History of Science: Archives and Oral History
Julia SheppardHead of Special Collections
Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine
The transition of ownership: players and stakes
In my paper I will briefly outline some of the key issues which confront the donor/depositor and the receiving library/repository when it comes to discussing and agreeing to transfer working and personal papers to an archive. There are many challenges and many ways of handling them, circumscribed by legal implications, ownership, ethical and financial. Individual circumstances inevitably also play a part.
Some of these issues are specific to scientific papers but most are faced by professional archivists face at some time, especially when dealing with collections from donors who are still alive or recently deceased. We do however face new problems with increasing international collaboration in scientific and medical research and, recent developments in electronic record keeping.
I will give some examples from the archives received by the Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine where for over 20 years I was responsible for building up the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre. These include the papers of Peter Medawar, Francis Crick, Marthe Vogt, Honor Fell, Lord Moran, and various professional societies, associations and pressure groups.
Peter B. HirtleDirector for Instruction and Learning
Instruction, Research, and Information Services
Cornell University Library
Copyright Ownership in Scientific Archives
The physical ownership of scientific archives is separate from the ownership of the copyright in those archives, and the latter is becoming ever more important to archivists. Copyright law affords to the copyright owner certain exclusive rights that sharply limit what archivists and users of archives may do with papers. For example, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, display, and prepare derivatives of a work. Yet to use digital information requires that it be copied into RAM in a computer and displayed on a screen. Preserving that information often requires one to copy media or convert obsolete file formats into newer versions. With even the most common of archival tasks, copyright considerations of necessity arise. This is especially true today because, since 1989, anything that has original expression and that is fixed on some tangible medium is considered copyrighted, with no further action required.
In this session I will provide an overview of the myriad possibilities of copyright ownership that may exist in a scientific archives. Copyright policies at academic institutions normally stipulate that copyright (but not patent rights) belong to faculty members. Researchers employed in private institutions or at some academic institutions are often considered to be employees, and any copyrights they produce belong to their employer (as the "author" of the work). Work conducted by employees of the Federal government has no copyright, but work done under Federal contract is most likely copyrighted. The copyright in anything received by the donor of the scientific archives resides with the original author, and not with the recipient.
How can copyright problems be avoided? The best solution is to identify and address them as early in the life cycle of the archives as possible. It is usually very difficult to identify employee relationships or grant and contract terms years after the fact. The Open Access/Open Source/Creative Commons movement may provide one mechanism for creators of new works to ensure that works can be used and preserved.
Sara S. HodsonCurator of Literary Manuscripts
The Huntington Library
Secrets Revealed or Sealed: Privacy in Collections of Personal Papers
In acquiring the personal papers of significant individuals and making them available for research, libraries and archival repositories often must deal with a variety of ethical and legal issues relating to these collections. One of the most important and potentially troublesome of these is the question of privacy and confidentiality. This issue has grown more and more vexing to archivists and curators of personal papers as a result of several factors: the public’s interest in salacious or scandalous personal details about others, the heightened concerns about threats to our privacy, and the increase in the archival collecting of the papers of living or recently-deceased individuals.
The right of privacy is not guaranteed in either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights but has been asserted in legal cases and writings, beginning with Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, who in 1890 defined privacy as the right to be let alone. Since then, many have refined and augmented this definition and have sought to identify the appropriate boundaries for private or confidential information.
Archivists must be aware of privacy and confidentiality with regard to the collections they oversee, and, indeed, the national professional association, the Society of American Archivists, has articulated this responsibility in its Code of Ethics for Archivists. This code stipulates that archivists must respect the privacy of individuals represented in collections, especially those who had no say in the disposition of the papers. Archivists often must implement this ethical tenet in difficult and ambiguous instances.
Like any modern collection of personal papers, scientists’ archives contain materials that hold the potential to reveal private or confidential information, such as personal diaries and correspondence with friends and family. The papers of scientists also may include sensitive professional files, such as letters of recommendation, tenure review files, student files, reviews of grant applications, confidential or proprietary communications from other scientists, or files containing the results of experiments involving human subjects. For all these materials, there is the potential for the breach or invasion of individual privacy, and both donors or creators and archivists must be aware of the issues involved. There are no easy answers to the troublesome dilemmas involving contemporary papers, but we can attempt to reach some conclusions by raising the questions and exploring carefully and knowledgably the options available for the proper handling of sensitive material.
Thomas James ConnorsCurator
National Public Broadcasting Archives
University of Maryland
Scientific Information in the Federal Government - the Emerging
The George W. Bush administration has been recently charged with politicizing the process by which scientific information is created and used in the federal government. The Union of Concerned Scientists and others have claimed that scientific data is being distorted to support the Bush agenda in key areas such as environmental and health policy formulation. If this is the case, how should government archivists treat such distorted information when it is time for it to be transferred to the National Archives? How active should archivists be in interpreting scientific materials that may be tainted? How should future users of such materials be alerted to the possibility of tainted information? This paper will consider such questions within the larger context of the Bush administration's emerging information policies.
