History of AAHPSSS

AAHPSSS: The Conception and Nativity of A2HPS3

Guy Freeland

Or, to be exact, the conception and nativity of AAHPS/A2HPS3, as the Association only acquired the serpentine hiss to its tail, by adding two further Ss, in 1979.

Not a little confusion seems to have arisen as to when exactly the Association was founded. The source of this confusion lies in the fact that two UNSW HPS Conferences were held, in 1966 and 1967 respectively, prior to the first AAHPS Conference, sensu stricto, in 1968. There is, in reality, no doubt at all as to when the Association was formed. Rod Home, during his prandial speech at the 25th Anniversary Dinner, appropriately quoted the curt, definitive and totally unequivocal opening sentence of Bob Gascoigne’s editorial to the very first Newsletter of the Association, published in 1968: “The Association was founded in August 1967”. To be even more precise, it was founded at a business meeting held at the second Kensington HPS Conference on Friday, 18th August, 1967, when the Constitution was approved and the first officers elected.

My recall of the exact sequence of events which led up the foundation of the Association might, after a lapse of some twenty-seven years, be somewhat hazy. Fortunately, I had reason to make a note of my recollections, on which I intend to call, much closer to the actual events; in fact, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary celebrations, which took place at the Annual Conference held at the University of Wollongong in 1977. (I still have a photograph, taken by Monica MacCallum, of the Melbourne HPS department, of your correspondent, in his capacity as retiring President, ritually devouring the uncommonly toothsome tenth anniversary cake, supplied by Wollongong’s Margaret Campbell.)

While birth dates are as a rule not hard to ascertain, and that of A2HPS3 is not an exception, dates of conception are another matter. The suggestion that it would be worth considering the formation of an HPS association was first mooted – according to my recollection in 1977 of Jack Thornton’s recollection over a decade earlier (Jack Thornton was Foundation Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at UNSW) – by the philosopher of science, George Schlesinger. However, nothing further came of the idea at the time (and I do not know in what year the suggestion was made). However, the transition from the twinkle in an academic eye to conception occurred, it could, with a modicum of plausibility, be maintained, during a discussion between Jack Thornton and myself on a balmy Summer day in 1965 – although, of course, like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland boating excursion on the Thames, it might, according to the official meteorological records, in fact have been pelting with rain. Whatever the the [sic – JG] weather, certainly the upshot of that meeting was a decision to hold a conference at UNSW at which a pow-wow could be held to discuss the possibility of forming an association. Of course, the trouble with proposing anything is that one is almost certain to get landed with organising it, and the instance in question was no exception.

In May, 1966 a conference was held – with myself as Conference Secretary – and at that conference a meeting was duly called on Tuesday the 24th May, to discuss the formation of an association. The proposal was favourably received and a steering committee was formed to draft a constitution – with, of course, yours truly as convener – and a decision reached to hold a further conference at UNSW the following year to consider the Constitution and (hopefully) launch the Association.

In August, 1967 the second UNSW Conference was held with – you have guessed it – myself again drawing the short straw. After the usual interminable arguments, which always seem to accompany constitutional deliberations, AAHPS was formally inaugurated. Ding Dyason, then Reader-in-Charge of the Department of HPS at Melbourne, was elected President, Jack Thornton Vice-President and myself Secretary-Treasurer – an iniquitous combination of functions which was later rectified by the revised Constitution of 1969. The biggest problem, concerning the debate over the Constitution, was that of whether the Association should or should not follow the Australasian Association of Philosophy in having a Council which could function as the formal professional body for HPS in Australasia. The view was expressed that a Council, with carefully defined membership, could prevent the small number of academics working in HPS and related fields from being swamped by an imagined influx of alien beings who might take the Association over. It was also argued that such a body could prove invaluable if some terrible crisis should arise threatening the continuing existence of the discipline in the Fifth Continent. In the event, the Council has proved to be nothing more than an unnecessary encumbrance; indeed, the only time that it is momentarily brought back from Limbo is when Constitutional changes need to be effected. With hindsight, creating a Council was a mistake, but that the ’67 meeting decided, eventually, to play it safe was, I think, indicative of the insecurity felt by what was at that time a very small academic community. The following year, 1968, saw the first AAHPS Conference, held at the University of Melbourne with, this time, the gods be praised, Rod Home as Conference Secretary.

