Conference on the trends in scientist biographies and its consequences for curators, archivists and researchers of university and scientific collections.

Organized by the Dutch Foundation for Academic Heritage (SAE), Maastricht University, and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Royal Net. Acad. Sc).

Maastricht, 22 March 2019


As a historical and literary genre, the biography has gone through a metamorphosis over the past decades. Until fairly recently, its usual shape consisted of a chronological narrative, from the cradle to the grave, fixed mostly on a more or less autonomous development of the person being described. That has changed significantly: not only is the strict adherence to chronology no longer a given, biographies increasingly focus on a particular aspect of a person’s life. Alternatively, historians seek to investigate someone’s life as part of a wider historical question, be it cultural, economic, or social. And finally, the very term “biography” is often being used in a much broader sense: we see biographies not only of people, but also of objects, geographical features, and even events.

Meanwhile, the digital revolution has radically changed the nature of the information that researchers are interested in. This has had some repercussions for the way in which researchers, archivists, and curators interact. Research questions have become less unified and predictable, and have put new demands upon the way in which collections and archives are organized. As a consequence, the interaction between those that control objects and information, and those that seek to query it, has changed significantly.

The aim of this conference is to create an inventory of these related developments, and explore their consequences for curators, archivists and researchers of university collections alike.

The Organizing Committee invites you to submit abstracts of proposed presentations for this conference. The organizers specifically invite contributions that reflect on the following themes and questions:


  • Written culture
  • Material culture
  • Networks and Network analysis

Main question:

What trends can we discern in biographical research in the history of science, and what are the consequences for keepers and researchers of academic collections?


  • What has changed in writing the biographies of scientists or non-personal scientific entities, and what can we expect in the future?
  • How does the conceptual broadening of what a “biography” means translate into descriptions of objects, buildings and even institutions, in addition to the traditional, person-oriented perception?
  • Which repercussions has the change in research questions entailed for collection policies?
  • What influence does the increased and diversified interest in scientific biography have on the management of – and access to – scientists’ personal archives?
  • How far does the influence of a collection manager extend?
  • How do collection professionals and researchers respond to mutual innovations, such as new research methodologies and new (digital) ways to approach collections?
  • What are the consequences of collecting born digital sources, working with digital network analysis and engaging with linked open data initiatives such as Wikidata.

Organizing committee:

  • Frank Meijer, Dutch Foundation for Academic Heritage (SAE)
  • Ilja Nieuwland, Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Royal Net. Acad. Sc)
  • Odin Essers, Maastricht University