York celebrates the arrival of Isis

Isis, the world’s most prestigious journal  about the history of science, has found a home at York, the first time it has been produced in Canada.

Left: Bernie Lightman and Suzanne MacDonald

“How, you may ask, did we at York ever convince the Americans to let go of it?” smiled proud Isis editor, Faculty of Arts humanities Professor Bernie Lightman, at a reception to launch the opening of the new Isis offices in the University’s Bethune College. “It was possible only with the help of a huge supporting cast of administrators, colleagues and students.”

In particular, Lightman singled out VP Research & Innovation Stan Shapson, Faculty of Graduate Studies Dean John Lennox, Master of Bethune College Paul Delaney and Faculty of Arts Dean Bob Drummond “who, together, offered advice, resources and the needed funding.”

He added, “Another key to our success was the support from students, colleagues and administrators during the on-site visit of the History of Science’s vice-president, Michael Sokal.” Founded in 1924, the History of Science Society produces many publications to foster interest in the history of science and its social and cultural relations. Isis is the official quarterly journal of the History of Science Society.

Lightman said Sokal was greatly impressed with the “depth and breadth” of York’s faculty resources in the history of science, adding, “I have said for years that we have one of the strongest collections of scholars in the field anywhere in the world, and apparently the History of Science Society agrees with that.”

Right, from left: Shannon Caulfield, Tamara Irons, Ian Hesketh and Stephen Gennaro (seated), in one of York’s new Isis offices

In an e-mail prior to the official launch of York’s Isis offices, Sokal said Isis today has the largest circulation of any periodical in its field and is the journal of choice for all historians of science. When the hunt was on for a new editor of the journal from 2000 onward, the History of Science Society’s search committee “grew more and more impressed with the care and thoroughness that Bernie brought to his preparations, and more and more excited by his plans for Isis,” said Sokal. “And now, as he begins his editorship, and his colleague, Katharine Anderson, becomes Isis’s book review editor, the society and its members eagerly await his first issue.”

Yves Gingras, director of the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie and professor in the Department of History at the University of Quebec, is equally excited at a Canadian university taking over the publication’s reins. In an e-mail to Lightman, he said, “It is excellent that Isis be at York and I hope it will stimulate a better participation of Canadian historians of science in its pages and also a presence of Canadian topics, which has been rare in Isis, as compared to American topics. There is no doubt that Isis is the premier international journal for the community of historians of science.”

York Associate VP Research Suzanne MacDonald said it was fitting that Isis would come to York for the publication’s 82nd birthday. “We are a new, innovative University where we are redefining the possible,” she said. “I will read a quote from Isis founder George Sarton, which was written in 1936 but is still relevant today: ‘Knowledge is not something dead and static but something fluid, alive and moving. The latest results are like the new fruits of a tree; the fruits serve our immediate, practical purposes, but for all of that, it is the tree that matters.

“‘The scientist of philosophic mind is not interested so much in the latest results of science as he is in its eternal tendencies, in the living and exuberant and immortal tree.’” Looking at assembled guests MacDonald added, “Here is to Isis – and to Bernie Lightman, Katie Anderson and all of you who will be the guardians of this living and exuberant and immortal tree. I hope this will be an especially fertile time for the tree to grow.”

Isis, which is printed through the University of Chicago Press, publishes articles and book reviews covering all fields and time periods in the history of science, and has over 3,800 subscribers around the world. It features such articles as (from Sept. 2003)  “Competing to Popularize Newtonian Philosophy: John Theophilus Desaguliers and the Preservation of Reputation”, a title that may mask the account, by Jeffrey R. Wiglesworth, of a vicious little battle in early 18th-century London over competing translations of a book written in Latin about Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia.

As editor, Lightman will be working with book review editor Anderson, a Faculty of Arts humanities professor; Ian Slater, managing editor; and students Ian Hesketh (PhD candidate in history), Stephen Gennaro (MA candidate in humanities), Tamara Irons (MA candidate in history) and Shannon Caulfield (undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts, Science & Society Program), who process books for review and manuscripts for evaluation.

Before guests were invited to view the two new Isis offices, Lightman recounted the journal’s history, from 1912 to the time founding father George Sarton took the premier, quarterly publication with him from Belgium to Harvard University. Isis remained under Sarton’s editorship until 1952 and later moved to the University of Pennsylvania, then to the University of Wisconsin and onward to Cornell University.

“Throughout the fall we have been busy preparing for Isis’s move to York,” said Lightman. “The files and books from the Cornell office arrived here just before the Christmas holidays one snowy, mid-December day. The office doors here officially opened January 5th – and my life has not been the same ever since,” he said to laughter. “But the transition has gone very well due to the work of a superb team of colleagues and students.”

Visit the History of Science Society Web site for more information about Isis and its companion publication, Osiris.