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Peter Harper

Introduction to Future Proof IV

Our meeting this week follows three very successful Future Proof meetings at Edinburgh in 2003, Munich in 2005 and Strasbourg in 2006 in which we have considered a wide range of current issues in scientific archives, and we are most grateful to our colleagues at the Center for the History of Science here at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for acting as our hosts for Future Proof IV.

 At the head of the meeting it is appropriate to say a few words about the programme.  It is of course a means to an end which is to bring together a group of people from a diversity of locations and institutions with certain interests in common in the expectation that they will find their company over three days both agreeable and profitable.  We developed the programme with the aim of keeping the group together, that is to facilitate the participation of as many as possible of those who have attended previous Future Proof meetings, whilst at the same time and most importantly introducing new people into the mix.

The programme also reflects its sponsoring bodies.  First, there is the informal CASE (Cooperation on Archives of Science in Europe) group of archivists working at the European level.  With CASE the emphasis is on the practical - sharing information about what people actually doing in scientific archives – whether it be surveying or publication or exhibition or digitisation.  And if we think of regular participants reporting on particular projects then some at least of the papers at this meeting might have been accompanied in the programme by the strap line: The story continues.  And because these are significant people from major institutions, they are important stories.  I could cite the British Library’s engagement with eMSS or the American Institute of Physics and the archives of physicists in industry – just for starters.  Of course the title of the last paper in today’s programme is to all intents and purposes: the story continues.

Secondly, there is the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the IUHPS DHST.  This provides a clear focus for archives (and bibliographical activity) in the international history of science community and therefore it is particularly appropriate that we have here a number of historians of science with archival interests and responsibilities participating in this meeting.  The second session on Friday morning is specifically designed to highlight the activity of the Commission and I especially wanted to mention at the outset the World History of Science Online bibliographical and archival sources project which is now led by Stephen Weldon of the University of Oklahoma.  

CASE and the Commission have a number of things in common including a definition of scientific archives which focuses on the natural sciences rather than humanistic or social sciences: the preponderance of papers reflect that definition.  But we are not dogmatic: boundaries are crossed, straddled, blurred, whatever: we have papers on ethnographers and their archives and archaeological documentation and research materials generally.  

CASE and the Commission have a focus on contemporary, recent archives, which reflects the great expansion of science in the second half of the twentieth century and this meeting respects that focus.  And yet we welcome a paper on the archives of the eighteenth century Christian mystic and scientist Swedenborg.  But then the archives are here at the Academy, which is, of course, the third sponsor of our meeting

Do we then have a programme defined by intellectual coherence, rigour and other academically forbidding words?  That is rather doubtful.  Do we then have a programme, which facilitates agreeable and profitable exchange amongst a diverse group of well-informed interested colleagues?  We very much hope so.