CfP - CHMC Session "Sources for recent chemical biography" at 10ICHC Aveiro, Portugal, Sept. 2015

Dear Colleagues:
The Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry (CHMC) is organizing a panel for the next International on History of Chemistry in Aveiro, Portugal, 9-12 September 2015. The conference theme is Chemical Biography in the 21st Century (see the conference website We therefore invite proposals for papers on the topic “Sources for recent chemical biography,” details of which are outlined below. 
“Sources for recent chemical biography:  historiographical issues in using digital sources, oral and video history”
As we advance ever deeper into the 21st century, it becomes ever more obvious that historians are confronting increasing complications in finding useful and reliable sources for the history of chemistry.  Thus we must raise the question:  what sources will future historians use to write the history of 21st-century chemistry?  To consider this problem, the Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry plans to follow up on its symposium held in Paris in 2011 by sponsoring a session at the 10th International Conference on History of Chemistry at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, 9-12 September 2015.  The following outlines some of the issues that participants may want to address.
Consider the current situation in regard to sources for contemporary chemistry in general, and chemical biography in particular:  traditional full-length autobiographies tend to be written long after the fact, and they may be composed with deliberate distortions or omissions.  Moreover, as such longer works require significant time and effort as well as a facility for writing narratives, many scientists will be unable or unwilling to compose them.  But what alternative biographical sources are available to us as historians of science?  Of course, we have the scientists’ published research papers, but these must be used with caution if we seek to reconstruct the development of an actual research project from them.  What else is available?  In today’s world, traditional handwritten letters on paper have almost completely disappeared as documentary sources, and telephone conversations usually go unrecorded.  Moreover, digital communications such as emails may become inaccessible.  Thus oral histories (or similar sources including video interviews) in the form of autobiographical sketches may become increasingly indispensable if we are to have any sort of insights into the background of researchers and their interactions beyond what can be found in published papers. But these raise many issues, as anyone who has tried to produce or use oral histories soon realizes.  Memories are fallible and often selective; should the oral historian challenge a subject’s recollection, or simply record it as any primary source, to be evaluated critically during the composition of a monograph?  How reliable are transcripts of oral histories, or should the historian always insist on using original tapes?  And of course with oral histories, as with other personal documents, there are often legal limitations on what can be cited or how soon, as well as various sorts of regulation (in the USA, oral histories come under human subject research and may be controlled by Institutional Review Boards).  Finally, how will repositories deal with changing technologies, which may threaten to make oral, video, and other digital sources inaccessible to future historians?
The proposed session is thus intended to address these various issues and to allow maximum time for discussion of different experiences and contexts.  We will therefore propose a session including several short (5 to max 10 minutes) papers, both by those who produce and conserve oral / video / digital sources and those who use them in historical research.  Some speakers may offer experiences in both capacities.  In particular, we would like to have speakers from different parts of the world who can make critical comparisons, contrasts, etc., to highlight the advantages, disadvantages, and other related issues in the use of these “non-traditional” sources.  In any case at least half of the time in the session will be devoted to discussion, so that all involved may interact to achieve a clearer understanding of this timely topic.  To make the findings of the session more accessible to the conference as a whole, including those who may not be able to attend the session, we are considering the possibility of supplementing the papers with poster presentations or by other means
Should you be interested, please contact Brigitte Van Tiggelen ( as soon as possible, but no later than April 23, with a title and an abstract of 150-300 words.  The template for abstracts may be found on the ICHC website, at
We look forward to hearing from you.
With best regards,
Jeffrey A. Johnson, President, CHMC ( [inquiries only – do not send abstracts])
Brigitte Van Tiggelen, Vice President for Conferences, CHMC ( [address for abstracts])