28th May 2015, 3:32pm
Exploring the ‘afterlife’ of some of science’s most important papers
Exploring the ‘afterlife’ of some of science’s most important papers The world’s leading scientific historians will meet at the Royal Society in London to explore the fascinating stories behind how some of the most important academic papers ever written survived over the centuries.

Much of today’s scientific knowledge has its roots in discoveries made by prominent forefathers in the 17th and 18th centuries, when early modern naturalists collected, generated and shared enormous amounts of paper-based work. Without modern-day technologies, the world’s leading thinkers established a society of letters to communicate their ideas.

From scribbles in the margins of books and correspondence among peers, to observational reports and rough drafts intended for later publication, scholars such as Isaac Newton, John Ray and Martin Lister assembled their thoughts on often disorderly collections of paper. The later dispersal, re-arrangement, loss or survival of these archives could make or break a reputation.

The Archival Afterlives conference, to be held at the Royal Society on Tuesday 2nd June 2015, will explore how these collections became ‘the archives of the Scientific Revolution’.

Dr Anna Marie Roos, Senior Lecturer in the history of science and medicine at the University of Lincoln, UK, is one of the organisers of the conference. She said: “In this golden age of scientific discovery, natural philosophy was a paper empire. The great debates of the day took place in hand written correspondence or scribbles in the margins of manuscripts. These materials – now ensconced in archives, libraries, and occasionally private hands – are the foundation of a history of science. Recently, the origins of such papers, and their creators’ organisation of and intentions for them, have received much attention, but the lives archives lived after their creators’ deaths have been explored less often. This is precisely what we will investigate at the Royal Society.”

The conference, Archival Afterlives: Life, Death and Knowledge-Making in Early Modern British Scientific and Medical Archives, is sponsored by the Royal Society, the Mellon Rare Books School and the British Society for the History of Science. It is organised by Dr Roos, Dr Vera Keller, University of Oregon, USA, and Dr Elizabeth Yale from the University of Iowa, USA.

“Scientific archives engage us in thinking about the materials and intellectual resources required to continue a scientific project beyond the life of any one individual,” said Dr Roos. “Throughout our conference we will consider the creation and management of scientific genius as a posthumous project – a collective endeavour in which scribes, library keepers, editors and naturalists’ friends and family all play a significant role in establishing a history of science.”

On the day, Dr Roos will deliver a talk on the recent rediscovery in the Bodleian Library of various papers and copperplates involved in the production of the first field guide to fossils, Edward Lhwyd’s Lithophylacii Britannici Ichnographia (1699), and the first scientific work of conchology, Martin Lister’s Historiae Conchyliorum (1685-92). Both publications were revised and reissued by Ashmolean keeper William Huddesford in the 18th century, and Dr Roos will explore how the information originally reported by Lhwyd and Lister was later repurposed for Enlightenment natural philosophy.

Dr Roos, formerly a Research Fellow at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, wrote the first comprehensive biography of Martin Lister after rediscovering hundreds of copper plate engravings and letters. Together they provided a fascinating insight into Lister’s work and his relationships with his scientific peers and mentors.

Other conference speakers include Dr Arnold Hunt from King’s College London, Dr Leigh Penman, University of Queensland, Alison Walker of the British Library, Victoria Sloyan from the Wellcome Library, and Dr Lauren Kassell, Pembroke College, Cambridge.

For more information and to view the schedule in full, visit: www.royalsociety.org/events/2015/06/archival-afterlives