Over the past three years, the Branch Organization Committee (BOC) has advanced three themes to illustrate the value proposition that ASM Branch membership offers. The first, "Where everybody knows your name," was networking; the second, "Come Join Us," was an invitation to experience excellent Branch programing; and last year's "Branches @ASM" was to encourage members to include Branches in their social networking experience. This year the BOC has elected to highlight the past in order to focus on our future. In an era with instant access to facts through Google and other online search tools, we thought it time to reflect on our past and learn how Branches and ASM have advanced our discipline and provided for many their first experience at a scientific meeting.
The 35 Branches of ASM have a long and varied history. From our oldest (Connecticut Valley, New York City, and Washington, D.C., all established in 1917), to our most recent (Alaska, established in 1983), each Branch has played a unique role in the history and development of the science of microbiology. ASM has made a commitment to preserving and presenting the history of microbiology through its Center for the History of Microbiology/ASM Archives (CHOMA), housed at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). Although Branches maintain their own individual Archives, CHOMA also contains many Branch materials, including newsletters, correspondence with ASM Headquarters, and meeting programs. I urge you to check out the new Branch link on the CHOMA page (http://www.asm.org/index.php/membership/branch-histories-in-archives.html) to see what is available.
One significant resource in CHOMA is the collection of Branch histories/chronologies that have been prepared by the Branches themselves at different points in their histories and deposited in the Archives. The CHOMA Committee is encouraging Branches, especially those Branches not currently represented in the collection, to consider updating or preparing new histories/chronologies. Preparing a Branch history would be a great way to preserve the history of the Branch and shed light on its role in the history of the science, and it doesn't have to be a daunting task.
This month I am pleased to share the byline with James Poupard, Chair of the CHOMA Committee. Poupard is a longtime member and Branch Archivist of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch. Last year he published A History of Microbiology in Philadelphia 1880 to 2010-Including a Detailed History of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of ASM from 1920 to 2010 (www.philamicro.com). The book includes an extensive appendix that lists Branch presidents, monthly and special meetings, and a chronology of microbiology in the Philadelphia area.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Branch has numerous resources that Poupard was able to draw on for his project, but even Branches that have a limited number of archival materials could use his approach to create much simpler, smaller-in-scope projects. Poupard started by compiling a chronology of microbiology in the geographical area covered by the Branch. He used the Internet to find histories of academic, medical and industrial institutions in the area, and then assembled the information into a chronology into which he incorporated Branch information. He suggests that Branches formulating such a chronology might consider placing it on their website and encouraging microbiologists at the various institutions in their area to add details to make it into a "living" document. Another possibility is to use the new timeline feature on Facebook.
Gathering Branch materials to add to the chronology can begin with checking out the CHOMA website, and then examining your own Branch's archived materials. Part of the challenge for many Branches will be determining who in the Branch is currently the keeper of the boxes containing the "archives"! Poupard suggests that a key factor in getting started is to designate someone in the Branch who is committed to the project and is ready, willing and able to pull the information together.
Undertaking a Branch history project will require an investment of time and effort, but there are many incentives to make this investment worthwhile. Compiling historical information into a single document allows for easy access to the information. The histories/chronologies can provide subject matter for meetings, newsletters and websites, and they will serve as excellent resources for students and others interested in microbiology. Working on a history project gives various specialty groups, including student members, within the Branch the opportunity to work together on a common project, and provides a means for Branch members to connect and recommit to the Branch and the Society as a whole.
When asked about his experiences writing the history of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch, Poupard commented, "Branch members were excited about the history since so many of them participated in the activities of the Branch over the years, and student members enjoyed it since it gave them insight to how impressive our Branch has been. I enjoyed breaking down all our meetings by decade and subject matter to show how the various percentages of topics changed over time. I think there is even more data there to extract . . . and I hope someday a grad student takes on that task to do a more complete analysis."
Any comments or suggestions will be most appreciated, and as always, to learn of your next opportunity to participate in ASM Branch programming and networking opportunities please go to http://www.asm.org/index.php/membership/branchmeetingscalendar.html and for those of you interested in learning more about ASM Branch Information available in the Center for the History of Microbiology/ ASM Archives (CHOMA) please see http://www.asm.org/index.php/membership/branch-histories-in-archives.html.
Michael G. Schmidt
James A. Poupard