Vol. 43, No. 2, April 2014
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Member In Memoriam
Clark A. Elliott
22 January 1941 – 1 February 2014
Clark A. Elliott, a long-time member of the History of Science Society and a pioneer in the history of American science, passed away earlier this year. Having served for many years as Archivist at Harvard University and Librarian of the Burndy Library, Clark was also the co-editor of Osiris 14, Commemorative Practices in Science: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Collective Memory (1999) as well as one of the founders of the Forum for the History of Science in America. Because a recent edition of the HSS Newsletter featured a profile of Clark’s life and work, we asked HSS members to send us their memories of Clark, some of which appear below.
“I first met Clark Elliott in the late 1960s, while we were both graduate students at Case Western Reserve University. Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University—whose campuses had abutted each other for over 50 years —had just merged, though cross-registration had long enabled students at each institution to benefit from what was available on the other side of a not-very-well-maintained short fence. Clark had already completed two Master’s Degrees at Western Reserve—one in American history and the other in Library & Information Sciences—and when we met he was well on his way toward completing his Ph.D. in Library & Information Sciences. But unlike many of his Library Science classmates, he was writing his dissertation in history of science, under the direction of Robert E. Schofield, one of the intellectual stars of the Case Program in History of Science & Technology, in which I was enrolled.
I was about two years behind Clark in my graduate career when we met, and the more I learned about Clark’s bibliographic studies of the first generation of American scientists, the more impressed I was with them. His approach to his subject—enriched by his Library Science background—enabled him to paint a portrait of the earliest generations of scientific practitioners in what later became the United States. The expanded volumes that emerged from his dissertation—most notably his 1979 Biographical Dictionary of American Science, The 17th through the 19th Centuries, but also his 1990 Biographical Index to American Science: The 17th Century to 1920, and his 1996 chronology and research guide to the History of Science in the United States—all did much to suggest to his history of science classmates and colleagues just how valuable such a broadly-conceived approach to our discipline could be.
On earning his Ph.D., Clark became Assistant Professor in the School of Library & Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, but soon moved on to become Assistant (later Associate) Curator of the Harvard University Archives, a position he held with distinction for many decades. Speaking personally, one of the many reasons my wife Charlene and I were pleased to settle in Worcester was that our location allowed us to resume our friendship with Clark and his wife Priscilla. This warm relationship continued unabated until Clark’s recent death, and of course we remain close friends with Priscilla. With Clark’s death all historians of science have lost an able colleague, and many of us have also lost a good friend.”
– Michael M. Sokal
“Clark was a stalwart treasure of a colleague, someone who was always thoughtful, steady, kind, and deeply dedicated to scholarship and to the broad education of those coming of age in the history of science… I recall when he came to HSS meeting with Priscilla at his side and stayed remarkably interested in all that the rest of us were doing as he went through the book exhibit. We have missed him in recent years and that last HSS visit is a memory that will stay with many of us.”
– Sally Gregory Kohlstedt
“Clark was both a great archivist and a fine scholar in his own right. There are countless publications in the history of American science which rested, in one way or another, on his knowledge of the manuscript collections in the history of science. He was so supportive of the work of all of us, and not only through his publications. Tonight, the community is much poorer.”
– Marc Rothenberg
“A great loss to the community. Clark was a good friend to many of us and loyal supporter of history of science. He will be missed.”
– Stephen Weldon
“I met Clark in the late 80s at the very first HSS meeting I attended. As a new post-doc in history, not history of science, I didn’t know anyone and was pretty much on my own. I delivered a paper that had generated no comment or question and I was feeling very uncertain as to whether this Society was a place I belonged. Then, Clark came up and spoke with me and I experienced as so many others have, his kindness, intelligence and his genuine interest in my ideas. That was the first of many conversations I had with Clark at annual meetings of the HSS and of the Forum for the History of Science in America and I can say unequivocally that I would not be involved in HSS today were it not for Clark.
In the early ’90s, without a stable faculty job in sight, I was forced to look for alternatives to a traditional academic career. At that time, I doubted that I could fit in with the HSS or any learned society under those conditions. Clark showed me that you could be a historian of science and a librarian and also that you could be a librarian and an active member of the Society. With his encouragement, I followed his example in both respects and continue to regard his career as a model I wish I could emulate. I succeeded him as editor of the Newsletter for the Forum for the History of Science in America, a role I was doubly pleased to adopt because it entailed continuing Clark’s work. It was my very good fortune to see Clark at an HSS meeting a few years ago (I think it was Montreal, 2010) and to reminisce about our twenty-year association; I took that opportunity to tell him how much his support and example have meant to me at critical times in my career.”
– Daniel Goldstein