February 23, 2010 / 3:10 PM / 9 years ago

British Library to capture oral history of science

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The British Library intends to capture the voices, memories and experiences of hundreds of eminent scientists to get a first person account of how science really works.

An Oral History of British Science, led by National Life Stories, is the first project of its kind in Britain and will gather 200 audio-visual interviews with British scientists who have led the world in innovation.

“British scientists were behind many of the key scientific and technological developments that make daily media headlines ... but little is known of the real personal stories behind these advances that have transformed our world,” said British Library Curator of Oral History Rob Perk, in a statement.

No archive recordings exist of some of Britain’s most esteemed scientists of the 20th century, including Alan Turing (1912-1954), codebreaker and pioneer in the history of computing, and the physiologist A.V. Hill (1886-1977), whose work on muscles was recognized by the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1922.

Even those associated with British inventions, such as Christopher Cockerell (1901-1999) who invented the hovercraft, appear to have left no substantial oral testimony documenting their life and work.

Remarkably few living British scientists, including several Nobel laureates, have been interviewed at length. No comprehensive historical survey of British scientific endeavor and discovery exists which draws on personal memory and experience.

An Oral History of British Science will interview both the well-known names of British science as well as lesser-heard and neglected voices such as technicians and women scientists, to ensure their memories are preserved for the future.

This oral history program will capture the culture of science in Britain since World War Two through audio interviews, each averaging 10-15 hours in length, complemented by shorter video recordings to document key events, instruments and locations.

The archive is organized around four themes to reflect the character and emerging issues of science in the 20th century.

Nobel laureate in chemistry and professor Harry Kroto said the program will be an important addition to the understanding of British science and its massive impact on society globally.

He added: “Drawing on personal memory and experience, the program at the British Library will be unique in illuminating the process of science, the intrinsic attitudes of scientists and their influence on an educated and Enlightened’ society.”

The project’s website can be found at: www.bl.uk/historyofscience.

Reporting by Paul Casciato, Editing by Steve Addison

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