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Maria Asp Romefors and Anne Miche de Malleray, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Center for History of Science

"How can the Center for History of Science play a role in the formation of a (national) collection strategy for scientific archives?"

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) was founded in 1739 by, among others, Carl Linnaeus. The Academy’s aim was to promote all useful sciences and make the findings of these sciences known to the public – all for the good of Sweden’s economy, which was suffering the throes of the country’s periods of great wars. The foundation for the Academy’s present work was laid in the 1820s by the world famous chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius when, as Secretary General, he reoriented the Academy towards basic research in mathematics and the natural sciences.

The RSAS was created as, and still is, an independent, non-governmental scientific society. Its overall objective is to foster the sciences and in particular mathematics and the natural sciences. The Academy has approximately 360 Swedish members, 167 of which are under the age of 65, and 167 foreign members, organized into ten subject classes. The governing body of the Academy is the Academy Council headed by the president of the Academy. Academy work is based upon the ten classes and permanent or ad-hoc committees. Much of the Academy’s activity is carried out at the seven research institutes. Members of the Academy meet every other Wednesday in closed plenary sessions, followed by lectures on a high international level open to the general public. Several of the Academy members are involved in the Academy’s scientific journals such as Acta Matematica, Physica Scripta and the environmental journal Ambio. There is a secretariat of approx. 23 employees, headed by the Secretary General, including a part-time archivist.

The seven research institutes under the auspices of the RSAS:
The Kristineberg Marine Research station

One of the world’s oldest marine research stations (1877). Area of research: marine ecology and the biology of marine organisms.

The Abisko Scientific Research station

Has been managed by the Academy since 1934. Area of research: ecological, geological, geomorphological and meteorological research in the Arctic area.

The Bergius Foundation

Founded on a donation in 1791.  Area of research: botany.

The Beijer International Institute for Ecological Economics

Started its work at the Academy in 1977. Area of research: the border area between ecology and economics.

The Mittag-Leffler Institute

Created 1916 on a donation from Signe and Gösta Mittag-Leffler. Area of research: mathematics.
The Institute for Solar Physics of the RSAS

Created in the early1950’s at Anacapri, Italy and was 1978 moved to La Palma. Area of research: solar research.

The Center for History of Science

The youngest and only non-natural science department of the RSAS. Partly founded from a private donation 1988. The purpose of the Center is twofold:

· To take care of and make accessible the archives and collections in the care of the RSAS.

· To promote and pursue research in the field of history of science in Sweden, with an emphasis on Swedish history of science.

Background – the library of the RSAS

The library of the RSAS started a few weeks after the Academy’s foundation with its first donation: Carl Linnaeus offered a copy of his Hortus Cliffortianus (Amsterdam 1737).  The library soon grew to considerable size due to frequent donations – both single volumes and large book collections. The Academy did also from the beginning strive to purchase most of the new publications that were made in the field of natural sciences. Important for the acquisition for the library was exchange with other scientific societies, as early at 1749 the interchange with Royal Society started and the holdings includes today for example complete successions of publications from Royal Society and Académie des Sciences.

In 1978 the RSAS library merged with the organization of the Stockholm University library and from 1983 when the new main university library building was completed, the RSAS book collections were deposited at the Stockholm University. The old library of the RSAS is the largest single part of the Stockholm University library collections, where all central disciplines of natural sciences are represented.

The book collections from for example Linneaus and Swedenborg among the large number of natural science literature printed before 1800 is today kept in the library’s collection of rare books. The majority of the most valuables volumes of natural sciences are represented and the collection is considered to be of very high international standard, which can be compared with the book collections of the Museum of Natural History in London or the American Natural History Museum in New York.

The Archives

In our holdings we have the Academy’s own archive – minutes of the plenary sessions, council meetings, meetings of the subject classes and committees, also correspondence, accounts etc. The different research institutes are also represented in the archive. The Nobel Archives are actually part of the RSAS’s own archive, but are kept separate. The archive is closed to researchers for a period of 50 years, and after that access is subject to application. The rules of the Nobel Foundation state that only historians of science can have access to the Nobel archive. You will also find archives from organizations, committees and activities closely linked to the RSAS, e.g. national committees, polar expeditions, The Museum of Natural History, as well as organizations established by the Academy but no longer part of the Academy’s organization.
Manuscripts and documents from scientists and persons connected with the Academy have from the earliest years been donated to the Academy’s archives. The emphasis lies on scientists that have played an active part in the organization of the RSAS such as in the role of secretary general or president. These archives consist mainly of correspondence and scientific manuscripts from the person’s professional activities, but you can of course often find a variety of other material as well, such as personal documents, photographs, maps et.c. (and sometimes even socks, ties or pencils). A lot of documents kept in our holdings also originate from material that has been sent to the Academy for informational purposes or for evaluation, or as a report, mainly from scientific travels and expeditions, which have been funded by the RSAS.
Collection of Illustrations

