Day 1: #royalbaby vs. #ichstm

The first day of the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine was all about the battle between the hashtags #royalbaby and #ichstm. For the twittstorians, the pecking order was clear and the participants were capable to focus on the congress with the full gas as the Duchess of Cambridge delivered a baby boy after the sessions of the day were more or less over.

Yes, indeed, there were a lot of words of social media and how for instance blogging and tweeting is a part of making your research accessible for the public, to both – the laymen and the academia. I will come to this a bit later in this summary, but I want to proceed in my recap chronically and start from the very beginning of the day.

I skipped the Congress opening and keynote lecture, so I am not really eligible to comment it. The whole day was spent in one symposium, S072, Preserving the heritage to enable working with knowledge: preserving and disseminating scientific heritage via a global online system. Also, I participated in working lunch F303, Why blog? An Introduction.

The first paper of S072 was held by Jean Deken, who told us a devasting story, how the physicists distributed their working papers in three different bins: today – yesterday – old. As for a librarian, this method of archiving the paper work sounds terrible and Deken reminded us on the fact that the archivists (people in memory organizations in general) must remind the scientists on the archive matters and the preservation must be ensured in co-operation.

The next speaker, Greg Good, told us how the different historians with different backgrounds and experience do behave in front of the archival material and paid attention to the archivist capability to support the historians.

Peter Collins of the Royal Society had worries over the contemporary habits of documentation – whether the e-mail correspondence of scientists (as an example) ever end up into archives is a well-known debate and Collins’ views brought no new light onto this – as a historian and a librarian, who works with the both, of types of sources, “the old-fashioned” “primary sources” in a format of a letter etc. and digital-born material, I tend to think that the future historians will find their way to practice this profession, regardless of the format of the source material – think about possibilities to study the ancient world, for instance. The media matters, and whatever it is, our picture on the past is built only by our capability to interpret these media. Also our (historians) capability to read these materials will matter, so I wouldn’t be too worried about the fact that we are not writing the letters with a feather pen.

The next participant, Karl Grandin of our neighboring Sweden, presented the work the Centre for the History of Science at Royal Academy of Sciences (see, http://www.center.kva.se/en/projects/ and vetenskapshistoria.wordpress.com). I was pleased to learn that this aspiration had grown from a small initiative to a big nationwide project, when someone was encouraged enough to think big! Could this project have survived in a margin, as a niche thing for a restricted group of enthusiasts? Grandin also mentioned that the project blog was a crucial media to gather together the people who were willing to contribute.

During my lunch break, I listened to the authors of the Guardian’s The H Blog. Higgitt and Heggie had promised us an introduction to the world of history blogging and concise it was, though good one. Higgitt and Heggie are both eager to produce tweets too and they underlined that the blog sites are a part of historian’s CV, in good and bad. One thing is common, according to both of them: one must not write blog entries as scientific articles, but they are merely sidekicks, quick looks, or additions to your discipline that enables the historian (or in my case the librarian) to give perspective to anniversaries, events, news etc.

After the lunch, the S072 continued and we were speaking about the linked data this time. Ailie Smith presented us a fine Australian initiative, the Encyclopedia of Australian Science (www.eoas.info). Nice and neat work – it is appreciated here and it sounds like that the Finnish project, called Kirjallisuuspankki (The Bank of Literature) could learn a plenty how different date could be combined for a certain purpose.

Geoff Browell had another example how the linked data could be utilized for the common use. His presentation was titles as Linked data in science archives: the AIM25 experience. Browell told us how they had managed to link together the archive data from over 100 London-area archives. (Access to service at: http://www.aim25.ac.uk/) What Browell spoke, reminds me on the things my colleagues are doing at the National Library of Finland within the National Digital Library and its public interface, Finna, and linked data, but on the other hand it reminded me on the fact the a small country like Finland has a benefit of having at least of some sort of union catalogues and we don’t need to tackle similar problems as those who start from a scratch. (we have our own problems, though.) Browell also introduced a splendid concept: Open Linked Knowledge, which should be used instead of Open Linked Data, as the previous offers more flesh around the bones (I am already too tired to open up the meaning, it seems, sorry). Check also his cunning blog – Open Metadata Pathway.

Neil Forbes – a charming historian from the Coventry University presented us the digital archives of the British Telecom. For Neil’s accident, he came to highlight many downsides, which are more than likely to happen when working with a company, who gives a damn to basics of the preservation of the digitized material. Everyone noticed from a distance that BT hasn’t paid enough attention to the things that are necessary to make the archival collection as sustainable. If I understood correctly, there’s no any true metadata in these documents. Judge yourself. Will the researchers trust on document, if the metadata is invalid? Would a PhD researcher refer to a photo, which doesn’t have the basic data in it? I don’t think so. Also, the question on the maintenance of this archive seemed to be an open question – one should always think, who is going to take care of the repository after the launch. I am afraid that this valuable collection will perish in a few years.  The archive doesn’t even have a recognizable web address – of course you may google the address, but even the service provider, dear old Axiell, doesn’t link to this site from their news reel, so this project seems to me as doomed. Sorry. I hope that BT will come to their senses and do something for this stuff before it is too late.

Session of S072 provided much of words on the attempts to preserve the scientific heritage in archives. Also the point of view during this session has a bit too British for me and my project, but as started to think about the fact, why there are so many archivists and archives present in this congress and why the lack of the librarians is striking. This could be explained by the fact that the archives and libraries across the Europe (at least) have different legislate roles and for instance, many of those national tasks what is takes care by the archives in the Anglo-Saxon world, falls into arms of libraries in the Nordic countries – if I am not badly mistaken, the libraries seem to have a stronger role in preservation work up in the North than down in the Isles.

But the hot pick of the day was the use of social media as a media for the researchers of history. When it comes to the blogs and the bloggers as well as the tweets and twittstorians, the most intense debate was related to the rules of conduct in the social media. As we all are aware, you can’t argue in 140 characters and it doesn’t make sense to write articles as blog posts. As for me, it seemed that the most of the participants were in terms with the purpose and the use of the social media as an additional media to make your research more visible for the public – it doesn’t replace the long narrative that is made in the monographs and in the extended articles, but it helps the audience to join in discussion. The same applies to the institutions as well. I kept on thinking that whether I should create a twitter account for this project too…

Yeah – it is getting late and I am getting really tired. Sorry for ignoring the proof-reading, but I need to go to bed now as tomorrow looms behind the corner and there will be another great day at iCHSTM. Hooray to a boy child too!

Good night,
Jussi-Pekka

Writer is a project manager of the Digitization Project of Kindred (Finno-Ugric) Languages at the National Library of Finland and will give a paper at ICHSTM 2013 on Friday. Check this symposium out before you leave the congress – I will continue discussing with several topics that were covered, but not completed today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *