October 2017 HRC Newsletter

From the October 2017 HRC newsletter:

Preserving Historical Records in Ecology: Opportunities and Challenges

By Juliana Mulroy, Sharon Kingsland, Tom Mulroy, Fred Swanson, Charles Nilon, and Alan Covich

The Historical Records Committee (HRC) sponsored a Special Session at the Portland meeting of the Ecological Society of America in 2017 on the theme of “Preserving ecology’s historical record for the 21st century: opportunities and challenges.” Our purpose was to think broadly about what kinds of historical records should be preserved to tell the story of ecological science and environmental history in the next century. Session organizers brought a wide range of experiences, interests, and disciplinary expertise to the task, with the idea of prompting the audience to reflect broadly on future needs and opportunities for historical preservation.
Session organizers were chosen for their institutional diversity and knowledge of different types of data relevant to ecology. From the HRC, organizers were Alan Covich (University of Georgia; tropical ecology, conservation of river systems), Juliana Mulroy (Denison University, plant population ecology, undergraduate education), Sharon Kingsland (Johns Hopkins University; history of ecology), and Charles Nilon (University of Missouri; ecology at agricultural colleges, urban ecology). Two other organizers represented broader interests of ESA members: Fred Swanson (U.S. Forest Service; H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon; long-term ecological research), and Tom Mulroy (environmental consulting in private employ).

Other participants from the Historical Records Committee present were Robert Jones (Provost, Clemson University, forest ecology) and Hal Balbach (emeritus, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers; environmental biology). The audience was exceptionally diverse in their interests and fields of expertise and brought many different perspectives to the Session. These interests included: historical ecology, long-term ecological research, forestry, ecology and evolution (the fusion of genomics, functional ecology, earth system science and informatics), network science, computational humanities, geomorphology and ecology, conservation ecology, and history of science.

As we enter our second century as a society, saving historical records is important not just to the historians of science of the future, but also to ecologists and other environmental scientists who can draw lessons from past experience to improve on how science is organized and conducted.


This newsletter also features a summary by Samuel Schmieding of the efforts of a small team of historians to “transform 65 years of scattered and disorganized records into a professionally-arranged collection.” Often overlooked, records of program development at LTER and other research sites provide valuable insight.

Download the newsletter pdf here.

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