It is most exciting to have assembled in the one place a large
number of people all focusing on the documentation of science
and technology in Australia. Science and technology are an integral
part of our society, they influence our lives daily and form an
important part of our cultural heritage. The documentation of
science and technology, which includes the preservation of the
archives and artefacts relating to science and technology, constitutes
an important national activity.
The Australian Science Archives Project, which was only in its
infancy at the previous conference in 1985, has by default, taken
on some of the role of providing the infrastructure to link together
the great diversity of people and organisations involved in some
way or other with the preservation of our scientific and technological
culture. So, it is with great pleasure, that against the odds,
the ASAP has not only survived but flourished since 1985 and has
been in a position to organise this third conference on the documentation
of science and technology in Australia - Recovering Science:
Strategies and Models for the Past Present and Future.
The ground-work for the 1992 conference was set by two previous
conferences in 1981 and 1985. However, there was only a tenuous
link between them, and no on-going mechanism developed to undertake
the realisation of proposals raised at those meetings. Therefore,
any developments that have occurred since 1981, while perhaps
stimulated by those conferences, have been essentially ad hoc
and not part of a conscious national strategy. So the major question
facing us is whether the time is now right for the community of
people interested in this area to establish a national strategy
to ensure that we work co-operatively, efficiently and effectively
towards broad national goals. Perhaps the major difference between
the 1992 conference and its predecessors is that it has been organised
by a body that is not only solely concerned with the subject matter
of the conference but is also planning to stay in existence for
the foreseeable future.
The first conference dealing with the archives of science and
technology in Australia, in July 1981, attracted 24 enthusiasts
from both the archives and academic communities. The second in
September 1985 saw an increase in the size of the joint community
with a list of participants numbering 54, including 7 who had
been at the first meeting. In 1992, we have over 119 registered
participants, which on its own accord indicates a significant
development of interest in the field. Another indicator of the
recent growth in the broad area of history of science in Australia
is the steady and continuous growth in the distribution of the
History of Australian Science Newsletter. It commenced
publication in 1983 to link together that group of people working
towards the Australian Academy of Science's bicentennial history
of science project, and has grown from an initial readership of
about 300 to over 1000. The Australian Science Archives Project
took over the editorship and production of the Newsletter
in 1990, and we are continually discovering people working in
isolation with no idea that there is a significantly large group
of people with similar concerns and a growing body of knowledge
and expertise. Against this background of growth and development
I would like briefly to discuss the issues and recommendations
of the first two conferences with a view to establishing a sense
of historical continuity with our activities at this conference.
The First Conference: Science Archives Seminar, 24 July 1981
The report of the first meeting held on 24 July 1981 at the Australian
Academy of Science and organised by the National Committee for
the History and Philosophy of Science is notable, with hindsight,
for the way it under-estimated the size of the problem under discussion,
both in quantity and scope of records in all areas except those
generated by CSIR/O. The focus of the conference was on archives
and did not consider the relationship between archives and artefacts.
Professor Margaret Gowing, who had set up the Contemporary Scientific
Archives Centre (A CSAC) in Oxford, was the key commentator on
the papers presented, and she spoke at length about the role that
such a national science archives project might play in Australia.
Interestingly, the 'Discussions and Recommendations' section of
the report ignored this possibility and in fact the notes for
the Chairman actually closed the door on the discussion prior
to the conference with the advice that 'A CSAC may be premature
and unnecessary in Australia, but the NCHPS could offer itself
as an honest broker in relating the interests of historians and
archivists to scientists and their societies.'
Most of the issues raised and ideas generated by the conference
are still valid today. For example: the development of University
teaching programs using archives; seminars on archives administration
for scientific societies; the role of the Basser Library; the
problems of experimental and observational data; the types of
records generated by scientific organisations; problems with computer
data; payment for archival services; the need to 'sell' the value
of the archiving process per se, rather than a particular final
outcome which may be the history of science; the change and development
of archival systems; and the role of the Guide to Manuscripts
Relating to Australia.
