History of the Society

The History of Science Society is the world’s largest society dedicated to understanding science, technology, medicine, and their interactions with society in their historical context. Founded nearly ninety years ago, it is the oldest such society. Through its publications and other activities, the Society provides scholars, decision makers and the public with historical perspectives on science policy and on the potentials, achievements, and the limitations of basic and applied science.

Anyone may join the History of Science Society. It has members in university, college, and high-school departments of history and science; in museums of science and technology; in government agencies; in archives, libraries, and foundations; in the medical, scientific, and engineering professions; and among interested amateurs. The Society is both a learned society and a professional association serving over 3,000 individual members and institutions around the world.

Publications enable the Society to carry out its primary role of advancing research and teaching in the history of science. The Society was incorporated in 1924 to secure the future of Isis, the international review that George Sarton (1884-1956) founded in Belgium in 1912. The four quarterly issues of Isis each year contain editorials, scholarly articles, essay reviews, book reviews, research notes, documents, discussions, and news of the profession. The fifth number of each volume, the Isis Current Bibliography, lists over 3,500 publications in all aspects of the history of science. Since 1971, the Society has also circulated a quarterly Newsletter, which provides not only news of the Society, but also information on professional meetings; announcements of fellowships, prizes, and awards; a list of books received by Isis; and notices of employment opportunities. In 1985, the Society revived its research journal Osiris. Founded by George Sarton in 1936 as a companion to Isis, Osiris is now devoted to the thematic volumes on topics of wide interest to the history of science community. The Society also publishes or sponsors other research and teaching tools in the field such as the Isis Cumulative Bibliography, the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, and Teaching in the History of Science. On the occasion of the Society’s 75th Anniversary, then editor Margaret Rossiter published Catching Up with the Vision, a retrospective of the HSS’s seven plus decades.

The regular, formal set of communications is complemented by the Society’s meetings. In recent years the annual meeting has featured ten concurrent sets of sessions, spread over two and a half days, on topics from ancient times to the present, from the pharmacopoeia of Galen to the politics of space science in the 1980s. The elected Council of the Society holds a regular session in conjunction with each annual meeting.

The Society is an international organization with nearly one third of its individual members residing outside of the United States. It also represents North American historians of science in various ways: it fosters cooperation with government agencies and private foundations concerned with science and the role of science in society both directly and through affiliation with the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and its members serve on the U.S. National Committee of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science.

(Adapted from the 1992 Guide to the History of Science)

The Executive Office

The Executive Office emerged as part of Professor Gerald Holton’s drive to establish an endowment for the History of Science Society. Professor Holton of Harvard University, with the active assistance of then-HSS President William Coleman, was well aware that foundations and philanthropic agencies do not look favorably upon organizations that lack permanent governing and institutionalized structures. His plan was realized when Professor Michael Sokal of Worcester Polytechnic Institute was elected to the new position of Executive Secretary in 1988. From that time through 1992, Professor Sokal threw himself selflessly and tirelessly into the task of organizing and centralizing the operations of the Society.

His successor, Professor Keith R. Benson of the University of Washington, was elected in 1993 for a five-year term. Operations for the Executive Office moved to Seattle with the beginning of Professor Benson’s tenure. Under his direction many exciting initiatives, such as the Sponsor-A-Scholar Program, were begun. In 1998, the Society hired its first Executive Director, Robert Jay Malone. The new director assumed many of the responsibilities that had been so ably shouldered by Keith Benson. The position of Executive Secretary was subsequently changed to “Secretary” and Professor Benson generously agreed to a two-year term in this new position, serving until 12/31/00. He was succeeded by Professor Margaret J. Osler of the University of Calgary in 2001 and then Marsha Richmond in 2010. In 2003 the Office relocated to the University of Florida in Gainesville. The office in Gainesville was staffed by the executive director, a full-time information manager, and three graduate student assistants. All assisted Dr. Malone with the daily tasks of running a dynamic organization. In 2008, due to the suspension of the graduate program in the history of science at Florida, the HSS sought a new home for the Executive Office, which resulted in the office’s removal to the University of Notre Dame in 2010.  The HSS is grateful to Notre Dame for its generous support.

The office is extremely busy. In addition to handling the on-going activities of HSS committees, the office routinely handles myriad requests for information, ranging from queries about joining HSS to information about science in the Islamic world. The office coordinates numerous activities throughout the year, including the “Sponsor-A-Scholar” project; travel grants and reservations; handling the registration for the annual Society meeting and the preparation of the program; prizes; and serving as the home for Society publications, including a variety of guides and reference materials. Immediate plans include publishing an annual HSS Guide (members-only), preparing an HSS Operations Manual, and centralizing the bureaucratic aspects of the annual meeting within the Executive Office. The office also handles many administrative details for the Philosophy of Science Association, a sister society of the HSS.

HSS is not a small society. In membership, it ranks in the top 25% of the constituent societies in the American Council of Learned Societies. The annual operations budget approaches a half million dollars and the endowment is growing towards $3.0 million. The steady growth of the Society mandates that the Executive Office continue to improve its services to its members.

For additional information about HSS or the Executive Office, please call 574.631.1194 during regular business hours, Eastern Time or write to us via email at info@hssonline.org.