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Peter Harper

Introduction to the conference

First, I wish to make a personal expression of thanks to our colleagues here at the Deutsches Museum for making our meeting possible. Then I want to say a few words about two of the organisations that appear (along with the Museum) as sponsors of the conference:  The Bibliography and Documentation Commission of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (of which I am the current President) and CASE (Co-operation on the Archives of Science in Europe) group.  I recently had to define a role for myself in relation to CASE and chose the word ‘facilitator’.

The IUHPS is one of 26 scientific unions belonging to the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) which is the world's leading non-governmental organisation in the field of science.  The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science has two divisions: history of science and history of philosophy as its title suggests.  The History of Science Division has 49 adhering national committees and a large number of commissions including the Bibliography and Documentation Commission, through which its scholarly work is principally conducted.

Strictly speaking the Bibliography and Documentation Commission is concerned with all time periods but my predecessor, Professor Rod Home of the University of Melbourne, founder and first director of the Australian Scientific Archives Project (now Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre) with the support of the then Secretary General IUHPS DHS gave the Commission a strong focus on contemporary scientific archives.  Meetings organised under these auspices were amongst the first I attended which confronted the changing nature of the scientific record arising from the information and communications technology revolution.  It was in order to continue this focus on contemporary scientific archives that I agreed to take over as President in 2001.

The Bibliography and Documentation Commission has always worked very closely with the Secretary General of the Division of History of Science which is obviously has great importance for the direction of its work.  The new Secretary General, Professor Juan Jose Saldana  of the National Autonomous University of Mexico was very keen  that we should have as a major focus of activity: online bibliography and an ambitious project – World History of Science Online – has been elaborated over the last two or three years.  This is intended to encompass the work of the whole Division of History of Science and has attracted funding from ICSU and other international agencies.  I am obviously personally less expert in the area of online bibliography than in contemporary scientific archives.  However, I was able to ensure that archives were not neglected in the formulation of the online project.  This probably would not have happened if the Commission President had not been an archivist.

The scientific archives work and the online bibliography are topics for talks in their own right so I just want to emphasise what I consider one of the essential roles of the Bibliography and Documentation Commission: advocacy of the importance of archives and bibliographical work to the history of science community as a whole –  a role perhaps most evident at the big four yearly history of science congresses – and advocacy of the importance of archives and bibliographical questions to the wider scientific community through the ICSU family of scientific unions.

One final small but important point about the IUHPS DHS - it does have modest funds to support the work of its Commissions, and in 2003 we did receive a little money to support the Edinburgh Conference.  Unfortunately this year is the year of the big international history of science congress (Beijing this July) and therefore the congress is the principal focus of funding support and there was no money available for this meeting.  However, the Commission did receive money this year to develop a website and this is currently being organised in Brazil by the Commission’s Secretary. Dr Alfredo Tolmasquim of the History of Astronomy Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

CASE (Co-operation on the Archives of Science in Europe).  What exactly is CASE?  It certainly does not have a constitution or formal structure.  It doesn’t have officers or an income.  It does have a beginning, a website, and something that might pass for a mission statement.  It produces occasional online newsletters and plays a role in organising meetings such as this, usually as co-sponsor.  Whether it has members in any formal sense is perhaps problematic, even though there is list of members on the website (incomplete like most things on the site).  In fact of course what we are really talking about is a network – a fluctuating group of people with interests in common who wish to maintain some degree of contact.

The initial impetus to the founding of CASE was that of Odile Welfele  who was then based at CNRS HQ in Paris.  (It is particularly sad that Odile can’t be with us for this meeting).  She invited just half a dozen people to a little meeting there early in 1997.  Belgium, Italy, Sweden and the UK were represented in addition to France.   The original plans were quite ambitious and we mapped out areas of research in scientific archives, possible funding sources and the like.  In practice this research-focused group just didn’t happen  - essentially people didn’t have the time – and our increasing familiarity with the developing web suggested other possibilities – information exchange and networking.  And I think we also came to the view that, while online was fine, meeting colleagues face to face was still enormously valuable.  One consequence of that view was the April 2003 Edinburgh meeting ‘Future Proof: Delivering Scientific Archives in the Twentieth-first Century’ sponsored by CASE and the Bibliography and Documentation Commission (and Edinburgh University Library).

And at its simplest, we are here today because the Edinburgh ‘Future Proof’ meeting was seen as very successful, and because the people gathered there wanted to meet again.  One of the essential requirements in the planning of the Munich meeting was to make it as easy and practicable as possible for as many of the Edinburgh group to re-assemble whilst at the same time ensuring the participation of new people.  And, if that was accomplished,  it would inevitably ensure one of my own personal desiderata of a successful meeting: that it should be truly international.  The one thing we most wished to avoid at Edinburgh was the so-called international meeting where most of the participants are from the host nation with just a sprinkling of international guests.  We are delighted that here as at Edinburgh we are truly international.

In planning a meeting I have an emphasis on the people, assembling the group, the network made flesh.  But of course we still need a programme.  At Edinburgh the title: Future Proof: Delivering scientific archives in the twenty first century followed contemporary fashion (and jargon) in Britain (and perhaps elsewhere) in seeming to place the emphasis at the end of the process – on the user.  And this made a lot of sense when one of the principal focuses of the Edinburgh meeting was internet access projects.  But when I put the prospective title of the Edinburgh meeting to Joe Anderson of the American Institute of Physics he remarked – well, shouldn’t it be delivery and preservation.  Well, delivery and preservation didn’t quite make it as a snappy conference title but preservation, as the most basic and fundamental of archival tasks, was marked down as the focus for a future meeting.  And this was given further impetus by the suggestion of Dr Wilhelm Fuessl, our host here at the Deutsches Museum, that one of the areas we should explore in Munich was national collecting strategies.

Thus preservation is at the heart of the programme: national strategies but also institutional and disciplinary strategies: personal papers, institutional archives, electronic records, research data, eMSS.   And although the electronic environment is coralled and ghettoised in its own programme segment - and I am sure someone will say that it is time we stopped doing this - it is all about preservation though the vocabulary may be newish - not permanence, the traditional archival promise of for ever but persistence, we’ll try very, very hard.

Almost the only piece of serious advice I have given to speakers and - even then to some and not all - was to make connexions - to try and relate what you are doing to the wider picture.  And at this very late stage there is little more to say about the programme than to recall an old English proverb that the proof of the pudding is in the eating – future proof of the pudding etc.

Finally, after the Edinburgh 'Future Proof' meeting in April 2003, we prepared a very successful online CASE Newsletter which incorporated the conference papers.  People were very good in letting me have promptly their papers in the form they wished them to appear in the Newsletter, and we were able to put Newsletter up on the CASE website before the end of May 2003.  This speed of production was itself quite an achievement but I have also had a lot of positive responses to the Edinburgh Conference Newsletter and the quality of the papers.  Furthermore, two of the papers, first seen online in the Newsletter, will appear in print in an established archives journal which is good in itself and good publicity for the Future Proof Conference.  We should very much like to do the same for the Munich Conference.  I should be most grateful if the speakers here would send me their papers as soon as possible afterwards and we shall aim to get the Future Proof II Newsletter on the web before the end of June.

And future conferences?  It is rather encouraging when a number of people who cannot be here for this meeting, make suggestions of papers they would be very pleased to give at the next meeting.  So this is indeed under active consideration.  I am not convinced that there is the demand for holding a ‘Future Proof’ conference every year (as opposed to every two years).  However,  there is an argument for breaking the connexion with the four yearly international history of science congresses and that would suggest a meeting next year in 2006 and then in 2008.

So the future is under active consideration which is exactly how it should be since, despite popular perception of archives, the future (of the past, present, and indeed future) is our principal concern.