Unfortunately, without any infrastructure in place to run with
the ideas, it was only possible to issue a very half-hearted set
- that some sort of liaison committee be set up
between archivists and the National Committee. [I suspect that
the Joint Committee on Science Archives which was established
in 1982 with Colin Smith as Convenor, came from this recommendation]
- the National Committee ask the Academy of Science to take some
initiative in getting a Joint Academy approach to science archives.
[It was in 1981 that the NCHPS took on an ex-officio representative
from the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia]
- that a report on this Seminar be sent to the Chairman of the
Consultative Committee of the four Academies after it has been
reported to the Academy of Science. After this, copies should
be sent to the Councils of the four Academies.
- that the science correspondents of the respective newspapers
should also be contacted and sent a copy of the report.1
Despite the best efforts of the conference to ignore the possibility,
efforts to establish an 'Australian Scientific Archives Project'
were undertaken by Professor Rod Home in 1983 and by 1985 sufficient
funds had been raised for the Australian Science Archives Project
to commence operations.
The National Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science
still exists as a standing committee of the Australian Academy
of Science and includes ex-officio representatives from the Australasian
Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of
Science, and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
However, it does not appear to have continued its interest or
involvement in the archives or documentation of science and technology
in Australia. It met most recently in Sydney in the middle of
The Second Conference: the Archives of Science and Technology
in Australia, 19-21 September 1985
This second conference was stimulated by the activities of the
Joint Committee on Science Archives (JCSA) but was organised by
the School of Librarianship at the University of New South Wales,
in particular Professor Carmel Maguire and Ann Pederson. Helen
Samuels, Archivist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
had been brought to Australia by the University of New South Wales
and provided the focus for the meeting. She presented, hot off
the press, Appraising the Records of Modern Science and Technology
(1985) and stimulated many of us to think more broadly about our
activities in documenting science and technology.
Kathleen Oakes in her report of the conference2 discussed
three major issues that were identified by the conference delegates.
- the problems of documenting a particular theme
- the problems of the documentation of science and technology
necessarily involving archives and artefacts;
- the problem of lack of funding for archives of science and
The notes I took at that conference as the young and very green
Senior Archivist from the Australian Science Archives Project,
are not, in retrospect, just a simple record of the presentations
but a highly unreliable jumble of ideas. They were inspired by
the papers delivered by the keynote speaker Helen Samuels and
a number of the local speakers and in particular Colin Smith,
who at that stage was the CSIRO Archivist.
However, despite the good intentions of the 21 people who formed
the 'Saturday Discussion/Action Groups' and drew up a list of
projects or strategies to be undertaken, the momentum set by the
conference dissipated quickly as the participants dispersed back
to their own patches. The Joint Committee on Science Archives
which was going to maintain the momentum lacked financial backing
and relied entirely on the goodwill of the individuals concerned.
It was not in a position to provide effective follow-up support.
The newly established Australian Science Archives Project was
not, at that point in its development, in a position to take on
Seven years have passed: we now have archivists in some of our
most important museums; we have the Australian Archives taking
a leadership role in archival matters generally, and having done
specific work on producing guidelines for appraisal of science
and technology records; a re-structuring of the role of CSIRO
Archive is under way; we have a computer database Register of
the Archives of Science in Australia (though admittedly limited
in its scope at this stage) which is available in book form and
on-line through the National Library of Australia on the OZLINE
network; and some new avenues for funding have been identified.
The Third Conference: Recovering Science: Strategies and Models
for the Past, Present and Future, 15-17 November 1992
A quick glance through the conference programme reveals that one
of the objectives of this conference is to tackle issues one and
two from the 1985 Conference. The problem of funding, the third
issue, is perennial and has not been listed for specific discussion.
However, the conference themes - 'Recovering Science' - as described
in the programme provide an intellectual framework for linking
all the participants in documenting and understanding science
in the Australian context; that is the archivists, museum workers,
scientists, historians and even the philosophers.
- Recovering Science - finding, processing
and preserving the records and artefacts of science and technology.
- Recovering Science - reclaiming science as an important
part of our heritage.
