are developing a virtual museum of artifacts and capturing the knowledge and reminiscences of experts and characters. The volunteer committee at AVS has been notably active in helping preserve the records of the society. The society’s staff has worked with us to preserve its archival records.

Optical Society of America has a “100 Year History Project” under way, in preparation for its 2016 centenary. The project’s mission includes the creation of a historical record of OSA members and activities. OSA is working with History Associates, Inc. to produce a book on this history. It is also encouraging audio and video recordings and intends to launch a historical website in 2010. http://www.osa.org/aboutosa/History/default.aspx OSA has a History Advisory Committee. OSA and APS were two founding partners of this year’s LaserFest http://www.laserfest.org/. The society’s staff has worked with us to preserve its archival records.

American Association of Physicists in Medicine History Committee is actively interviewing prominent physicists in medicine and has placed about 20 of these video interviews on the web, at their history web page http://www.aapm.org/org/history/. A selection of historical documents and historical essays are available there, too. And like other member societies above, AAPM staff has worked with us to preserve records, including oral history interviews from earlier years.

History at Selected Affiliated Societies

American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) has digitized its Transactions (1871–1970) and 107 technical volumes. The institute has also digitized important historical and corporate documents. It presents annual awards for history and promotes the organization’s history. It maintains a web site http://www.aimehq.org/history.cfm and participates in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

American Meteorological Society offers a Graduate Student Fellowship in the History of Science annually, worth $15,000. The purpose is to complete a dissertation on the history of the atmospheric, or related oceanic or hydrologic sciences. More information is at http://www.ametsoc.org/amsstudentinfo/scholfeldocs/gradfellowshipscience.html. The society also sponsors annual symposia, an oral history program, and digital history projects.

American Society of Civil Engineers’ History and Heritage Committee sponsors a landmark program and maintains a large web site, with descriptions of landmarks, biographies of notable civil engineers, history timelines, and ASCE history. This currently is almost a completely volunteer program. http://content.asce.org/history/. The committee also gives the Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award. In 2009 the award went to Ronald C. Cox and Howard H. Newlon, Jr.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Committee on History and Heritage sponsors a Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmarks program and maintains a web site with historical resources at http://www.asme.org/communities/history/. They also recognize outstanding published works with the annual Engineer-Historian Award. The 2009 award went to Graham White for his histories of aircraft piston engines.

Geological Society of America’s History of Geology Division sponsors historical sessions at annual GSA meetings. The division makes two awards per year, the Mary C. Rabbitt History of Geology Award and the Friedman History of Geology Distinguished Service Award. The Rabbitt Award went to Davis Young in 2009 for his work on the history of petrology, including a book on Norman Bowen of the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Lab. The web site is http://www.geosociety.org/awards/09speeches/rabbitt.htm. The division also awards a $500 stipend for a student to present a historical paper or poster at its annual meeting.

American Microscope Society has one active professional, retired volunteer who preserves the society’s archives, which run from 1942 to the present, about 100 classic books, and over 100 video oral histories produced in the 1980s. www.microscopy.org.

Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma are “linked but distinct” organizations for undergraduate students. The first is for undergraduates interested in physics but not necessarily majors. The second is a lifelong honorary society. Both societies have preserved much of their archival material and are preparing it for long-term preservation. These societies can provide useful advice for societies seeking to reach out to a dispersed membership via social media on the web. Their web posts and newsletters often include historical articles.

Like-Minded Organizations

American Microbeam Society has one active professional volunteer working to preserve the society’s archives and to conduct oral history interviews with the founders.

Chemical Heritage Foundation has an independent research library, a museum, and a center for scholars. The Othmer Library of Chemical History includes books, archives, photos, and more. The Roy Eddleman Institute for Interpretation and Education focuses on outreach. The Center for Contemporary History and Policy offers historically grounded perspectives on issues related to the molecular sciences and technologies. The Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry hosts visiting scholars. http://www.chemheritage.org/.

IEEE History Committee/IEEE History Center has as its purview the history of all areas of electrical, electronic, computing, and information technologies. This clearly intersects with the history of physics. The History Center has a team of historians and related professionals and it employs Rutgers University graduate students in history. It also employs interns at several levels. http://www.ieee.org/history_center. The Center has emphasized its wiki-based site http://www.ieeeghn.org, IEEE Global History Network, as a way to leverage the knowledge of IEEE’s 400,000 members.

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