Tom RoskoHead, Institute Archives of the Archives
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Challenges of Collecting and Preserving Scientific Records in the Digital Age
This presentation will outline some of the issues facing archivists today as they try to figure out what (and how) to collect in an era where the nature and practice of scientific research is changing, or has changed, through the use of digital technologies. Scientists are able to share information more readily. Decreasing concern over information storage limits coupled with regulations insisting on the preservation of data means that the possibilities of preserving and having data accessible and understandable in the future are increasing. However, currently it is a time of transition and uncertainty.
Initiatives such as MIT's DSpace have begun to offer hope that the electronic information being produced by scientists will be preserved and accessible to future historians. But while the technical difficulties of preserving electronic information are lessening, the policies and procedures are becoming more difficult. Determining what to collect and preserve; who will have access and how; and how to administer the "collection" and with what resources are perplexing issues.
Darwin H. StapletonExecutive Director
Rockefeller Archive Center
Just Doing It: the Smithsonian Institution Archives – Rockefeller Archive Center Collaborative Electronic Records Project
The long-term preservation of electronic records, particularly email, is of critical importance for the future of scholarly research and organizational accountability. In virtually all nonprofit organizations, including those served by the SIA and RAC, electronic communication has become standard with little thought to the preservation of that information in electronic form. It is imperative that archivists look to interim, even if imperfect, means of preserving this information.
This three-year project intends to join the skills of archivists and computer engineers to find ways to preserve information as it is created in each institutional setting. We are beginning with archival surveys of the electronic records created by each institution (including multiple divisions at the Smithsonian, and multiple, independent institutions at the Rockefeller). With the results of the survey we intend to establish preservation criteria, and identify tools that appear to be appropriate to the management of a substantial body of the electronic records.
We will then proceed to select two divisions and two institutions at which we can test means of preserving electronic records, utilizing the Smithsonian’s IT department to work on adapting the tools to effectively. Subsequent to those tests and adaptation, we intend to expand the project to all divisions of the Smithsonian and all institutional depositors of the Rockefeller that are willing to participate. Throughout this project we intend to share our knowledge with other institutions; it is our hope that at its end we will have an electronic records preservation strategy that can be utilized by other nonprofits.
Reagan MooreAssociate Director
San Diego Supercomputer Center
Preservation of scientific collections using data grid technology
The data grid infrastructure used to share scientific collections across institutions provides the capabilities needed for preservation. In effect, management of distributed data collections across spatially remote and heterogeneous sites is equivalent to migration of collections over time onto new technology. I will discuss the concepts of infrastructure independence for collection management, the associated name spaces that must be managed by the preservation environment, how migration to new technology is accomplished, and the standards that a community needs to implement for semantics, data formats, and access mechanisms for long term preservation. I will provide examples from multiple scientific communities on the use of data grid technology to manage and preserve standard digital reference sets.
Kenneth ThibodeauDirector, Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Program
National Archives and Records Administration
Coping with the Digital Era at the U.S. National Archives
The National Archives has been preserving electronic records since 1970. Historically, most of the transfers have been of socio-economic data sets created by organizations such as the Census Bureau, the Bureau for Economic Analysis, the National Center for Health Statistics, etc., with a small number of research data sets from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and NASA. Recent experience and forecasts reveal increasing diversity of forms of documents and exponential growth. In response the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) initiated the Electronic Records Archives Program, articulating a vision of a system which “will authentically preserve and provide access to any kind of electronic record, free from dependency on any specific hardware or software, enabling NARA to carry out its mission into the future.”
In 2004, NARA awarded two contracts for the development of competing architectures and designs for the ERA system. This year, NARA will select one of the contractors to proceed with system development and deployment.
Martin L. LevittAPS Librarian
Professor of History
Historians, Scientists and Institutions Views of Archives
Topic 1: Historian’s Expectations
Primary Sources: Expectations of Historians vs. Operational Realities in Archives
In an age of ever-more abundant primary sources harvested by libraries and repositories of all types, what can historians of science realistically expect to find in archives, and how much of that material can be made available digitally? Google has boldly publicized its ambition to digitize millions of volumes held in five research libraries, and while the announcement has been met with both great rejoicing and a certain degree of skepticism, user expectations for broad and instantaneous access to materials held in repositories is clearly rising.