In 1967 there were just two departments of HPS – at the Universities of Melbourne and New South Wales, with the only chair being at UNSW– plus a few odd lectureships here and there. The growth of the metascientific disciplines since then has been significant, and the promptings of Vice-Chancellors and University bodies by the Association over the years has almost certainly done something to promote this growth. The Association also was instrumental (largely through the efforts of its then Secretary Mike Hoare) in getting the National Committee of the Australian Academy of Science established. Another landmark, of course, was the appearance of Metascience, volume 1/2, 1984, with Randall Albury of NSW as Foundation Editor. Although not strictly speaking an organ of A2HPS3, the publication of the first volume in the Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science series in 1982, with Rod Home as General Editor, should also certainly be mentioned as a highlight of the Association’s first quarter century.

Since its inception, the Association has played a continuing and useful role in the life of the HPS/STS community in these Antipodean climes; my A2HPS3 go from strength to strength during the next quarter of a century!

School of Science & Technology Studies
University of New South Wales

Reproduced, with the permission of the author, from the AAHPSSS Newsletter, March 1993 (number 44).

The Editorial to the first number of the Newsletter of the Australasian Association for the History and Philosophy of Science, 1968 (written by Dr. R.M. Gascoigne)

The Association was formed in August 1967. Its purpose, as laid down in its constitution, is “the furtherance of the study of the history of the sciences, technology, and medicine; of the philosophy, logic, and methodology of the sciences, and of related subjects”. Membership is open to anyone interested and is effective upon payment of the membership fee of one dollar per year. Applications for membership should be addressed to the Secretary-Treasurer, Dr. G.A. Freeland, School of History and Philosophy of Science, University of New South Wales . . . .

The main activity of the Association is its annual conference which will normally be held in either Melbourne or Sydney. Before the Association was formally inaugurated two conferences were held, in 1966 and 1967. . . . The next conference will be held at the University of Melbourne from the 15th to the 17th August, 1968. Details are available from the convenor, Dr. R.W. Home, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne . . . .

The Association does not intend to divide itself into two branches, one for history of science and one for philosophy of science. While it is recognized that the interests of individual members will be predominantly in one field or the other, and that the programmes of the conferences will normally be divided accordingly, it is nevertheless part of the Association’s aims to bring the two fields together as much as possible – to invite philosophers of science to be more historically-minded, and historians of science more philosophically-minded, as well as inviting scientists to be both. Nor does the Association intend to restrict itself to a literal interpretation of history and philosophy of science: either of these terms can readily be stretched to include, for example, the sociology of science. Indeed, the initials H.P.S. might be taken to signify “metascience” – the second order study of science from any point of view. And the Association takes science to include the social sciences as well as the natural sciences and mathematics (and their applications in technology and medicine).

The list of subscribers for the year: 1967/68

Mr. R.H. Austin (UNSW)
Miss D.J. Dyason (Melbourne) President
Dr. G.A. Freeland (UNSW) Secretary-Treasurer
Dr. R.M. Gascoigne (UNSW) Editor of the Newsletter
Dr. E.B. Gasking (Melbourne)
Mr. I.C. Hinckfuss (Queensland)
Dr. R.W. Home (Melbourne) Convenor of the 1968 Conference
Rev. Dr. D.S. Kewsley (UNSW)
Dr. H.M. Lacey (Sydney)
Dr. W.H. Leatherdale (UNSW)
Mr. M.K. Rennie (Auckland)
Dr. J.J. Smolicz (Adelaide)
Mr. D.C. Stove (Sydney)
Professor J.B. Thornton (UNSW) Vice-President

Reproduced from the AAHPSSS Newsletter, March 1993 (number 44).