The History of Science, Technology, and Engineering (STE) is an eclectic discipline, with faculty working with an extensive range of sources and utilizing a variety of methodologies. The history of science attracts a broad range of interest in its various domains, from philosophy and mathematics, to physical and biological sciences, to technology and agriculture. Scholars are interested in all eras of history, from the pre-modern era to the 20th and now into the early 21st century.
As a discipline, STE historians see interconnections between the history of science and the history of civilization broadly conceived. Historians examine not only the writings, theories, logic, and discoveries of scientists, but also the external social and cultural factors that influence scientific thought and development. Additionally, historians seek to understand how scientists interacted with their subjects, the public, and the world at large.
Sources for this research, understandably, vary considerably. Scholars consult traditional resources such as monographs, manuscripts, early printed serials, and academy publications. They investigate scientists’ personal papers, diaries, correspondence, drafts and unpublished works. As the field deepens and expands, scholars employ an increasing range of source material including images, films and video; designs, artifacts, and tools employed in the development of scientific research; textbooks, advertising and published content intended for a popular audience; and now digital resources (especially data) created and employed in the scientific process.
An important area of growth is the interest in source materials coming from outside of Europe. Corresponding to an overall growing research interest in globalization as well as colonial and post-colonial studies, STE historians are paying increased attention to cross-cultural analysis and anthropological studies that shed light on how non-European cultures understand encounters with science and with “Western man.” Additionally, STE historians are starting to employ new methodologies such as computational analysis and other tools and resources to assess bodies of texts and better understand the relationships between scientists.
In addition to CRL’s own rich collections in the History of STE (see next tab), CRL’s Global Resources Partnership with the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology enables access to the trove of resources collected and maintained by Linda Hall in areas including engineering, physics & astrophysics, and chemistry (among others). CRL facilitates document delivery and digitization of articles, monographs, and historical serials from the collections of CRL and Linda Hall.
STE was an “early adopter” of digital publishing, and distribution of new content in digital format is the norm in the field. However, digitization of older print material has not seen similar growth. A 2013 assessment of CLOCKSS showed only 28% of the preserved titles are archived from the first volume forward, which indicates that the majority of journal collections from publishers--particularly the smaller professional societies--are incomplete. STE is not widely represented in digitized monograph collections, either: In HathiTrust, for example, less than 12% of all content is from the fields of STE (LC Classes Q & T). Overall, the digital archives are not nearly covering the full spectrum of the scholarly record in the STE areas. Digitization of print serial content within copyright protection remains problematic, due in large part to the requirements for identification of all rightsholders for permissions. At the same time, As scientific information and process is increasingly born-digital, libraries and historians must develop means of identifying and preserving the electronic record of scientific discovery to facilitate future research in the discipline.