Subfonds SCHM1 - International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind

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International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind


  • 1944-1974, predominant 1947-1969 (Creation)

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12.74 linear meters of textual records and graphic material (95 boxes)

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Administrative history

In 1946 those attending the meeting of the first Preparatory Commission of UNESCO agreed that it was part of fundamental mission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to lay the foundations for a collective memory of humanity and of all its parts, spread all over the world and expressing themselves in every civilization. From December 12 to 16 1949 a Committee of Experts prepared a plan of the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind. The International Scientific Commission with the apparently gigantic task of drafting a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind came into being four years later, when the 5th General Conference (Florence, Italy, June 1952) decided to undertake the publication of the history. Publication of the six volumes began in 1963, marking the successful conclusion of an international endeavour without parallel, but not without risks. Success with general public was immediate and lasting, notwithstanding the reservations expressed by the critics, who often found certain choices disconcerting but were not consistent in the choices and interpretations they proposed as alternatives. UNESCO published a completely revised edition in the 1980s and a third edition in 2009.


Archival history

The SCHM archives were transferred in 1978 and declassified in 1979 according to the decision of the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO. An inventory was then prepared by the archives service that year. The notebooks of G.S. Métraux, listed in the 1979 inventory as box SCHM 66, were considered confidential and were therefore separated from the other records, and stored in a safe. When a late accrual was added in 1979, the number SCHM 66 was reused by accident. The accrual included files with file plan codes, files without codes, illustrations and plates, ledgers and a series of manuscripts. Most of this accrual was later arranged and described as series 11 at the time of description of the sous-fonds in AtoM. The manuscript series was processed as part of the manuscript collection under code CIHDSCH/2, but was reintegrated as part of the SCHM sous-fonds as series 12 also at the time of data-entry in AtoM. The Métraux notebooks were entered as series 13 at this time as well.

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Scope and content

Subfonds contains official and unofficial files, papers, letters, memoranda, manuscripts, maps, illustrations, photographs, etc. of the International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind as maintained by its Secretariat. The records reflect the preparation, publication, and reception of the six volumes of the History, as well as the publication of the Journal of World History. The original filing plan used by the Secretariat has been respected with only slight modifications. A 1979 accrual which has been added as series 11 is arranged according to filing plan codes where they were used, and then by original order at transfer. Also from the 1979 accrual, a manuscript series has been arranged as series 12. A last series 13 was created for the personal notebooks of the Secretary-General of the Commission, G.S. Métraux. On the file level, most of the items follow a strict chronological order but the copies and drafts have not been completely weeded through. Records date predominantly from 1947 when the General Conference resolved to begin the preparation of the History, to 1969 when the International Commission was dissolved. There are, however, some earlier documents collected by the Secretariat, and some later records added to the files prior to transfer to the Archives.

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Conditions governing access

Open according to UNESCO Access Rules. Users are asked to show restraint on materials which might affect the privacy of living persons.

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Publication note

Petitjean, Patrick: The Ultimate odyssey: the birth of the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind project. In: Sixty years of science at UNESCO 1945-2005; Paris, UNESCO, 2006.

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-UNESCO. (1979). International Commission for a History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind: inventory of archives, 1944-1969. PRS.79/WS/6. Available online in UNESDOC, accessed 16-11-2015:

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