Science/technology archives discussion


I thought those of you who weren't subscribed to the H-SCI-MED-TECH list
might be interested in following this discussion thread.

Cheers, Tim

>Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 16:05:06 -0400
>From: Leonard DeGraaf <Leonard_DeGraaf@NPS.GOV>
>     This list has been quiet, so I would like to stir up some discussion
>     with a few questions.  The Society of American Archivists has asked me
>     to participate in a session at their next meeting dealing with
>     underdocumented areas in the history of science and technology.  The
>     session is an opportunity for archivists to hear researchers talk
>     about the kinds of records or archival materials they can't find or
>     wish there were more of, or have found valuable in their field.
>     I would like to throw this question open to the list.  Any thoughts or
>     comments?  I would also welcome any anecdotes about significant
>     documents or records that have been lost (damaged, stolen,
>     deaccessioned, etc.) in the past few years.  Also, does anyone know if
>     SHOT has dealt with these questions before and if so, what were the
>     results?
>     Leonard DeGraaf
>     National Park Service
>     Edison National Historic Site
>Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 09:50:53 -0400
>From: Arnold_Roos@pch.gc.ca
>Years ago I wrote an article, "A Case Study in Frustration: Archives, the
>History of Technology, and Restoration of Yukon Riverboats," for the
>Canadian journal Archivaria, Vol. 25 (Winter 1987-88), pp. 51-72.  One of
>the reasons I wrote the article was to try to foster some discussion and
>awareness amongst archivists concerning the needs of historians of
>technology.  It did not surprise me that subsequent to the article there
>was a deafening silence concerning this subject.  The reason for this is
>not very hard to find.   There are simply too many demands for the limited
>resources available to archivists for them to focus in on what in their
>world is a minor field.  The pressure from genealogists, all levels of
>government and so forth is much greater than what the few historians of
>technology can bring.  This does not mean that we, as historians of
>technology with our own special requirements, should stop demanding that
>our needs should be met.   I have found that this has been more effective
>on a personal level talking with individual archivists who have some
>interest in this field than trying to convince the profession as a whole.
>My purpose has always been to find some home for a record group that I
>thought was worth preserving and then having some input as to what parts of
>that record group should be preserved.  Perhaps the time has come again to
>address this issue to a larger audience.  It certainly cannot hurt.
>Arnold E. Roos
>Parks Canada
>Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 09:02:51 -0600
>From: Huey Gardner <HLG@JAZZ.UCC.UNO.EDU>
>I'll make two quick comments about science/technology archives.
>First, the University of New Orleans Library "rescued" boxes of old
>blue prints found in an old warehouse which was once used by
>Higgins Industries.  The structure was due to be torn down.
>The blue prints are plans and modifications for WWII landing craft
>built by Higgins.  When last I tried to use them, I was told that
>they (the library) was waiting for someone to go through them
>and decide what to keep.  I was afraid that whomever did that
>may not recognize what they had.
>Second, I've spent a lot of time sifting through the archives of
>the Louisiana State Supreme Court.  In many of the cases involving
>machines, structures, etc., the drawings and plans that should be
>a part of the case file is missing.  I found only one - a map.
>I know they were submitted because they're refered to in the record,
>but someone along the way decided to discard them so all that is
>left is the written record.
>Just my two-cents.
>Huey Gardner
>Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 10:05:18 +0000
>From: brush@ipstmail.umd.edu
>A couple of issues:
>1.  There is an urgent need for the establishment of a center for
>history of biomedical sciences that could perform the functions
>currently handled by the AIP Center for History Physics and other
>centers.  I've had some discussions with people at NIH about this; it
>appears that, for example, there is no place at NIH to preserve the
>papers of world-famous scientists who retire from NIH, and no system
>for informing them about other options or even encouraging them to
>save their papers.  At present these papers just get thrown out, or
>left in a hallway or someone's garage.  The National Library of
>Medicine has an excellent historical section but its archival
>holdings focus on 19th-center physicians and the results of a few
>interview projects; it appears that the NIH administration is not
>interested in funding an archive that would preserve papers of
>contemporary scientists.   Apparently none of the professional
>societies has taken any real responsibility for this function (an
>exception is the Microbiology Society which has an archive at U of
>Maryland Baltimore County).
>2.  A different kind of issue is the difficulty a researcher
>encounters in finding out all the places where letters of a
>particular scientist are held.  You have to travel to all the
>archives that you think might have such letters.  Published finding
>aids and indexes generally don't give enough information, especially
>if the collection has only one or two letters from a particular
>scientist.    Most professional archivists tell me that their POLICY
>is NOT to do the "item-level cataloging" that would produce even a
>simple name index of all the correspondents in a collection.  The
>reason is (a) in order to do that you have to establish "name
>authority" -- you must be sure of the identity of the correspondents.
> For example if a letter is signed "E. B. Wilson" that could be the
>physical chemist Edgar Bright Wilson, the statistician Edwin Bidwell
>Wilson or the biologist Edmund Beecher Wilson.  It takes time and
>expertise to do this.  (b) Because archives, like all institutions of
>this kind, are chronically underfunded, they don't have the resources
>to compile such an index, so in a typical "finding aid" they just
>tell you the "major" correspondents.
>As a user of archives, I disagree with the policy; I would rather
>have a name index even though it may be inaccurate or ambiguous
>because of the E.B.Wilson problem;  as a researcher, it's up to me to
>establish the identity of the author of a letter, not to rely on an
>archivist to do so.  I would like to see more indexes of the kind
>compiled (with great effort and aggravation) by Bruce Wheaton and
>Robin Rider, for the letters of 20th century physicists; see my
>review in Isis 83 (1994) 671-72.  I would also support applications
>to foundations to fund the preparation of such indexes.
>Stephen Brush
>University of Maryland
>Date: Wed, 08 Jul 1998 11:59:50 -0400
>From: Andrew Butrica <abutrica@hq.nasa.gov>
>>     I would also welcome any anecdotes about significant
>>     documents or records that have been lost (damaged, stolen,
>>     deaccessioned, etc.) in the past few years.  Also, does anyone know if
>>     SHOT has dealt with these questions before and if so, what were the
>>     results?
>We did a SHOT session last year in Pasadena on the problems of doing
>history of the present/recent past and each presenter touched on this and
>related issues.  It was a very successful session.
>As for documents researchers would like to get their hands on... How about
>corporate records?  These are about the most elusive out there.
>Andrew J. Butrica
>X-33 History Project
>Code R
>NASA Headquarters
>Washington, DC 20546
>Voice:  (202) 358-4593     Fax:  (202) 358-2866
>X-33 History Project Website:
Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@discontents.com.au)
disCONTENTS - Purveyors of fine ideas
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