Science/technology archives discussion
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might be interested in following this discussion thread.
>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
> Leonard DeGraaf
> National Park Service
> Edison National Historic Site
>Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 09:50:53 -0400
>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
>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.
>Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 10:05:18 +0000
>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.
>University of Maryland
>Date: Wed, 08 Jul 1998 11:59:50 -0400
>From: Andrew Butrica <email@example.com>
>> 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
>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
>Washington, DC 20546
>Voice: (202) 358-4593 Fax: (202) 358-2866
>X-33 History Project Website:
Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@discontents.com.au)
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