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Collection Development Policy

History of Science, Medicine and Technology

History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Andrea Twiss-Brooks
April 28, 2008


Other collection policy statements which overlap with the history of science, medicine and technology include special collections and archives (Special Collections Research Center), history, classics, ancient Near East, East Asian collections, medicine, biological sciences, mathematics, chemistry, geophysical sciences, astronomy and astrophysics, physics and technology.


Brief overview of the collection

·         History:  For much of the history of the University of Chicago, the history of science, medicine and technology collection has been most closely associated with the Department of History.  In 1970, the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine was formed at the University of Chicago, providing an academic home for students in the Department of History who are pursuing studies in the history of science and medicine. The merger in 1984 of the collections of the University of Chicago Library and the John Crerar Library, and in particular, the special collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and other materials redefined the core collection for much of the subsequent study of the history of science studies at the University.  While the University collections were strong in natural philosophy and the birth of modern science, the John Crerar collections emphasized the history of medicine and of technology.   Today, the history of science, medicine and technology studies are centered in the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS) and in the Fishbein Center.

·         Broad subject areas emphasized or de-emphasized:   Selection in the history of science, medicine and technology focuses on collecting significant studies of major scientific disciplines of major scientific disciplines and major regions, and representative important studies in minor subjects.  Current selection is generally limited to secondary literature rather than historic source documents, although facsimile editions of source documents produced by major historic scientific figures are sometimes acquired.  Selection is supported by a number of funds endowed specifically for purchases in the history of natural sciences, history of medicine, and history of technology and engineering. Scientific (and proto-scientific) disciplines whose history and development is particularly emphasized include astronomy (and archaeoastronomy), chemistry (including alchemy), systematic biology (including botany and zoology), natural history, theories of matter, physics, and geology.  History of medicine subjects which are emphasized include studies of the nature of disease, anatomy, psychiatry, and physiology.  Technological and applied science disciplines which are of particular interest include early railroad technology, building engineering and structures, other branches of engineering, and development of industrial technologies that were important to the growth and development of the Chicago region.  Significant effort is also given to selecting works examining the history and impact of underrepresented groups of scientists (e.g., women chemists or minority engineers).  Histories of major scientific organizations or research universities are strong candidates for selection; histories of minor scientific organizations or regional and local scientific activities are of less interest, unless requested by a researcher or related to the Chicago region.  Selection in areas outside these particular emphases is broad, and attempts to build a collection where all areas of history of science, medicine and technology are represented, even if to a minor degree.

·         Description of academic program:    The Fishbein Center sponsors an undergraduate major, B.A. in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HIPS).  Undergraduate students who wish to pursue this degree must complete “sufficient work in one or more sciences to acquire a sound foundation for studying the nature of science,” after which they study social, historical and conceptual aspects of science and medicine.  Students in the College may also pursue a minor in HIPS.  The Department of History is the home for graduate students enrolled in history of science, offering both M.A and Ph.D. programs.  Graduate studies may be pursued via the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS), where students may earn M.A. or Ph.D. degrees in science or mathematics, history, or philosophy.  Like the undergraduate degree, the CHSS graduate course of study emphasizes a strong grounding in a scientific discipline, including a requirement to complete a number of science courses at the University.

·         Audience/Purpose:   Collections are managed primarily to meet the needs of current University of Chicago faculty, staff and students.  Collections support undergraduate and graduate instruction, graduate research through the Ph.D. Level, and faculty research.  While many of the most frequent users of the collection are in Department of History, CHSS, or HIPS, faculty and students throughout the University rely on the collection for support of their research and teaching.  Other more occasional users of the collection include unaffiliated or independent researchers, Crerar Corporate members, researchers from affiliated laboratories and institutes (e.g., Argonne National Laboratory).


Collecting guidelines

·         Levels of selection: (comprehensive, research, instructional support, basic information; for a description of these levels, see the general policy statement.)

Collection for the history of major scientific disciplines and medicine is at research level.  For minor disciplines, or very specialized areas selection is at the basic information level.  In the history of technology, collection is at research level in areas of traditional strength (e.g., aviation, railroad engineering, meat science, history of cookery) and otherwise is at instructional support level. 

