HISTORY OF ESA’S HISTORICAL RECORDS COMMITTEE
A draft of the early years, based on the proceedings of ESA meetings
The first iteration of the Historical Records Committee started in 1943, but the seeds of its origin were planted six years previously. Meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1936, ESA passed a motion that called for appointing a committee to find a suitable location for archiving historic documents. The appointed members, dubbed the Committee on Repository for Historical Records of the Ecological Society of America, were Charles C. Adams (chair), George D. Fuller, and Robert F. Griggs. The Committee was asked to find a central location, to facilitate the transport of documents. A few years later, during World War II, the American Antiquarian Society provided an additional incentive for a central location, urging that professional organizations locate their documents away from population and industrial centers, especially those on the coasts, to avoid losses in the event that warfare occurred in North America (p. 227, Ecology 1940). In 1941, the repository committee suggested that members safeguard their papers during the war, even to the point of sending them away from population centers.
The need for an archive was as clear then as it is now: There were concerns about losing papers that documented the history of both ESA and ecology, especially those in the files of aging members. In one appeal, the committee wrote, “The history of any important scientific advance should be properly documented, and this cannot be done without the hearty support of the members of the Society.” C. C. Adams went on to write, “As chairman of the Committee, I would be pleased to hear from all former officers of the Society regarding the amount and condition of the official files in their possession, so that we may be able to plan to better advantage.”
After six years of searching, the repository committee reached an agreement with the University of Cincinnati, a choice likely influenced by two of ESA’s leaders who were on the faculty there—William A. Dreyer, ESA’s secretary at the time, and long-time member E. Lucy Braun. The agreement was approved at ESA’s annual meeting, held that year in Cleveland. The committee reported on this development in the Bulletin (1944, vol. 25, p. 3) and in Ecology (vol. 25, April), noting that:
“The initial deposit of the records will consist of complete bound sets of Ecology, Ecological Monographs, and the Bulletin, the latter presented by Dr. George D. Fuller, University of Chicago. It will also include copies of the Constitution, Articles of Incorporation, The Naturalist’s Guide, and Reports of the Committee on Nomenclature. In addition the Committee plans to assemble a collection of miscellaneous papers including letters, reprints, photographs, etc., having appropriate historical value. Members of the Society having such material which they wish to contribute, please communicate with a member of the Committee or the Secretary.”
The Committee on Repository for Historical Records was thanked and dissolved, but not until after a motion was passed that a new committee be appointed—the Committee on Historical Records, to be composed of ESA’s secretary (William A. Dreyer), an elected member (Theodore Just), and the University of Cincinnati Librarian (Edward A. Henry, ex officio). ESA president at the time was Robert F. Griggs, a member of the repository committee. Two years passed before this new committee was listed as an official ESA committee. Initially, Secretary Dreyer was the chair. William A. Castle became the chair when he was elected secretary in 1949.
The Historical Records Committee (HRC), as it would eventually be called, was asked to “provide guidance as to the character of the material desired and the conditions for consulting the files, so that there will be continuity of policy and a continuous record of the growth of the historical collection.” As will be described, this mission evolved over the years and today the HRC works as well to facilitate research on the history of ESA.
—to be continued
NOTE: Anyone is encouraged to provide insights, observations, and suggestions that are pertinent. Please send such information to Dennis Knight, current HRC chair (firstname.lastname@example.org).