The Completion of the Isis Cumulative Bibliography (1923-65)

Magda Whitrow

    The high point of my career in the field of information science was the moment when, in the spring of 1984, 1 received from the publishers Mansell the last volume, volume six, of the Isis Cumulative Bibliography (1923-65) which I had been editing. The Bibliography was based on references originally published in Isis, a journal for the history of science, which first appeared in 1913, edited by the distinguished historian of science, George Sarton. These 'Critical Bibliographies' were compiled from information or offprints supplied by colleagues from all over the world.
    When Isis was approaching the fiftieth year of its existence and the History of Science Society, which had taken over responsibility for its publication, had been awarded a small grant towards the production of an index. The Editor, Professor Harry Woolf, asked me to examine the problems involved and to make recommendations. There seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that the Critical Bibliographies formed an essential tool of research and that a subject index to these was most urgently needed. I suggested that these should be cumulated and republished in a fully classified form together with the necessary subject indexes. Following informal discussions on my report an Editorial Committee was set up by the History of Science Society under the Chairmanship of Professor I.B. Cohen (George Sarton's successor in the Harvard Chair) and a substantial grant obtained from the National Science Foundation towards the production of a cumulative bibliography. It was Professor Cohen who suggested that as a first stage in producing the cumulative bibliography, we should publish a volume containing all entries relating to the great men of science and other personalities of importance to the history of science, a kind of bio-bibliography. The project having been approved by the Editorial Committee and the Council of the History of Science Society, work began in 1944. The total number of personalities was in the region of 10,000. The part of the bibliography dealing with personalities was published in two volumes (Volumes land 2) and includes a section dealing with institutions. They were produced by a photolithographic process developed by Mansell for the 262 volumes of The British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books. Advice was sought from experts on the possibility of using a computer-based process, but they decided that at the time this was not feasible.
    Thanks to the generosity of learned societies, institutions, trusts, industrial concerns and private individuals from the United States and Great Britain it was possible to extend the project to four further volumes. Volume 3 covers the general history of science and the special sciences unrestricted by period or civilization, including special aspects of science and scientific disciplines. For classifying the material I devised a scheme based on that used by Sarton. The schedules developed for the different subject fields are not very detailed, but they are faceted. The notation uses capital letters for subjects and lower case letters for aspects. Volume 4 includes all entries referring to the early periods, including the Middle Ages, to Asian cultures, except the Near East, to African and American cultures. Volume 5 contains all those that refer to the modern period from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The project was completed by the publication of an author index.

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