Presidential Address, Angela Creager

HSS PresidentA synopsis of this report was presented at the HSS Business Meeting, 9 Nov 2014, Chicago, IL

As I looked over the past year’s activities in preparation for this report, I was amazed by how very much had happened since our meeting in Boston in November 2013. In contrast to the usual feeling when attending a meeting and reviewing the prior meeting’s minutes, in Chicago we’re not simply picking up where we left off. Here’s just a brief synopsis of what has occurred in the life of HSS during the past year.

First, we continued to work with Andrew Searle on Strategic Planning, using the Drucker model. We had two retreats. One was at last year’s annual meeting, where we involved several groups of members in talking through our opportunities, challenges, and mission. Our business meeting in November 2013 was part of this process, and I was delighted to see so many HSS members participate and generate such great ideas. The second retreat was in Chicago, where over forty members gathered at the end of March to take our process to the next step. In the space of two intensive days, we collectively identified who it is we serve (our “customer” or constituent), and articulated our Society’s six overarching goals, namely, meetings, publications, professional development, broadening our reach, advocacy, and membership/governance. Committee-sized groups of HSS members (some who had already participated in strategic planning and some who were new) formed around each of these goals. These goal groups came up with the action steps that would enable us to realize those goals, and the Strategic Planning Committee then ranked those steps with an eye to priority, feasibility, and cost. The outcome was a Strategic Plan, presented to Council and approved by vote on Nov. 6, 2014. We now have a roadmap for what we’d like to continue, what we’d like to change, and what, resources permitting, we’d like to add. I should highlight that the continuing on track is more implicit than explicit in this roadmap, which emphasizes the changes in direction. That said, we remain committed to our core functions, namely keeping the things that are working brilliantly (with our annual meeting, publications, Executive Office, and governance) right on track.

Strategic Planning was not the only accomplishment of HSS in 2014. No less important, our Editorial Office was successfully moved to the Netherlands, which had a marvelous ceremonial launch in September 2014. I’m enormously impressed by the job that Floris Cohen is doing steering the ship, the quality and enthusiasm of his crew (especially our new Managing Editor Desiree Capel), their esprit de corps, and their plans to improve our publications. This coming year we will solicit tenders from publishers with an eye towards negotiating a press contract that better reflects the current market in academic publishing. Michael Magoulias, the Journals Director at University of Chicago Press, is clearly committed to our Society, as evidenced by his regular attendance at our meetings and at the Strategic Planning retreat. He presented us with an attractive new contract offer in March 2014, which we will now consider with others in due course. We are grateful that he been so dedicated to our publishing partnership.

On a third front, we have continued to raise money for our Elizabeth Paris Endowment for Socially Engaged History and Philosophy of Science, whose activities were kicked off at this year’s annual meeting, with the Thursday night Social Engagement Activities sponsored by JCSEPHS (our newest caucus) and the Paris Lecture on Sunday by Peter Galison. We’re just over the halfway point towards out endowment goal [Ed. Note: as of March 2015, we were at 75% of our goal]. Several members of Elizabeth Paris’s family attended the inaugural lecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival on 9 Nov 2014, and we were grateful for the chance to meet and thank them (especially Mike Paris, Elizabeth’s father) for their generous support of this venture. Plans are already in the works for an outreach event at our next annual meeting in San Francisco, in November 2015.

A fourth issue has occupied much of my time this year. During my term as President, I have been focusing on the importance of our international members and the global reach of our Society. I hosted a breakfast discussion at the annual meeting with those who attended from abroad. That morning about forty members offered valuable insights and suggestions on how we can better serve historians of science beyond the US. I’ve had many conversations on this issue with scholars in Europe, both at the MPI and at regional history of science meetings I’ve attended, in Lisbon (European Society for the History of Science) and Munich (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Medizin Naturwissenschaft und Technik). I was warmly welcomed at both meetings, giving an address of greetings to the German Society on behalf of HSS and speaking with the Council of ESHS about how our societies might collaborate and perhaps have a joint meeting. Needless to say, living in Berlin as President has made me more appreciative of both the visibility and value of HSS, and the challenge of bridging the distance to North America, both physically and psychologically.

So what lies ahead? Our most immediate task is to discern the next steps of our Strategic Planning process without losing sight of our day-to-day activities, most of which we’re doing well. If you haven’t already looked at the Strategic Plan yourself, please do, and let me know where and how you’d like to get involved. The level of member engagement in our Society, and the innovativeness, vision, and commitment showed by those who participated in crafting our Strategic Plan, are breathtaking. I am particularly grateful to Lynn Nyhart, who remained vitally involved in this effort even after her term as President had ended. I also wish to thank those members who joined the Strategic Planning Committee, March retreat, Goal Groups, or who helped in other ways. (View a full list of participants)

Even as we try to realize our mission, organizationally and financially, we don’t want to quell the on-the-ground activity that makes this Society so vibrant and so fun. I’m enormously grateful for the front row seat that I’ve had this year! And mostly want to just say, Wow. Let’s hold onto the energy, if not quite the pace.