A Bibliography for the Future

By Stephen Weldon, Associate Editor HSS


IsisCB staff

IsisCB staff (left to right): Younes Mahdavi, Cody Williams, and Jon Self, at the University of Oklahoma Libraries Special Collections.

The Isis Bibliography has come a long way since 1913, and the changes I have made over the past year have brought new functionality to the Explore service (isiscb.org/explore), our open access discovery search engine, that now allow me and my staff to work entirely online. This new curation system has far-reaching implications for scholars around the world, and it is already providing new possibilities for collaboration, collection, and discovery.

Introducing the Contributing Editors

This year, I started a new project by appointing Contributing Editors to the IsisCB. The Contributing Editorships are designed to encourage fellow professional historians, especially those early in their careers, to contribute their historiographical and bibliographical skills to help me locate and curate material that my staff and I could not easily find on our own. I ask each editor to serve for two years, and then decide if they would like to continue. Each one agrees to devote a few hours each month to locating and collecting citations. Working with these scholars makes the Bibliography a much more collaborative and global enterprise, creating a richer and more comprehensive resource.
Let me introduce the three scholars whom I have appointed so far:

Francesco LuzziniFrancesco Luzzini is working with me to collect citations to works written in Italian. Luzzini is an affiliate scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (MPIWG) as well as a research scholar at the Museum of Sciences in Trento, Italy. His work focuses on the Earth sciences, natural philosophy, and medicine in Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries. In recent years, he has been a Research Fellow at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oklahoma Libraries where he was preparing a critical edition of Antonio Vallisneri’s manuscript Primi Itineris Specimen, which should be published by Edition Open Sources by the time you read this article.

Helge WendtHelge Wendt is an IsisCB Contributing Editor for German language entries. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, working on a project called “Globalization of Knowledge.” His main research focuses on the global history of coal, the history of Christian missions, and the history and historiography of globalization. Wendt’s book on the global history of colonial missions, Die missionarische Gesellschaft. Mikrostrukturen einer kolonialen Globalisierung, was published in 2011. He is also the editor of The Globalization of Knowledge in the Iberian Colonial World (1500–1900), which was published by Edition Open Access in 2016.

Didi van TrijpDidi van Trijp has joined the Contributing Editorial team as the Dutch language editor. She is a third-year PhD student at Leiden University, having taken a Master’s degree from Utrecht University in 2015, where she was a manuscript assistant for Isis under the editorship of Floris Cohen. Her historical research is on the European study of the underwater world in oceans, seas, rivers, and streams over the long 18th century. Specifically, she is interested in the development of ichthyology, which, at the time, included not only fish but also more exotic creatures like mermaids. She studies the cultures of natural history, as well as collecting practices and construction of classification schemes.

As a group we try to meet via video conference every month or two in order to go over problems and talk about different issues, such as finding citations, following protocols, determining what is in the scope of the Bibliography, and discussing how to tag and classify entries. I hope to build these efforts into a vibrant and active part of the history of science community over the next few years. Indeed, I see this project as creating an international network of scholars who are able to share their knowledge while performing a valuable service to the discipline.

As payment for their work, the Contributing Editors are recognized as active members of the Isis Bibliography editorial team, and they are listed in the printed bibliography, as well as online. In addition, each Contributing Editor also receives a complimentary subscription to the journal Isis for the years that he or she is working on the project.

Collaborating with SHOT

In addition to starting the Contributing Editor program, I am also establishing the means to collaborate with editors of other bibliographies in the hope that we can incorporate material from their work into the IsisCB database. I have begun this process by working closely with Bruce Seely at Michigan Tech to help him collect citations for the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) bibliography. This is not a new collaboration, as Seely took over the SHOT bibliography from Suzanne Moon, the editor of Technology and Culture, after she restarted the project a few years ago. Seely, like Moon before him, is working directly with IsisCB technology, and his entries are going to be imported directly into the Explore database.

Seely is bringing with him another collaboration, a group of librarians at the Deutsches Museum who are collecting primarily German language materials in the history of technology. Unlike the Contributing Editors, he is entirely in charge of his bibliographical entries, and the two of us talk regularly about how to make sure our two projects work in parallel. So, for example, we are dividing up the journals that we cover so that we do not duplicate work. This is a great benefit for us, because it frees up time for me and my staff to do more imaginative searching for history of science materials located in out-of-the-way sources that are harder to find.