We also keep a collection of scientific engravings and handmade illustrations, mainly in the fields of botany and zoology. This collection is often on demand for publication purposes.
Art and Furniture

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the Academy acquired a large number of painted portraits, medallions and busts of its most prominent members. This along with the more than two centuries old tradition to coin medals to commemorate prominent members and events or for prize rewarding matters, has created quite a large collection of portrait art that is also in the care of the Center for history of science.  Sometimes furniture used by prominent members of the Academy e.g. Berzelius’s desk has been taken into the holdings. These kind of items we try to place within the Academy’s own premises.

 Museum and Instrument Collection

The History of Science collections of scientific instruments of the RSAS fall into four distinct parts:

· Instruments from the Astronomical Observatory, founded by the academy in 1752. Now the Observatory Museum.

· The Apparatus Physicus, or Chamber of Physics, established by J. C. Wilcke in 1759, when he was appointed Lecturer in experimental physics. (The RSAS supplied open lectures for the public in physics at the house of nobility) i.e. consists mainly of experimental instruments.

· The collections of the Berzelius Museum, inaugurated in 1898. A complete chemical laboratory from the early 19th century as well as a lot of personal items from Berzelius’s life.

· The collections of the Museum of the History of the exact sciences.

This last part was an attempt by the geophysicist Vilhelm Carlheim-Gyllenskiöld (1859-1934) to establish a museum with exhibitions of instruments to cover the whole history of science in Sweden, mainly based on the old instruments collections of the RSAS. Although the museum never got into being due to lack of finances and suitable premises, it is thanks to Carlheim-Gyllenskiöld’s interest and diligence that so many of the Academy’s instruments have been preserved and that so much is known about them. At the death of Carlheim-Gyllenskiöld in 1934 the instrument collection was packed into a few rooms in the National Museum of History (at that time under the auspices of RSAS). The collection rested there more or less undisturbed for twenty years.

After that the instruments were surveyed and briefly catalogued before the collection was moved to the attic in the main building of the RSAS . The instruments stayed there, put into boxes used for shipping bananas, exposed to weather and wind in the old attic, until the new archive building was inaugurated in 1997. Much has been done since then, the instruments are today unpacked and kept in adequate environment with suitable climate and we have (finally) been able to employ a fulltime conservator. The work to catalogue and preserve the collection and, not the least, to make it available for as well as to encourage research is of course a never-ending story.

Several items and instruments from our collections are on display at the Observatory museum, which is under the auspices of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, but situated in a more central part of Stockholm than the Academy building.

Projects completed

 · Digital natural history

The aim of this project was to increase the accessibility of the older book collection of the RSAS. The work consisted of scanning and adaptation of the older catalogue. Retrospective cataloguing in LIBRIS, the Swedish national database for libraries, was also done. Primarily concerning all older literature by and about Linnaeus and all zoological literature published before 1963. Special presentation of chosen works of high importance, some in full text is to be found on the project’s website.

The work on the digital catalogue concerning the works of Carl Linneaus is carried out in cooperation with the Linnaeus Link project with the Natural History Museum in London as its responsible organization. This project is aiming towards a digital catalogue that contains all literature printed before 1830 written by Linneaus himself as well as by his disciples. (

· The preservation of the original negatives from the Andrée Expedition.

This expedition, initiated by the engineer Salomon August Andrée (1854-1897), was intended to sail across the Arctic and the North Pole by balloon, starting at Spitsbergen. The expedition was supported by the RSAS. The expedition staff consisted of Andrée himself, the meteorologist Nils Ekholm and a young physicist named Nils Strindberg, who had a profound and useful knowledge about photographing. Nils Ekholm had however strong doubts concerning the security of the balloon and when he thought that Andrée did not pay enough attention to his objections he resigned as member of the expedition. It was then decided that the engineer Knut Fraenkel should take his place. Of the staff, Andrée was the only one with any knowledge and experience of balloon flying.

The expedition had a very bad start on July 11th 1897, at Danskön. The balloon immediately lost some of its equipment and as a consequence the balloon was impossible to steer. The following days the balloon steadily lost height and finally it crashed on July 14th about 500 km from the starting point. The expedition then had to continue by foot. Everything was documented by photos and diaries.

In Sweden it was unknown what has happened to the expedition. The Academy sent out relief expeditions without result. It was not until 1930 that the remains of the expedition were found. Together with the bodies material such as photographic film and notebooks and diaries was also found. This material is today kept in the holdings of the RSAS.


Regional Network of Cultural Heritage (completed 2003)

An EC project with the ambition to make parts of the European cultural heritage available for the public in “Service Centers” in Europe.

In house research projects

Some of our in house research projects are:

· New Perspectives on the Enhancement of the European Scientific Heritage

· Swedish Physics and Astronomy 1940–2000

· Technology, Science and Swedish Security Policy

Scientific expertise was an important part of the formation of Swedish national security policy during the cold war. In this project, researchers from political science and history of science and technology will utilise social network-theory to analyse the relationships between science, technology, policy and political decision-making processes. The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation funds the project, and Dr Karl Grandin at the Center is part of the collaboration with researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Among the international conferences that the Center has hosted is the Nobel Symposium ”Science and Industry in the 20th Century”, in 2002, and ”The 20th Scientific Instrument Commission Symposium, SIC 2001”. Perhaps we will have the privilege of hosting the next CASE conference?

The Center has a director, an assistant director, two archivists, a librarian, a conservator and a curator at the Observatory museum. A museum pedagogue is presently to be employed at the Observatory museum.

Projects on the way

The original photographic negatives from the Andrée expedition have been preserved and digitalized (completed 2004) and The Center for History of Sciences has initiated a project for the preservation of the written materials, which consists of notebooks and diaries.

How can the Center for History of Science play a role in the formation of a (national) collection strategy for scientific archives?

The RSAS collection strategy for its own documents 

The Academy was from the start inclined to create an archive and a library. The archive should well manifest the Academy’s activities; minutes and other documents should be kept and cared for. In the RSAS ground rules from 1739 it is said that the archive should be in the care of an appointed archivist. In reality the job was mostly vacant since it did not include a small but important detail – a paycheck. But the archive grew steadily with the usual variety of documents: protocols, accounts, correspondence and other received documents.

Since 1996 there has been a part-time archivist as part of the administration’s permanent staff. The other half of the part-time archivist is situated at the Center. The fact that half of this position is directed at documents being produced today and half of it towards the historical archives has been a conscious effort on behalf of, among others, Dr Karl Grandin. In a very concrete way the lifecycle of the documents becomes evident, and appraisal of the material is facilitated by the daily contact with the historical material and the researchers visiting the Center. The fact that documents a hundred, or two hundred years old still have bearings on things happening today also call for an archivist connected to the old and the new. The archivist works directly with all those part of the administration of the Academy, the journals with offices in our building and the Nobel archives. An archives/records management plan has been in use since a few years back, and there is an understanding in the staff of the importance of matters archival. There are no archivists at our research institutes, the Center excluded, so the administration’s archivist also helps the research institutions with archival matters. However, this is by no means a satisfactory situation. Through the staff of the administration – international secretaries, class secretaries etc – there is a direct access not only to the members of the Academy but also for instance to the national committees. The latter are, since a few years back, informed of the possibility and importance of leaving their papers with the Center.

The Center’s collection strategy for acquired archives

Regarding manuscripts and documents from scientists and persons connected with the Academy, donations were made early to the library of the RSAS, e.g. the manuscripts of Swedenborg, Berzelius and Scheele. This material used to form a part of the RSAS library as the “collection of manuscript” and was deposited along with the books at the University Library in 1983. When the Center for History of Science was created in 1988 the material was restored to the Academy.

When it comes to acquisitions from offered donations, we accept almost exclusively archives donated as gifts, since we do not have the resources to accept depositions. We evaluate each case to consider if it is a relevant material to have in our collections. We emphasize, as said earlier, on the individuals or the organizations connections to the Academy. In cases where we are not inclined to accept the material or we feel that we should not accept the offered archive we can provide help to give examples of more appropriate repositories. One complication to consider is if the person / member has been tied to a University or other organization that falls under the legislation, the Archives act. Most researchers are not aware of the fact that there are laws governing the handling of the scientific documents that they produce. Here the RSAS can play an important part for the benefit of a national policy.

The evaluation of what documents and archives are to be accepted as donations lies completely in the hands of the Center of History of Science and is decided on by the archivists and the assistant director. We do not acquire any documents by purchase today, though it has been done in the past. Regarding the collections of instruments and paintings we try to keep the acquisitions to a minimum, in those cases we intend instead to guide the offered donations to other repositories e.g. the museum of technology.

