Ordering the Discipline

8370843This past week the journal Isis published a symposium that I organized entitled “Ordering the Discipline: Classification in the History of Science.” The five articles in this symposium are all part of the Focus Section, which you can access through the Isis table of contents.

By a standing agreement with the History of Science Society, the University of Chicago Press has made every issue’s Focus Section open access, so you should have no trouble reading these five pieces. Indeed, I would urge anyone not familiar with Isis to browse the Focus Section articles over the past ten years because they provide a portrait of the main intellectual currents in the field. (I used the Isis Focus Sections in precisely this way in a presentation this past April on research trends at a Linda Hall Library webinar entitled Collections Forum on Science, Technology, and Engineering; my talk begins at 35 minutes into the video.)

This issue’s Focus Section on classification deals with a subject that I have been grappling with from the moment I started editing the bibliography: namely, how does one classify the sciences (present and past) as well as the many historiographical approaches to science. This symposium goes far beyond my own questions, however, and considers taxonomic issues in several ways that are foreign to the problems faced by a subject bibliographer.

After a brief introductory article, I have a longer historical piece that addresses classification by exploring the institutional development of the Isis Bibliography. My article is followed by a piece written by Ana Maria Alfonso-Goldfarb and her colleagues at the Cesima Centro Simão Mathias; they provide a study of how people over the ages have tackled problems in classifying the sciences. Following this, Joseph Anderson at the American Institute of Physics explains how archival collections have come to be organized, pointing out the vast differences between archival and bibliographical classification. Finally, Colin Allen and his team of scholars at the Indiana Philosophy Ontology project talk about the tools that they are building to serve a radically new and more ontologically complex digital scholarly environment.

Readers of my blog will not be surprised that one underlying theme in each of these articles is how the digital environment is changing the way classification is done. Classification is not going away any time soon. Far from it.

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