Using Zotero for Input

The main requirement for Contributing Editors and owners of collaborating bibliographies is that they be willing to learn and use Zotero, the open source citation management tool created by a team of programmers and researchers at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University. CHNM is one of the premier digital humanities programs in the country and is based in the Department of History and Art History at GMU, which makes their tools especially appropriate for historians to use.

By using Zotero, I am able to collaborate widely because Zotero simplifies the collection of entries from online citations around the web and enforces a standard bibliographical record format. It also enables people to create shared libraries where everyone can see and modify each other’s entries. This makes it possible for me and my staff to supervise and manage work created by anyone else. Once my staff is satisfied that the entries are ready to be ingested, we can process them using the Explore ingest system, which reconfigures them to be compatible with the Explore database.

PDF and Database Linking

We have also redesigned the PDFs that are used for the printed CB. Starting with the 2016 issue, the PDFs of all new printed Bibliographies will include links to the IsisCB Explore page of each entry. This means that if you are looking at a citation in the PDF, you can click on the hyperlink and be taken directly to it in Explore, where you can then read the full abstract, follow links to similar entries, find other works by the same author, and launch a deeper search.
For a long time, I have sought ways to exploit the different characteristics of the print and electronic versions of the bibliography, and the new dynamic PDFs are an attempt to experiment with merging the two formats. The traditional print publication, for example, has an almost newsletter-like readability that makes it more useful than the online version for activities where narrow subject searches are not desirable. However, to be able to move between those two environments might allow users to get an even more satisfying experience.

Daily Updates

Another major development this past year, one that is immediately visible to users, is continuous updating: additions and changes are made to user data in real time as they are edited in the curation interface. This is an important by-product of adopting a fully online curation system. Now it is possible to see all of the new entries via links at the bottom of the Explore home page. Those lists will show you citations, as well as authorities (new authors and new subject keywords). Users can now see what we have been working on at the IsisCB office, check out the items that are being discovered by the Contributing Editors, and follow the citations and subject matter being added to the SHOT bibliography.

IsisCB Advisory Board

This year, I added two new members to the IsisCB Advisory Board: Thomas Darragh and Michael Barany. I created this board when I started as the Society Bibliographer in 2002. Since then, I have relied heavily on the help and advice of this group.

My current board members include Emanuela Appetiti (The Huntington Library), Michael Barany (Dartmouth College), Thomas Darragh (Central Michigan University), Márcia H. M. Ferraz (Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paolo), Daniel Goldstein (University of California, Davis), Richard L. Kremer (Dartmouth College), Birute Railiene (Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences), Sylwester Ratowt (University of North Georgia), Karen Reeds (Princeton Research Forum), Robin E. Rider (University of Wisconsin–Madison). Past members of my advisory board are Toby Appel (Yale University), Clark A. Elliott (Belmont, Massachusetts), Joy Harvey (Somerville, Massachusetts), and Henry Lowood (Stanford University Libraries).

Nearly all of the board members, past and present, have been trained in history of science or an allied discipline, even if some of them also currently define themselves as librarians. In this respect, as much as this project can be described as a library resource, it is not a product of the library and information science discipline. The Isis Bibliography continues to stand out as a creation of our own discipline, controlled and governed by our scholarly community.


All of the changes that I implemented last year are meant to break down the barrier between curation and research. The more I can demystify the bibliography and make the process of building it open and accessible, the more I hope scholars and researchers in the field will see themselves as part of the endeavor and will be willing to participate in making this a better, richer, and more worthwhile resource.

If you use the CB, I would very much like to hear from you. You’re invited to participate with me and the growing number of scholars who are connected with the project. Tell us about your work and the resources you have discovered. Contact me at stephenpweldon@gmail.com if you want to volunteer on a regular basis and be part of the Contributing Editorial team. Or let me know if you would like to offer periodic help in specific areas.

As I continue to develop the Isis Bibliography for the 21st-century information environment, I remain guided by my belief that this is a community project. As active historians, we are all bibliographers to one extent or another, and I encourage all scholars who are vested in this work to participate in it.