Current trends and needed future research in the area of the history of information science and technology (HIST)

Ein amerikanischer Kollege hatte mich gebeten, aktuelle Trends und mögliche Forschungsthemen für die Geschichte der Informationswissenschaft und Informationstechnology aus deutscher Sicht aufzuschreiben.

Opinion piece on
Current trends and needed future research in the area of the history of information science and technology (HIST)

In Germany there cannot really be noticed any current trend, because research in HIST in Germany is done on a very marginal level. It is done in most cases by amateur historians like me, which are or have been professionals in the information and library area. History of information science and technology from a narrower view is not part in any curricula of German departments in information science and management at German universities. In some cases it is used a stone pit in courses, but positive exceptions exist.

From a more general view there is a growing community of interested scholars and amateurs from a wide range of subjects which include cultural and media history, history of science, history of technology, science studies etc. This is for example seen within the content of the book Boyd Rayward edited and which has been just published (European modernism and the information society : informing the present, understanding the past / ed. by by W. Boyd Rayward. Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2008).

I view information history more and more as part of cultural history. And especially in the history of science the ‚cultural turn‘ makes the relevance of the history of scholarly information and communication more visible. Tools of scholarly research and communication as well as the representation of knowledge and practices of knowledge within the different disciplines have been important as subject of research in the hsitory of science.

From a pure German view on the narrower history of information science, in the last years work is done on the history of the German Society of Documentation (DGD) and its double foundation (the first in 1942 in the time of National Socialism and the second in 1948 shortly after the war). Further on, the role of the German State in information and documentation has been still a topic of further research, e.g. in the book: Informationspolitik ist machbar?! : Reflexionen zum IuD-Programm 1974 – 1977 nach 30 Jahren [Information policy is practicable : reflections of the program in Information and Documentation 1974-1977 after 30 years] / Herget, Josef, … (Eds.) Frankfurt am Main : Dt. Ges. für Informationswiss. und Informationspraxis, 2005. The promotion through the State started in Germany in the 60ies and lasted at least until the end of the last century.

My own small research, e.g. published in a paper in Boyds book , made a point to the connection between information and advertising. I still deal with Ostwald and have just written a German paper about ‚Ostwald on education‘, a little bit a historical fundament of my activities in my normal job concerning information literacy.

‚In-formation‘ and education has a strong connection for me, and the history of information literacy and library instruction in Germany and elsewhere is a field not covered very often until now, even in the international literature. In the end of his paper in Boyd’s book Michael Buckland mentioned the connection between documentation and the ‚technology/technique of intellectual work‘ what also has strong connections to my area of interest! Efforts and guides to research methods for students grew with the beginning of the 20th century.

Interesting topics for further research in information science and technology may be: the history of information visualization, connections to historical epistemology, embedding information history in cultural history, building and exploring connections to other disciplines, history of educating students and scholars in information practices, history of personal information management and practices over the centuries, …!?