Legislation and rules that control the documents life cycle

Although the RSAS is not a government body, but an independent organization, our members, as mentioned, are often active in organizations that are required to abide by the laws that govern archival matters. This means that we also have to consider the legislation when we evaluate possible acquisitions.

The Freedom of Access to Public Information legislation from 1766 governs the citizens’ right to take part of acts and documents produced at the governmental authorities. It is a guarantee for law and order as well as for the efficiency of the democracy but also of great importance for research.

Universities and colleges that are “run in the form of an authority” have to comply with this legislation governing the handling of official documents:

The Freedom of the Press act states that every citizen has the right to take part of public information regardless of the media. It also specifies rules for which documents that are public and which are not, as well as rules for how we should handle public documents. Restrictions in access to public documents can be made according to the Official Secrets Act.

To make the records and acts available and, not least important, possible to find there is legislation that requires that they should be preserved and organized accordingly to specific rules. The Archives Act (1991) also states that any destruction of official documents belonging to an official body, such as the universities, must be decided by the National Archives. An important consideration is that destruction of official documents in Sweden is regarded as the exception, not the rule.

The Swedish National Archives Regulations (RA-FS) defines and describes certain central concepts and activities. It is exclusively the National Archives that decides which documents that should be preserved or not.

The Swedish National Archives Regulations (RA-FS 1999:1) states which documents concerning the research activities in government bodies that should be preserved. This is in other words an existing national strategy.

In the RA-FS 1999:1 research activities are defined as:

basic (fundamental) research, applied research and development work that is carried out at universities and colleges as well as at special research institutes and activity-oriented research at Government authorities.

The term research project is defined as: A research activity that is well defined concerning time as well as concerning object and aim.

The following types of documents should be preserved /kept according to the RA-FS 1999:1:

Documents that contain fundamental information concerning aim, method and results in each research project

for example:

applications and decisions concerning granted means

minutes or similar notes from meetings with the control group and/ or reference group.

decisions or reports from ethical committee or from authority or from other institution that by law or praxis are to give permission for certain experiments.

laboratory diary or other project diary

final report

other reports and papers

final economic account

relevant / important correspondence

In addition to the documents mentioned above, material that is appraised to be of continuous scientific value in its own field or for another research area should also be preserved.

Or if the material is considered to be of importance in the fields of history of science, cultural history or biographical history. Or are considered to be of a great public interest.

This includes for example documents that:

represent especially comprehensive first-hand material

illustrate the historical development of a scientific discipline

illustrate the academic  environment in a cultural historical perspective

illustrate a well known person’s activities

Documents concerning research that has caused a lot of attention in the public debate or that can be expected to do so when the results of the research are disseminated

So, as you see, you can very well argue that there already exists a national collection strategy for scientific collections. But is it working?
Scientific archives – an attitude problem?

It would seem not a little presumptuous of us to have an opinion on what the situation is like at the universities, as regards the implementation of the collection strategy for scientific archives. Especially since this is an ongoing discussion between university archivists, the National Archives and researchers. But perhaps our outside point of view, and our everyday contact with members of the Academy who in turn are active at the universities, might provide us with some insight, if not into anything else, then into the way the mind of a professor/researcher works when confronted with archival legislation.

In an article in Janus 1995:2, Christina Jonsson and Eli Hjorth Reksten, focus on three main problems in the dealings with research records at universities:

    insufficient financing of documentations – grants do not cover documentation
    scientific researchers not wanting any interference into their papers
    archivists unable to agree on rules and guidelines

Whether or not the last problem has been solved by the Swedish National Archives Regulations, we do not know, but we would think that the first two problems still exist. The article points out, and this should come as no surprise, that administrative documents of research projects are not really the problem. The problem lies more in the lines of basic research material “belonging” to the researchers. Our own experience, from talking to the members of the Academy, or for that matter researchers like our assistant director – historians of science! – is no different. On the one hand there is the point of view that only administrative documents such as minutes, grant allowances, and such are to be kept, are of interest to someone else and belong to the university. On the other hand there is the feeling that “my” research papers, “my” correspondence with my colleagues, belong to ME and not to the university. The question of when a document is to be regarded as received or drawn up and therefore accessible to the public, unless the Official Secrecy Act applies, seems to loom above these discussions.  Having in the most diplomatic way pointed out the fact that some of these research papers are in fact official, discussions on the subject have at times escalated into heated arguments. One point of view was “What’s the point of a law, a rule, if it doesn’t work?” Perhaps this was not such a bad point to make.  Maybe laws that are perceived as strictly ordering the handling of research documents in active use, together with the lack of resources to implement a sometimes-unpopular legislation, create a situation where the other end of the cycle is either void of documents or the documents that remain are in a chaotic order? As Jonsson and Reksten point out, it is better to start by discussing the value and importance of preserving research documents than to begin by discussing rules and regulations.