Historians themselves, depending on their generation, are pressing repositories to save more, provide better access to, and preserve materials that were formally available only via traditional research methods. However, the realities of providing on-line access to such materials as manuscript collections raise myriad thorny issues for the stewards of primary materials. Despite the decreasing cost of scanning, is scanning cost-effective given the limited resources of the repositories in which they are held? Do the traditional archival principles of appraisal apply to materials destined for scanning? Moreover, what about such knotty problems as issues of copyright, lack of context when scanned items are selected from larger collections, the danger of loss of control over use (and potential lost income), data presentation (simple image scan? OCR?), data preservation over the long term, authenticity of digital data, ethical considerations, and the lack of the reference process that on-line resources implies, to name just a few?
In short, what balance can historians expect repositories to strike as they juggle the realities of limited resources, the changing nature of new accessions (many of which are “born digital), and the rising expectations of a new generation of historians who are increasingly comfortable with on-line research?
Dr Soraya de ChadarevianSenior Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer
University of Cambridge
A historian's experience working on current science
Historians working on recent science have an abundance of sources they can recur to (interviews, written and electronic sources, personal and institutional archives, material objects). At the same time they are constantly faced (I would claim more dramatically so than historians working on earlier periods) with the changing status of their sources: informants pass away; new papers become available when they move from private hands into archives or when restriction rules are released; others are destroyed or sold. An additional problem is posed by the increasing importance of electronic source material and their preservation. In this paper I will reflect on my experience with the changing record of molecular biology in the last 10 years or so and how this may affect the work of future historians.
Robert OlbyResearch Professor
University of Pittsburgh
A Biographer's Hopes and the Subject’s Expectations
What are biographers’ expectations when undertaking the writing of a biography? Where does the legitimacy of their aims come into question and how can the authenticity of their portrait be undermined? When researching the life of a subject still alive, how does the subject expect to benefit from the enterprise, and what influence does he or she have over the biographer for better or for worse. These issues are discussed and illustrated from the speaker’s experience of writing Dr. Crick’s biography.
Director, Archives Program
Concerning my presentation, I plan to talk about the administrative challenges and opportunities for institutional archives that have collections relating to science and scientists. I thought I would touch on such issues as funding priorities, subject knowledge capabilities, technological sophistication and educational/outreach programs.
Clifford S. MeadHead of Special Collections
Oregon State University
Digital Collections with Narrative: Expanding Our Constituencies
An implicit restriction for many potential users of all history of science collections would be the scientific language that is endemic to a specific collection. To address the misconception that science-related archival materials are too complex for the intelligent lay-reader, the Oregon State University Special Collections and the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers introduced a web-based medium to attract as wide an audience as possible.
Our initial goal in the creation of history of science digital collections was to provide an illuminating, user-friendly resource - one based chiefly upon primary archival documents - that enhanced the ability of students at advanced high school and undergraduate college levels, as well as graduate students and professional science historians to learn about the stories behind Linus Pauling’s importance in many 20th-century scientific fields. In so doing, it was also our intent that students acquire a greater appreciation for the larger and more abstract themes that underlie the processes of scientific discovery. We believe that the sites will prove to be a valuable addition to the teaching curricula of science and history teachers at both the high school and collegiate levels.
These websites, such as the “The Race for DNA”, “The Nature of the Chemical Bond,” and “Sickle Cell Anemia” also have options that reveal a series of layers: the top layer comprising a concise account of the subject; the next layer containing expanded versions of different aspects of the subject - not arranged sequentially as in a narrative, but rather as self-contained units that feed into the topmost story; a third layer composed of the different types of documentation (letters, photographs, etc.) with brief anecdotal annotations, and audio and visual media; and future projects might include a fifth layer consisting of a syllabus model with a sixth layer incorporating selected commentary from website readers.
Virginia P. DawsonHistory Enterprises, Inc.
My talk will focus on science/technology/medical institutions like NASA, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Cleveland Clinic. Historians working independently of academia, face different challenges from those who have the luxury of choosing a topic based on the availability of an extensive archive. These challenges include the lack of documentary evidence, particularly for more recent history, the politics of the institution, and the need to understand historical context, often in areas where few secondary sources exist. There are three points relating to oral history that I will develop:
Ron DoelAssociate Professor/History of Science
Oregon State University
Voices in a Discordant Chorus: Oral History and the Recent History of Scientific Institutions
For much of the twentieth century, the history of scientific institutions was written primarily from archival records. Such accounts often provided a view from the top: the most likely preserved papers are those of institution directors and eminent senior scientists. Yet historians of science increasingly recognize that satisfying accounts of the production of knowledge within large scientific institutions – particularly within research schools – must embrace a larger range of social, cultural, and political factors than are easily explored through archival sources alone. Oral history projects that capture the recollections of a wide range of participants in extended scientific communities, including secretaries, lab technicians, instrument-builders, financial officers, extramural patrons, and spouses in addition to elite scientists, can provide the basis for such comprehensive narratives. They also allow historians to better explore the moral and ethical dimensions of scientific practice. Here I address these themes using a case study: the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Oral History Project (1995-1998), directed by the Oral History Research Office of Columbia University.