- RECOVERING SCIENCE - re-examining the image of science that
is being portrayed and the definition of what is science in our
It could be argued that we need a diversity of strategies and
ways of working to cope with the variety of tasks before us in
the documentation of science and technology in Australia. There
is no particular way of working that will be appropriate for all
possible circumstances. There have been too many changes over
the last two hundred years to even consider a single unified approach.
Specific tools to aid in the documentation of specific types of
scientific activity may be useful but they must be clearly established
in their particular context. There are general principles that
can be applied across all ways of working and strategies; principles
that will allow us to cope with the diachronic and synchronic
variability that is characteristic of any human activity, science
being no exception.
What is so special about science and technology that we need to
have a national conference to discuss its documentation? Science,
as an activity, crosses personal, institutional, state and national
boundaries, and creates networks of communication that are different
from those created by other activities. Scientists and technologists
are at the forefront in the introduction of new technologies,
especially those technologies that determine the way they themselves
communicate (for example: Email, Fax, and also the generation
and storage of electronic data). Scientists, by the very nature
of their activities, the structures they create and their personal
and intellectual independence, challenge the archivist and museum
curator to keep up. Biographers are also challenged to find successful
ways of communicating the life and work of scientists to wider
audiences. Perhaps this is why there has been such a development
of science-based Discipline History Centres in the United States.
The scientific community in Australia is too small to support
a variety of subject-specific discipline history centres, but
it appears big enough - I hope it is big enough! - to support
a centre to cover science generally, the Australian Science Archives
Project. But even if it is, no matter how successful ASAP is,
it can only cope with a small fraction of what needs to be done.
I hope that what this conference will do is help to consolidate
and co-ordinate a much wider range of archiving activities in
relation to the records of science and technology in this country,
within which ASAP can play a useful role. I believe that ASAP
could take on part of that coordinating function, - a pivotal
part, I would hope, but still only a part. I would like now to
talk about ASAP itself, and our hopes for it, so that it can be
seen how much we can contribute to the task that needs to be done,
and how much still needs to be done.
Australian Science Archives Project. Providing Access to Australia's
Scientific Heritage: Statement of Purpose
Early in 1992 we went through a strategic planning process as
part of an application for funding to develop our operations in
1993. From that process we defined our vision and mission and
a set of key objectives.
To provide, not only for all Australians but for the international
community, access to our scientific heritage through information
about the documentary records and historical artefacts of science
and technology in Australia.
To establish a co-operative framework linking creators, custodians
and users, to ensure the best possible preservation of and access
to the archives of science and science-based medicine and technology
More specifically the Australian Science Archives Project aims
- Action to identify, preserve and make accessible collections
of records relating to science and science-based medicine and
technology in Australia.
- Advice to individuals and scientific institutions regarding
the best management of their archival collections.
- Information on the history of Australian science, particularly
through its published guides to archives and individual collections
and the History of Australian Science Newsletter.
- Maintenance and development of the national database, the Register
of the Archives of Science in Australia, as a means of access
to the distributed national collection of archival materials relating
to science and science-based medicine and technology.
However, the most important decision taken was to establish a
second office of the ASAP in Canberra. This is a very exciting
development for the ASAP as it will be another step towards establishing
it as truly national not only in intent but in actuality.
It is clear that the Australian Science Archives Project sees
a pivotal role for itself in the development of national strategies
for the documentation of science and technology. However, to help
meet our collective goal of documenting Australian science and
technology, institutions and individuals need to consider their
roles, to determine what projects and activities would be best
undertaken by the ASAP on behalf of the entire community.
Organisationally, we are small and can only directly assist in
the archiving of a small fraction of the scientific and technological
records generated; but if we can draw that diverse collection
of individuals and institutions together to work co-operatively,
we will have made some contribution.
1 Unpublished report
of the Science Archives Seminar, 24 July 1981 to the National
Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science, Australian
Academy of Science, page 14. In the R.W. Home collection at the
University of Melbourne Archives and in the official files of
the Committee held by the Basser Library, Australian Academy of
2 K. Oakes, 'Sci-Tech Meeting
Report', Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 14, no.2, November
1986, pp. 169-172.