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McCarthy, Gavan
Reflexions and Visions: Looking into the future of the history of Australian science
Description of Work
given in The Discovery Room, Australian Museum, Tuesday 6pm
Australian Science History Club, Sydney, 8 November 2005

It is extraordinary to think that this is the last talk to be held by the Australian Science History Club. History is the story of change but it is in some ways more confronting when substantive change comes to your own community. There is no question that the last twenty years have been an important era in the pursuit of history of Australian science and technology. The Colonial Science Club (1987-2000) and the Australian Science History Club (2001-2005) are manifestations of community interest based in Sydney and have provided a focus for those of us elsewhere. The Australian Science Archives Project (1985-1999?) and the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre (1999-) have endeavoured to facilitate and promote activity in the field. This has been achieved through the salvaging and preservation of archival collections, the utilisation of emerging information technologies to communicate with a wider audience and the development of a research and development program based on the cultural informatics and humanities computing.

This paper will reflect on some of the lessons learned during this period and in particular examine the way new information technologies have changed the way communities of interest are formed and the way they function. For example: what we gained through the development of the web resources Bright Sparcs and Australian Science at Work, but we lost through suspending the print publication of the History of Australian Science Newsletter.

The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre is currently preparing for its first major review of operations by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Although reviews can lead to unpredictable consequences, this opportunity is being used to not just reflect on past achievements but to seriously consider how the Centre may best be configured to continue successful operations into the future. The culmination of much of the research and development work undertaken by the Centre over the years led to a major collaborative project with the Australian National University to put the Australian Dictionary of Biography online. A working version is presently available for stakeholders and everything is in place for a full launch in July 2006. Technology willing, the ADB online will be demonstrated and discussed with respect to some of the impacts it could have on the future of the history of Australian science and technology.