Vol. 43, No. 2, April 2014
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From the HSS President: HSS International
by Angela N. H. Creager (Princeton University)
In a few months our Isis Editorial Office will relocate to the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, under the leadership of Floris Cohen. While the journal was founded by George Sarton in Belgium, it has been edited in North America for most of its century-long existence. A few months after Isis relocates, I myself will be moving to Berlin to spend a sabbatical year at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. I suspect it is the first time that the President of HSS will be abroad for most of his or her term. Not that this kind of move is unusual; far from it. Many of my graduate students come from other countries, and most of those from the U.S. apply to postdoctoral or teaching posts beyond North America. Last summer’s International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, held in Manchester, U.K., brought together 1,700 scholars from around the world.
The program was stunningly successful in demonstrating the global reach and vibrancy of our field (http://ichstm2013.com/reports/). (Our colleagues in the U.K., including the leadership of the British Society for the History of Science and the historians of science, technology, and medicine at the University of Manchester, did an amazing job with organization and communication.) This conjuncture of events has me thinking about our Society’s international reach, both current and potential. How can we foster the intellectual connections that were so exciting in Manchester, and likely to be so important to our future?
In order to learn something from our membership on this issue, I surveyed those of you who live outside the U.S. and asked about your national and regional organizations in the history of science, where graduate students are trained, and where PhDs in history of science find jobs. You offered many suggestions for how the Society might serve our non-U.S. constituents better, and how we might be more geographically inclusive, both through our web presence and our meetings. Not surprisingly, international members value our publications, Isis, Osiris, and the Newsletter. In addition, many of you travel to attend annual meetings, although the heavy presence of North American graduate programs and job market can give our gatherings a provincial feel. Some suggested the value of nominating more Council members and officers from institutions abroad, or of considering publications in languages other than English for our prizes. The experiences (and successes) of other societies might embolden us. SHOT, 4S, and ISHPSSB, draw a good proportion of their leadership from beyond the U.S. and meet abroad regularly. The answers to my survey also stressed how similar the challenges faced by historians of science are in nearly every country—uncertain or flagging public funding of the field, too few academic jobs for new PhDs, and a felt need to educate the public about our field. American historians of science, and the Society as a whole, can learn from colleagues in other national contexts, and from the myriad other organizations that serve our members.
Needless to say, our Society should work in collaboration, not competition, with other national and regional societies devoted to the history of science. But given that we already have an active membership beyond the borders of the U.S., including our new Society Editor, the time seems opportune to be more intentional about our presence in the world at large. Already we have planned two events aimed at nurturing our worldliness, one small and one large. First, at this year’s annual meeting I will host a breakfast meeting for our international members, at which I hope to hear more about how the Society could serve them better and think more imaginatively about reaching out across national borders. Second, the Committee on Meetings and Programs has endorsed the proposal to hold our first annual meeting outside of North America. In 2019, we will gather in Utrecht, the Netherlands, hosted by the Descartes Center, where the Editorial Office will be located. While our by-laws specify that we “ordinarily” meet in the last quarter of the year, we feel this exceptional location justifies an abnormally early meeting, in late July or August. We have five years to plan for a successful meeting in Europe, during which time I will be in close communication with colleagues at the European Society for the History of Science (whose meeting I will attend this fall) and other regional organizations. For those of us who enjoyed the more relaxed pace of the Manchester meeting and our Three-Society meetings over the past decade, the opportunity to meet in the Netherlands in the summer will provide similar pleasures.
Clearly, it is not only national boundaries that can limit the imagination of our Society. My predecessor Lynn Nyhart reminded of us the value of involving historians of science placed outside traditional academic posts, working to make our Society more diverse, and engaging public audiences. I will keep our initiatives along these lines moving forward. But I am also keen to see how the History of Science Society could become more internationally-minded in our collective consciousness and communications. I hope you will join me in seeking to become more worldly these next few years.