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Tim Powell

Report. Future Proof II (Munich)

In April 2003 archivists from sixteen countries who shared an interest in and  responsibility for archives of modern science came together at the University of  Edinburgh Library for the first International Conference on Archives of Science entitled ‘Future Proof: delivering scientific archives in the twenty-first century’.  Participants felt the conference had been a considerable success and strongly expressed their desire to meet again.  Accordingly the second ‘Future Proof’ conference was held at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in April 2005.  Like its predecessor, this meeting was held under the auspices of the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation of the Division of History of Science of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science and the CASE (Cooperation on the Archives of Science in Europe) Group.

The conference was introduced by the co-organisers, Wilhelm Füßl, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Peter Harper, Director of the UK National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists and President of the IUHPS Commission on Bibliography and Documentation.  Helmuth Trischler of the Deutsches Museum introduced the work of the museum in his paper ‘Double Helix: The Munich way of research in the history of science and technology’.

The principal conference theme was Preserving scientific archives: national, institutional and disciplinary strategies.  This broad heading brought together contributions from many different countries and different types of repository.  These included the broad scope advocated by Michael Klein of the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft, Bonn (‘Distributed Collecting? Strategies for archive networking in Germany’), while Marion Kazemi introduced the holdings of personal papers in the Max Planck Gesellschaft.  From Switzerland Angela Gastl of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich told the meeting about the establishment of the Archives of the History of Nuclear Energy in Switzerland as a possible model project for the archiving of historical scientific records The Edinburgh meeting had received a report on the challenging situation faced by those interested in scientific archives in Poland.   On this occasion the reports by Adam Cieslak of the Jagiellonian University, Krakow and Hanna Krajewska of the Archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw on ‘The most important problems with private papers in Polish science archives’,  gave insights into the historical background and experience that inform current problems and initiatives.

Two contrasting approaches adopted by national science academies were introduced by Maria Asp Romefors and Anne Miche de Malleray of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, and Joanna Corden speaking on ‘The role of the Royal Society of London’.  The Edinburgh meeting had heard about the establishment and early development of the Catalan Servei d’Arxius de Ciència.  Jordi Sequero of the Autonomous University of Barcelona brought the meeting up to date with his talk on ‘Spain’s new Scientific Archives Service: building on the Catalan Servei d’Arxius de Ciència’.

Two different French institutional approaches were presented by Sebastien Soubiran (University of Strasbourg) who spoke on post 1945  history of physics and physics archives of Strasbourg University and also summarised a paper by Françoise Le Guet Tully and Jean Davoigneau on French provincial observatories and their archives.

Moving beyond Europe, there was, once again an impressive presentation from Joseph Anderson of the American Institute of Physics’ Center for History of Physics on the latest of the Center’s research projects, ‘Documenting the Work of Physicists in Industrial Laboratories’.  Tim Powell reported on developments in archives of science and technology in Taiwan arising from his visit there in December 2004.

After an entertaining illustrated talk by Anne Barrett (Imperial College London) on an early example of the international nature of science: ‘German science in London: August Wilhelm von Hofman and the Royal College of Chemistry’, the final day focussed on the second main conference strand: the electronic environment.

A number of the presentations followed on from talks given in Edinburgh.  Jean Deken speaking on ‘Archiving SLAC Large Detector Records in Storage Resource Broker (SRD): the Persistent Archives Test-bed Project at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in 2004’, while Gavan McCarthy (Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, University of Melbourne) was able to give the meeting firsthand a report on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s draft Preservation and Transfer to Future Generations of Information Important to the Safety of Waste Disposal Facilities’.  He also gave an intriguing paper on ‘All is Digital: scientists’ records in a connected information universe’.

The effect of national archives legislation upon electronic record-keeping - in theory and in practice - were important themes as they related to the situation in Swedish universities  (Renata Arovelius, Swedish Agricultural Sciences University and Eli Hjorth Reksten Linköping University) and The Netherlands (Menno Polak, University of Amsterdam), while Jeremy Leighton John of the Department of Manuscripts, British Library gave a fascinating talk on his pioneering work in  preserving electronic material in the personal papers of the biologist W.D. Hamilton.

Like the Edinburgh meeting, Future Proof II was superbly organised and run.  The varied presentations were excellent and provided enormous material for discussion during and after the formal sessions.  Informally there were good opportunities to meet new colleagues from many different countries with varied archival backgrounds, as well as in many cases to renew acquaintances made at Edinburgh, to discuss and compare projects and consider future activities.  Participants were again enthusiastic to meet again and even as this meeting ended, venues were being considered and plans laid for the next two meetings.