Preserving Departmental Histories

By Robert Arns and George Zimmerman

The two of us, members of the Forum Executive Committee, have taken over from retiring member David Jackson as the advocates for writing and creating a register of institutional and departmental histories. The Forum renews its call (from APS News, January 2007, ‘and “History of Physics” newsletter, Spring 2008, p. 5) to every physics department to help preserve its history and record of accomplishments by updating an existing history or preparing a new one. Such a coherent historical narrative may be supplemented by specialized records and documents—for example, annual faculty lists and course descriptions from university catalogs. These histories and records should be deposited with the AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives and entered in the Forum’s new Register of Departmental Histories and Records (see below).

If an up-to-date historical record is not already on file at the Bohr Library, the Forum urges a physics department to prepare or update a history of its department and any research laboratories, and to send a copy (in whatever form) to the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, c/o Joseph Anderson, AIP Center for History of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843 (email: Placing these historical documents on the departmental web site would also give interested parties better access to them.

The Forum has established a separate Register of Departmental Histories and Records, to be published periodically in the “History of Physics” newsletter and on its web site. Entries should be standard bibliographic citations, indicating availability in institutional or departmental libraries, through web links, and (we hope) at the Bohr Library. This Register will provide another tool for obtaining information about past activities in physics research and education, to serve as a starting point for more focused searches. Please send Register entries for existing histories, other materials and new entries as they are produced to George Zimmerman, Physics Department, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215 (email: The materials themselves should be sent to the Niels Bohr Library at the above address.

The Forum congratulates those departments with an up-to-date history on file in its library and at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. If such a history does not exist, please prepare one! Forum members are encouraged to take the initiative in doing so.

Register of Departmental Histories and Records

Submitted January 2007 to July 2008

American Physical Society
“History of the APS Forum on Physics and Society”

Boston University
“History of the Boston University Physics Department, 1906 to 1970” by George O. Zimmerman

University of California, Berkeley
“History of the Physics Department, University of California, Berkeley, 1950–1968” by August Carl Helmholz, edited by John David Jackson (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2004), 75 pages. availability: UCB Physics Department; UCB Library; Niels Bohr Library

Case Western Reserve University
“Physics at a Research University: Case Western Reserve 1830–1990” by William Fickinger (Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University, 2006), 360 pages. availability: Library of Congress, Catalog LCCN 2005933988; also at the CWRU bookstore and on the web at

University of Hawaii Physics Department
“History of the UH-Manoa Physics Department,” compiled by Vincent Z. Peterson
“Dirac and Heisenberg in Hawaii,” by San Fu Tuan
Both available at

University of Hawaii Institute for Astrophysics
“Origins of Astronomy in Hawaii,” by Walter Steiger
“Astronomy in Hawaii, 1964–1970,” by John Jefferies
Both available at

Michigan Technological University
“History of the Physics Department, Michigan Technological University”

University of Notre Dame
“Seventy Years of Nuclear Physics at Notre Dame: 1937–2007” by Michael Wiescher
“History of the Department of Physics”
“The Early History of Nuclear Physics at Notre Dame”
“The First Accelerator at Notre Dame”
“Accelerator Memoirs,” by Cornelius. P. Browne
“Early Days of Nuclear Physics at Notre Dame and the Manhattan Project”
“The Nuclear Structure Laboratory at Notre Dame,” by Michael Wiescher
“Cornelius P. Browne, 1923–2005”
All available at

Purdue University
“History of the Purdue Physics Department”
Newsletter articles and other material, collected on a web site:

Williams College
“Williams College’s Hopkins Observatory: The Oldest Extant Observatory in the United States” by Jay M. Pasachoff, published in Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 1:1 (1998), 61-78.