Project Outline

The ‘World History of Science Online: databases of bibliographical and archival sources’ project

Background

The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science/Division of History of Science (DHS) is an international scientific organization related to UNESCO through the International Council of Science (ICSU) and the Conseil International de la Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines (CIPSH).

The “World History of Science Online: databases of bibliographical and archival sources” project involves the 49 member countries of the IUHPS/DHS, its 17 scientific commissions as well as 5 international scientific unions with which the DHS has joint commissions. The headquarters of the project are in Mexico and the central coordination is under the responsibility of Dr. Juan José Saldaña, who is also Secretary General of the DHS.

The institutions that are also involved in the project to collaborate in the development of the technological platform and the bibliographical and archival methodologies are the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) and several bodies of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and for the bibliographical and archival methodologies (National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Sciences, University of Bath, UK,; University of Campiñas, Brazil; among others).

Project objectives

  • Make accessible the world’s scientific and technological bibliographies and archival sources through a central website.
  • Contribute to build capacity in history of science and technology in all countries.
  • Make available historical information for the scientific and technological disciplines that require it.
  • Stimulate the use of history of science and technology in decision making on public policies, education programs and public understanding of science as well as in the agendas of sustainable human development, among others.
  • The project will employ the advantages that have become available by the recent developments in information and communication technologies to provide online access to bibliographies and catalogues of archival sources on history of science already prepared or in preparation in the IUHPS member countries, and will encourage new work with the prospect of prompt web access.

Strategy

The development of this project will be done in three simultaneous fronts as follows:

  • First front: creation of an initial central website using the modern information technology that will include a presentation of the project objectives and will appropriately direct the user to other available sources of existing web-based bibliographies and archival sources that will eventually be incorporated into the project.
  • Second front: identification of the extent of current bibliographical activity and stimulation of national committees to develop their own databases according to a standardized methodology.
  • Third front: inclusion of the bibliographical databases and guides to archives in different thematic and regional areas into a central website with cross-searchable capabilities.

Expected outcomes

The direct results of this project in the timeframe 2004-2005 will be clearly visible and measurable since we are talking about information that will be gathered in a central website accessible to all interested individuals. The thematic and regional scope that will be achieved depends on the amount of financial resources that are available in this first phase.

Other clearly identifiable indirect results will be:

  • Development of a capacity in history of science and technology in all participating countries and the international scientific community.
  • Dissemination of scientific and technological culture, giving in particular an international visibility to the scientific regions that until now have been unable to count on the means to diffuse them.
  • Contribute to the scientific and technological education through the creation of scientific culture.
  • Impact in essential matters such as scientific culture dissemination, teaching of science and interdisciplinary and comparative research among different countries.

Degree of advance as of March 2005

The ‘World History of Science Online: databases of bibliographical and archival sources’ project has received the scientific backup and a financial support for 2004 by ICSU, CIPSH, the Maison de Science de l’Homme (France) as well as from the same DHS. It was considered in two separate reviews of the Committee on Scientific Planning and Review (CSPR) of ICSU, on July 2003 and July 2004, as a “project of excellency” given its relevance in the dissemination of scientific and technical culture as well as its contributions to the information society, and gives us a promising foresight to seek for continued funding.

The Commission of Bibliography and Documentation, through its President Peter Harper, has taken part in the design and scientific validation of the project, along with Secretary General of the DHS. Additionally, as a part of the project’s planning and definition phase, an International Committee of Experts was set up with the appointment to give scientific validity to the project and create guidelines for the elaboration of scientific bibliographies in the DHS member countries. This Expert Committee met for the first time in Paris, France in April 2003, and included experts such as Joseph Anderson (Associate Director, Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, http://www.aip.org/history); Roderick Home (University of Melbourne, Australian Science Archives Program, http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au); Alfredo Tolmasquim (Information and Documentation Coordinator, History of Science Archive, Museum of Astronomy Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, http://www.mast.br), among members from other countries.

In order to make the project public to the international scientific community, it was presented in 2003 both at the World Science Forum in Budapest and at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. There it received the support of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) for being an innovative project with an important role in the building of the information society.

Formal activities of the project began in March 2004 with the creation and circulation of a survey among the DHS members which was aimed to provide us with a precise picture on the state of affairs in bibliographical and archival cataloguing activity within our organization. After having received the first responses and collected them into a database, a first report of results was made as a working document that will allow us to assess the situation we are currently at, and will help us plan activities and stages of development to create incentives for future work.

An assessment of the best informatics platform and software solutions for the project was made by the members of the specifically created Technical Committee. Strategic players in the Technical Committee are the Mexican institutions previously mentioned (UNAM, ITESM) as well as individuals belonging to scientific organizations based in the Australia, Brazil, Russia and US among others.

The result of the survey, when it is completed, together with the resolutions of the Technical Committee will give us the initial material to post in the central website of the project and will help us identify key players in the project. In financial matters, the initial funding from ICSU and CIPSH has helped us to launch the project and for subsequent stages we are creating a fund-raising campaign. Our strategy is addressed to governments of our participant country members in order to get subsidies for national projects and to private and public organizations in order to get financial support to national, thematic and central activities of the project and to offer grants to the less developed countries to stimulate its participation in the project.

As a consequence of the steps taken so far seeking to attain alternative financing sources that could guarantee the project’s financial viability and widen herewith its institutional foundation, the CIPSH together with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) have decided to fully support the initiative to present the WHSO to UNESCO as a guide project of the three scientific Councils linked to this international organization. This measure would allow us to obtain the substantial support needed to ensure the carrying through of the project.

To evaluate the project development and its outcomes in dissemination of scientific information, education and culture, the symposium ‘History of Science Online: new possibilities and new challenges’ will be held in July 2005 in Beijing during the 22nd International Congress of History of Science.