Gegenwärtiges Unbestimmenheit

A couple of posts ago I mentioned my former University of California, Berkeley history professor John Heilbron. He and I last met when I chaperoned my older son Michael Kepler Meo as the lead in the world première opera The Secret Garden, which played on the UC Berkeley campus, and he attended a performance.

One goal of my trip south from Portland to the San Francisco Bay Area had been, to contact local leaders of the Green Party of California, and I, in the company of my young tenor, interviewed Barry Hermanson for a period of a couple of hours. A second goal was to scout the archive of UCB of the Journal of the Russian Physical-Chemical Society, one of the leading associations responsible for raising Russian scientific enterprise, during the middle two quarters of the nineteenth century, to world standard.

Once my translation of Sokolovskaia’s biography of Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve gets published, I want to write the history of that Society — po russkii, Russkoe fiziko-khimicheskoe obshchestvo — and I was aware of, from my graduate school days, that the Berkeley library had a rare virtually complete run (beginning in the 1860s).

But neither the Office of the History of Science and Technology, which John ran for many years, nor the research-assistant librarians at Doe, could find any holding of the Zhurnal; I complained of the apparent disappearance of a holding which I at least find vital.

The folks at Doe advised me, there not only was no holding of the Journal of the Russian Physical-Chemical Society, there was no record of the Library ever owning that rare item.

This evening, years later back at my small Portland place, I found a slip of paper many years old, lost until this evening on the bottom of the tray holding my set of index cards. The handwriting is mine.

Russkoe fiziko-khimicheskoe obshchestvo
Vols. 1-4 chemistry only, subs. vols. in phys. & chem. 1874-1906 each no. has both subjects independently paginated. 1907-1930 volumes issued Section A Chem., Section B Phys.

This is my own record, then.

It continues

Library has: vol. 1, 3-12 [1868, 1870-1879, 1884-1901, 1903-1906]
Section A: 1907-1915, 1925-1930
Section B: 1914-1916, 1925-1930

So, you see, Dear Reader, I did not imagine my past.

Update 22 November 2014: Professor Heilbron, more practiced than i at electronic catalogue searching, has found the Zhurnal among the stacks after all:

Dear Michael,

According to the on-line catalogue, the journal is waiting for you in the Gardiner stacks:

Title Zhurnal Russkogo fiziko-khimicheskogo obshchestva pri Leningradeskom universitete.
Published S.-Peterbrurg [etc.] : Tip-īi︠a︡ B. Demakova [etc.], 1869-1930/
Link to online version(s):
Request an article from NRLF (photocopy or web delivery)
Location Main (Gardner) Stacks
Call No. QD1 .L48
Library Has Bound 1(1869)-46b, 47b -62(1930)//INDEXES [Sect.A] 1(1869-62(1939); [Sect.B] 5(1873)-62(1930)
Shelved Some volumes stored off campus; see NRLF holdings below
View volumes
Location NRLF (UCB)
Call No. QD1 .L48
Library Has v.1, v.3-12, v.17-33, v.34:1-34:2, v.36:1-36:2, v.37:1-37:2, v.38:1-38:2, v.39A:1-39A:2, v.40A:1-40A:2, v.41A:1-41A:2, v.42A:1-42A:2, v.43A:1-43A:2, v.44A:1-44A:2, v.45A:1-45A:2, v.46A-46B, v.47B-48B, v.56A-57B, v.58A-58B, v.59A-59B, v.60A-60B, v.61A, v.61A:1, v.61B, v.62A:1-6, v.62A:7-10, v.62B

A very strange business!

With warm greetings,


— to which development I comment, as follows, to John H.:

Dear John,

Our entire scholarly lives we trust implicitly that librarians, over-qualified for their positions as they are, are competent.

Even if the university is starved, humbled, reduced, and hollowed out to a shell of its former, self, we trust (or at least I did) the librarians to be able to find a holding if it’s there — their main reason for being, after all.

And now, in the case of my own alma mater, that belief has been shattered. I spent two occasions, of at least half an hour each, with a UCB librarian telling me that the electronic catalogue showed no Journal of the Russian Physical-Chemical Society — and I can assure you I gave them the name in Russian!

British scholars with whom I have spoken speak equally discouragingly about the state of their scholarly institutions since the days of Maggie Thatcher, so I do not believe Berkeley is any worse than other outfits.

And I remember the occasion at the Smithsonian when Paul F. had to apologize for the institution having lost a Nobel-Prize laureate’s [I believe it was Willard Libby‘s] original experimental device.

So, John, I am immensely enriched by your bringing what is after all a dream of mine back to life.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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