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Society for the History of Natural History

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Message from SHNH President November 2012

Message from SHNH President November 2012

It is customary for any new president to introduce him/herself. First, I need to apologise that some of us, on the new SHNH Council, have had a very hard time recently (with bereavements and a very serious road traffic accident to deal with and we may not have been as responsive as people could wish. But things are slowly recovering, and we promise to do the best we can in future (like all good volunteers).

Next, I must sincerely thank my predecessor, Geoff Moore, for the sterling example he has set me. I fear he will prove a hard act to follow. But our Society itself seems in good stead, holding fascinating meetings (thanks to Gina Douglas) and providing a highly readable, as well as scholarly, journal – The Archives of Natural History – thanks to past editor Charles Nelson. We wish the new editor, Peter Davis, similar success in future. The role of the Society’s Newsletter, is just as important, in informing members of what is afoot, thanks to Elaine Shaughnessy’s hard work.

I am a geologist by training, and only a historian by inclination. My biggest hope is that we can extend the international reach of our Society, and, as Geoff has demanded, I too hope that we can all introduce new members to the fascinating histories we cover, right across the natural sciences. We do, however, face continual problems in a world which, despite its being so well informed, becomes instead more ignorant by the minute.

We first need to ensure that our own archives, currently stored at the Natural History Museum, are secure. We also need to keep a constant watch, as our Public and University Libraries dispose of more and more printed materials. In my own University’s case, this is simply because, according to its library website, "old and superseded texts can be misleading, or worthless, and unsought material can obstruct the search for relevant items". However wrote that needs to meet a few more historians, whose task is surely to know what material to seek, and not to be misled!

I am currently trying to get to the bottom of the secret sales at Worcester Public Library, of which I first read in Private Eye, the satirical magazine which has a regular column of "Library News", but which is always depressing. These sales allowed the once wonderful library of the Worcestershire Natural History Society, founded in 1833 (and which was highly influential in encouraging other County-wide Natural History Societies to form Museums and Libraries elsewhere) to be sold at auction, among their ‘old and useless stock’, last year. All this raised over a quarter of a million pounds, towards funding its new Privately Financed Initiative library in Worcester. It also raised hardly an eyebrow, as no one was aware of these sales, until it was too late. Such library disasters are a cause I would like to take up, so if any members learn of similar disasters being under consideration, or having happened, please give us early warning.

Hugh Torrens
SHNH President