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The virtual laboratory

A central goal of this blog is to add to the increasing awareness that the history of science matters to current science -- that historical awareness can inform and transform research questions, educational practices and the ways we communicate science to the public.

Based on our experiences with working scientists, educators and science communicators, this claim is not controversial -- many agree that history is indeed important. The problem that they face in actually using the history of science in their daily work is one of access: where can we find relevant information that we can trust? There is, of course no shortage of bits and pieces distributed throughout the web, but much of it is not peer reviewed or follows a common standard that would allow us to evaluate the quality of information.

To be sure, historians of science have written many high quality books and scholarly articles,  but these are not easily accessible to a working scientist either. Often they are written for a specific professional audience that favors scholarly interpretation over data driven documentation. Furthermore, the professional practices of the humanities have not yet fully embraced the values of openly sharing data and sources.

Fortunately, this situation is beginning to change. The number of historical projects that provide guided access to the older primary scientific literature is gradually increasing. Guided access is important as fully understanding the historical literature requires skills and an awareness of different languages, vocabularies, and concepts.

In this blog we will introduce exemplary projects that are an important resource for the scientific community. Up first, "The Virtual Laboratory," developed at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

This project focuses on the history of physiological research and has digitized and annotated a substantial amount of the primary literature in searchable form. But the project has been going beyond a simple digitization effort. It enables users to explore the history of experimental biology in a virtual environment. It also encourages contributions by both historians and scientists who increasingly recognize its educational potential. The laboratory has become an important and widely recognized resource and we encourage everybody to explore this fascinating period of experimental biology for themselves.

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