·         Type of materials included & excluded: Very few types of materials are excluded altogether, although textbooks are collected very selectively.  Anthologies of previously published materials are generally not collected, unless the collection contains a reasonable quantity of previously unpublished material, or extensive editorial additions, such as annotations, essays, comprehensive bibliographic compilations, or significant prefatory material.  Reprint and/or facsimile editions are acquired somewhat selectively, with facsimile editions that contain critical commentary or extensive editorial content are sometimes given stronger consideration.  Conference proceedings are collected very selectively, often at the request of a University researcher.  Collected works (“omnia opera”) of important scientists, natural philosphers and medical researchers are actively collected.  Biographies of important scientific figures are high priority, and biographies of less eminent persons are purchased when funding allows.  Bibliographies of most areas in the history of science, even very specialized areas or of the works of minor figures are also high priority.  While monographs in the history of science, medicine, and technology are extremely important, significant attention is also paid to building journals collections.  Journals backfiles, and in particular, online backfiles of a variety of subject  

·         Physical formats included & excluded: No formats entirely excluded, although some formats present significant access and preservation challenges and are avoided when possible.  Web access is strongly preferred over physical electronic media (e.g., CD-ROMs).  Video and audio formats are acquired very selectively, with preference given to the most current accessible technology available (e.g., currently DVD preferred to VHS formats).  Microform formats are assessed for readability issues prior to selection, particularly in the case where original print works contained color or grayscale images, detailed schematics and drawings, or dense mathematical or chemical formulae, which do not reproduce well in microform.  For journals and reference works, web-based electronic format is preferred over print formats.  Except in extremely rare cases, a new journal title will be selected in electronic format without any print equivalent.  For more peripheral history of science, medicine and technology subject areas, journals available as electronic resources with current issues embargoes (up to one year) or selected in print only subscriptions may be acceptable.  Journals in subject areas where no current research or teaching is taking place are lowest priority, and access through interlibrary loan services is acceptable for these peripheral materials.  Indexing and abstracting resources and reference works online are almost exclusively preferred over print versions, due to the enhanced functionality and usability.  Monographs may be selected in either print or electronic format.  Criteria for format selection for monographs are fully searchable text, availability on established platform already in use by University of Chicago users (e.g., Wiley Interscience), persistent URLs and/or availability of MARC records for access and discovery, options for purchase and lease of monograph titles, and one-time purchase option. .

·         Publication dates collected: There is a heavy emphasis on acquisition of most recent editions and materials.  With some exceptions, only the most recent edition of monographs will be selected.  For periodicals, current access to most recent issues/articles of core history of science, medicine and technology research journals is highest priority.   Retrospective purchasing is done if funding allows.  Retrospective purchasing of monograph titles is more usual than is the practice for the current disciplines, and facsimile or microform reprints of classic works will be considered.  Gifts of materials, particularly in the areas of the history of technology, have been often helpful to fill in gaps retrospectively.

·         Languages: No language restrictions.  For biographical works or works about a particular historical scientists work, non-English language works are concentrated in languages associated with the figure.  General works in languages other than English are avoided.  General histories of science or medicine that are geographically focused are also considered in a similar way.  More advanced scholarly works in any language will be considered on their merits, regardless of language.

Example:  Works about Enrico Fermi in Italian are preferred over works about Enrico Fermi in Spanish

Example:  Works about medieval science and medicine in Spain could be acquired in Catalan, but works about medieval science in England written in Catalan would not be preferred.

·         Geographical range: No limits on geographical range.  Some preference may be given to specific geographical regions in relation to specific scientific disciplines (e.g., Arabic countries for history of mathematics, China for materia medica, United States and Europe for late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century technology)

·         Chronological span: No limits on chronological span.  Some preference given to chronological periods where subject and area studies collections are particularly strong (e.g., works on medicine in medieval Europe, science and mathematics in the ancient Near East).


Areas of distinction:  The collections are particularly strong in the history of technology in the mid- to late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.   The library collection is renowned for its runs of technical and applied science journals (e.g., Prairie Farmer, American Brewer) published during this time frame, as well as for books, pamphlets and technical manuals that are rarely held elsewhere.  The collections are also strong in the history of medicine, and specifically known for the nearly 30,000 rare books in this area, including the Clifford G. Grulee Collection on Pediatrics, the Nicholas Senn Collection on the History of Medicine, and the Howard C. Levis Collection on food, cookery, and nutrition.  Rare books collections are available to users in the Special Collections Research Center at the Joseph Regenstein Library.


Related University of Chicago collections


Cooperative arrangements and related collections

Chicago Historical Society

Northwestern University Library (particularly the Transportation Library)

Newberry Library

National Library of Medicine (history of medicine collections)



Subject Specialist

Andrea Twiss-Brooks's picture
Andrea Twiss-Brooks

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