Notes from our Bibliographer

Editor’s note: As promised in our last issue, we  are pleased to present this new column from the desk of our Bibliographer in the HSS Newsletter. In this issue Stephen introduces a timely new bibliographic resource that we foresee helping to foster scholarship during what he aptly dubs as the “time of COVID-19.”

Putting the Bibliography to Work during the Pandemic

By Stephen P. Weldon

Since I wrote my last column, the world has changed around us. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced my belief that historians of science and medicine and our colleagues in allied disciplines have an important perspective to offer. In Germany, for instance, humanities scholars, including Jurgen Renn at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, were enlisted to help advise the federal government on aspects of the pandemic (see article here). And although the German case may be unique, many of us elsewhere are also finding ourselves called upon to respond with our professional expertise in different ways.

Whether we are advising others, teaching classes, talking to the public, or simply studying topics that bear on epidemics and their many ramifications, we need good tools and resources at our fingertips. Which is where IsisCB can help. I have initiated a project to build up the resources in relevant areas. On the blog site, you will find it under the title “History in the Time of COVID-19”. The main page shows you how I’ve begun to develop the project. Over the next several months I expect to deepen and broaden these pages and links in several ways. 

Let me sketch out the big picture to illustrate just what I expect this project to accomplish.

The overall goal of this project is to organize, strengthen, and present bibliographic materials and other useful resources in pandemic-related topics: virology, epidemics, plagues, infectious diseases, quarantine, surveillance, to name but a few. To this end, I am actively enlisting the help of experts who have a strong background in these areas. Neeraja Sankaran, with her expertise in the history of virology and immunology, is working closely with me to locate and contact people who are willing to help out.

The centerpiece of this project is a special digital issue of the Isis Bibliography that will include shorter, topic-focused bibliographies paired with bibliographical essays written by topic specialists. The essays will be vetted using an innovative open peer review similar to the one used by Wellcome Open Research (check out an example here), where articles are accessible online as soon as they are submitted, with peer review and revision happening subsequent to the initial posting.

Beyond the special issue, which will grow and develop over the rest of this year, I am bringing together different ways to aid discovery in this area. IsisCB Explore is ideally designed for this kind of work because it can accomplish many things with increasing sophistication. 

On the main pandemics project page of the blog, I have added three different types of resources that users can immediately take advantage of (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Bibliographic research resources available via IsisCB

Figure 1: Bibliographic research resources available via IsisCB

First, I have provided quick links to Explore for some of the most useful citation search results. These searches use some of the most relevant terms and combinations of terms as mentioned earlier. The content of these searches is live, so it will be updated as new entries are added to the database.

Second, I have provided hotlinks to keywords that are part of our curated authority table. The keywords include concepts as well as names of people, and institutions that are linked to the bibliographical citations.  The new authority layout that I rolled out this spring illustrates how useful the bibliographical data can be when organized in a new way. It allows the researcher to do a “deep dive” into the literature (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Deep diving into the bibliography

Figure 2: Deep diving into the bibliography

As you can see from this page, the network of items related to the concept Influenza reveals a lot about the historical work on this topic—from the top authors who’ve written about it; to the main journals that have published on it; to the concepts, places, times, and historical actors associated with it. Anyone looking for a quick historiographical perspective or for experts on a topic, should explore one of these pages.

Finally, realizing that no single resource can capture everything that is going on, I have created a section of this project to document outside resources. If you look back at Figure 1, you can see that I’ve identified, for instance, the podcast interviews of historians that have been recently published by the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. In addition it points you to the ArchiveGrid where you can find archival resources around the world on these topics. And there’s even a hotlink to H-Sci-Med-Tech to see current news and calls for papers. As I find more such material, I will document it on these pages.

Eventually I hope that “History in the Time of COVID-19” will highlight important contributions that our discipline can make and become a useful resource for anyone looking for a historical perspective on our current global climate.

Finally, I will admit that this article itself has a dual purpose. In addition to introducing this project, it is also intended to function as an invitation to the HSS community for active participation in shaping this special issue, be it as an author, advisor, referee/peer reviewer, or simply because you know of resources that you think should be included. Please contact me at your earliest convenience (providing as much detail as possible) at to express your interest.

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