Recording Science and Life Through (Oral) Autobiography
The CSHL is comprised of interviews recounting the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and events and individuals that have shaped the fields of molecular biology and genetics. Our project is made up of two components: the Oral History DVD Collection, an anthology of video interviews with scientists, and the Oral History Website, which contains video clips from each of these interviews. To date, the CSHL Oral History Project includes over 110 interviews of scientists telling stories about their life and work.
In my talk I will discuss the events that led to the creation of the Oral History Project as well as its development over time. I plan to address significant challenges that we have faced, such as securing narrators, forging relationships with scientists, creating a productive interview environment, and choosing interview topics. I intend to explore how narrator’s interviews can function not only as accounts of scientific developments but also as oral autobiographies of the scientists.
I will present the CSHL Oral History Website http://library.cshl.edu/OH/mainMovie.html and demonstrate the ways in which its design facilitates use by an audience with diverse interests and intentions, such as, historians, scholars, writers, scientists, students, and informal learners.
Oral history interviews provide one of the most candid and expressive formats for presenting first-hand scientific experience. Often interviews delve into topics never discussed in-depth before, or narrators recollect events in ways that are contrary to other written accounts. The very nature of oral history is what makes it significant but simultaneously provokes skepticism. How valid is one’s spontaneous recollection of a past event? I will discuss the ways the CSHL Oral History Website equipped with an extensive hypertext system and a multiple-field database serves to contextualize the narrator’s interview for the user. The website seamlessly integrates interview clips of one narrator with related clips of another. The website also connects each interview with its narrator’s biographical sketch. In my talk I will discuss our project plans to expand upon our hypertext system so that video clips can be linked to photos, primary documents, catalog records, and related websites. This will provide users with a comprehensive understanding of a particular scientific subject. These features will also serve to authenticate and contextualize the oral history interviews while reflecting the voice, recollection and intention of each narrator. I intend to illustrate how our hypertext system has enabled us to carry out the first phase of our cross-referencing system to the satisfaction of our users.
The CSHL Oral History Project is supported by the efforts of our Archives staff; Marisa Macari and Clare Bunce.
Tilli TanseyHistorian of Modern Medical Sciences/Convenor of the History of Twentieth Century
Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine
Who is oral history for? Reflections on Witness Seminars in modern biomedicine
A Witness Seminar is a specialised form of group oral history in which a number of individuals associated with a particular event, discovery or development are brought together to discuss, debate and analyse the significance of their work. Each meeting (and we have held almost forty to date, see Table) is recorded, and transcribed, and most are then edited for publication. In addition to conventional paper publication, the transcripts are freely available from the Wellcome Trust Centre's website (and from April 2005, also from the Wellcome Trust Library's website), and all the original tapes and transcripts, correspondence that arises during the editorial process, and any additional material that participants donate, are deposited in the Archives and Manuscripts department of the Wellcome Trust Library, and are available for other scholars to consult and utilise.
The reliability and usefulness of such recorded conversations is clearly an issue that must be addressed. As we all know, many historians distrust oral history as biased and distorted, and dismiss it. Although bias is certainly present, occasionally deliberate, but more frequently unintentional, this is not a problem unique to oral testimony and other, more conventional sources can be equally unreliable and open to manipulation. One important check inbuilt into the Witness Seminars is the presence of other participants who can immediately challenge or refute statements and prompt memories, and can do so with authority and insider knowledge that even well researched historians are unable to elicit in one-to-one interviews. The Witness Seminar format can therefore be considered as a form of open peer-review. Experience has shown that from our seminars, the historian is presented not with a conspiracy of agreement but an abundance of conflicting accounts, and several interesting differences of memory and interpretation are illustrated in our publications. These meetings do not explore 'group' memory, but record intersecting and overlapping memories that encompass a wide range of recollections and opinions.
Witness seminars also affect the participants, as contributors discover to their amazement that 'history' includes their own lives and careers. Awareness of historians' interest in recent biomedicine can encourage the deposit of material into written, photographic, and film archives, (usually, but not exclusively, in the Wellcome Library) and the donation of instruments and equipment to suitable Museums (usually the Wellcome collections in the Science Museum). Several participants have also adopted the format for further use, and Witness Seminars are becoming an increasing feature on the programmes of several learned societies and organisations. Unexpectedly we have recently found policy makers and analysts also using our meetings and publications. Our principal objective remains the creation of new resources of use to both scientists and historians, and we are responsible for promoting our work as sources in their own right, and as stimulators of future historical research.
Acknowledgements: This work is supported by the Wellcome Trust. Mrs Wendy Kutner, Mrs Lois Reynolds and Dr Daphne Christie assist in the organisation, running and dissemination of these meetings.
Witness Seminars, 1993-2003