We observe, in some of the archives that we receive, that there are documents, which without a doubt belong at the University – both for legal, organizational and historical reasons. As we mentioned before, we try to direct those that do not fall into the categories of archives that we accept towards other appropriate institutions. This, obviously, can only work where there exists a repository. Literally across the road from us we have Stockholm University, but the archive of the University has limited means – both as regards space and money. Some of the institutions have archival material from Professor So and So, but the university archive centrally has problems accepting deposits of private archives due to the lack of space. Moreover, there is no reading room. The University library on the other hand has no manuscripts section. A manuscripts section can however be found at many of the other major universities, accepting the archives of organizations, professors and researchers connected to the universities.

This leads us into another relevant discussion - the different status of the university library and the university archive. The university library traditionally provides a milieu of status, where centuries of prominent members of the academic elite have left their collections of papers. Where you can control access to your documents – by deciding what is left in the archive and, if you so wish, who has access to the archive. The university archive, on the other hand, perhaps stands for bureaucracy, force, demands in the face of an activity that needs the free reigns of creativity. Given a romantic view of research activity.

The Center stems from both these traditions. On the one hand that of the traditionally prestigious manuscripts section in what used to be the closest you get to a university library – the RSAS library. On the other hand an archival tradition, which has more in common with the archives of the National Archives than the university libraries’ collections. We have the status of a university library and the thinking, as regards processing of the archival material, of an archivist.

The possible role of the RSAS and the Center in forming and implementing a national collection strategy for scientific archives

So how do we suggest being of help in forming a national collection strategy for scientific archives? Perhaps the question in short ought to be – that is if we find the directives of the National Archives correct and workable – how can we be of help in implementing already existing collection strategies for this kind of material? If university archivists have worked with this problem for years, what makes us think that we would be able to be of any help/have any influence/change anything? Precisely because we are an unbound, and in most of our members’ minds, prestigious organization, we might have a role to play. Also, keep in mind that one of our main objectives is to promote and pursue research in the field of history of science in Sweden, with an emphasis on Swedish history of science.

Within the sketch we have outlined of the situation at hand, what are our limitations and what are our strengths?

Our limitations:

We can refer to laws that point out certain types of documents as particularly important to keep, but since we do not fall under this jurisdiction the argument might lose strength when coming from us.
We are running out of space! We are an attractive place to leave ones papers, but we can only hold so much. Even if we would like to think that the best and most interesting researchers are chosen as members of the Academy the fact is that the archives of most members for practical reasons must be kept somewhere else if not for any other reasons, then for legal ones.
We do not have the know-how or the means to accept large amounts of digital data. In this aspect there are problems close at hand, for instance our research institute for Solar physics, which has generated large amounts of digital data which we do not have the capacity to deal with. We need the know-how, the experience and perhaps the capacity of the universities and the National Archives.
We have limited economical means so we need to co-operate.

Our strengths:

The fact that we do not run the risk of putting legislation between the researchers, and us can actually work to our advantage as we are not associated with the downsides of the laws in question.
We have hands on experience of what kinds of documents are requested by different kinds of researchers, we have daily contact with historians of science and can at best provide both insight and a working example for the provision of scientific archives.
We can provide a prestigious, but neutral ground for the meeting of libraries and university archives on these issues. In this we see a given role for the ABM – archives, libraries and museum – project, where the institutional, traditional, differences between the university archives and libraries may be abridged.
And last, but not least, the Academy’s involvement in national and international research projects, research fellow positions, the bringing together of active researchers from different disciplines and different parts of Sweden, should provide us with a strategic role in bridging of the gap between archival legislation and the researchers knowledge of the law and their lack of understanding of the importance of keeping their research material. You must also remember that many of the RSAS members are exactly those that decide on grants, grants that today do not take into account costs for documentation.

We will definitely continue to provide a link between our members and appropriate repositories, provided that these exist. We will continue to collect archival material according to our collection strategy. We will be a never-ending reminder to our members of the importance of their research material – by serving as a research institution and also by offering help in the appraisal process regarding the archives historical interest. Projects like Swedish Physics and Astronomy 1940–2000 provides an opportunity for us to reach scientists and make them aware of the importance of their documents.