Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology

Press Release: Grant from NYS Documentary Heritage Program makes possible basic processing of CSHL’s “hidden collections”

The Library & Archives of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has received a 2011-2012 Documentary Heritage Program (DHP) grant for “Arrangement and Description of the Hidden Collections of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Legacy Institutions, 1890-1974.”

The amount is $ 17,034 and was awarded as part of the DHP’s mission to ensure the survival of historical records documenting economic change in New York State during the 20th and 21st centuries.

The records pertinent to the grant belong to the entities representing the contemporary Laboratory’s predecessor institutions, and span the period 1890-1974. The project also has provided for basic processing of three personal collections that offer further insight into the work and daily lives of scientists at the Laboratory during that time; and for processing of the collection of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), which existed at Cold Spring Harbor from 1910 to 1944.

The collections are currently available via CSHL’s online Digital Collections Database ( and online catalog, and will be available through the New York State Archives’ Historical Document Inventory (Archives Grid), as well as other union catalogs (National Union Catalog of Manuscripts and digital repositories, according to Mila Pollock, Executive Director of the CSHL Library & Archives and project director of this effort.

“The entire CSHL community and other users of these and related CSHL Archives collections will learn more about the origins and history of CSHL, and recognize the value of these collections in documenting the history of science education and research at CSHL and its connection to New York State’s bioscience industry in the 20th and 21st centuries,” Pollock says.

Read more: Press Release: Grant from NYS...

Eugenics Record Office (ERO) Collection Processing

The Eugenics Record Office Collection is one of the Archive projects being undertaken as part of the New York State Documentary Heritage Program Grants (DHP) grant. Specifically, by processing this previously hidden historic collection materials will be available for scholarly use by global audiences.

The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) was opened in 1910 as part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory then known as the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Director Charles Davenport, superintendent H. H. Laughlin, and the office staff studied problems relating to human heredity until the office closed in 1939. The Eugenics Record Office Collection includes correspondence, documents and photographs from 1910 to 1939. Consistent with the social concerns of the period, the ERO studied the heredity of traits such as "feeble mindedness" and alcoholism, and proposed that social constructions such as "pauperism" were also inherited.

Fieldworkers, primarily women, took summer training course in heredity, Darwinian theories, elementary statistical methods, and eugenics legislation. The fieldworkers worked extensively from 1910 to 1917 taking family histories that were stored for future studies on diseases and insanity. Approximately 96 fieldworkers collected data by way of surveys that included biographical sketches and pedigrees on families from site visits and personal interviews. Many of the field workers finished the summer with a research project involving collecting and analyzing the eugenics data. The ERO Collection includes these published reports.

- E.P., Project Archivist

Watson Named one of the 20 Most Influential Americans of All Time

Time Magazine named Dr. Watson one of the 20 Most Influential Americans of All Time. The diverse list includes the likes of George Washington, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, and fellow scientist Albert Einstein.


Watson is best known for his role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, but he has also contributed greatly to the sequencing of the human genome (as the first head of the U.S. Human Genome Project) and to cancer research (as Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory).

Click here to view the entire list.

New Exhibit: A Natural Bestseller

CSHL Archives is proud to announce a new exhibit entitled "A Natural Bestseller: The Double Helix" which documents the publication of Dr. Watson's famous memoir using material that has been digitized as part of the "Modern Genetics and its Foundations" project. The book was controversial when it was released--many praised its unprecedented insight to the personal lives of scientists, while others dismissed it as simply "gossip".

Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, the two other co-recipients of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA, were both strongly opposed to its release and their threat of legal action led to Watson's American publisher (Harvard University Press) to decided against publishing the book. The exhibit includes a scathing letter from Crick to Watson (6 pages in length) with a laundry list of complaints regarding the manuscript. Crick concludes his letter by noting, "My objection, in short, is to the widespread dissemination of a book which grossly invades my privacy, and I have yet to hear an argument which adequately excuses such a violation of friendship." The letter clearly illustrates why The Double Helix was known as "That Controversial Book". You can view the exhibit online at or in person at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library.

Having a Laugh with Watson

Working on the digitization of the James D. Watson Collection I have literally looked at thousands of documents and while all are of historical note and interest, I have kept note of items that exhibit extraordinary humor. The following items, by themselves, speak volumes about James D. Watson’s relationships with friends and fellow colleagues.

A letter from Francis Crick to James D. Watson in which Crick points out just a few problems he has found in Watson’s speech given at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Read more: Having a Laugh with Watson

Patenting Life

One of the main reasons Dr. Watson resigned from his position as Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research in 1992 was his disagreement with Bernadine Healy (who was then Director of NIH) over the right of scientists and the biotechnology industry to patent gene sequences. Watson believed that human genes were a product of nature, and therefore not patentable. Further, he believed that the Human Genome Project was intended to benefit all of mankind, and that it was unethical for private entities to profit off of the science that was being funded by the project. Others, notably Healy and Craig Venter, disagreed. At the time, pro-patent forces won out-- Watson resigned and Venter went on to establish Celera Genetics and make major contributions to the human genome sequence (all the while filing many patents on his work).

20 years later the debate continues, as evidenced by the recent Myriad Genetics court case. Myriad is being sued by a number of different medical groups, scientists, and patients who believe that Myriad's patents are impeding genetic research. Their core argument mirrors Watson's: Genes are a naturally existing product, and therefore not patentable. Watson has filed a brief for the case which outlines his role in the Human Genome Project and his position on gene patenting.

The James D. Watson Collection contains boxes of material related to Watson's contributions to the HGP, including administrative files from his time as Director of the NCHGR, lectures on the project, and correspondence with many of the major scientists who were involved with shaping the direction of the project. Below are some examples from the collection.

Read more: Patenting Life

The Yeast Collections: James Hicks

The James Hicks, Amar Klar and Jeffrey Strathern Collections are often referred to as the “Yeast Collection” -- this is in reference to their work on the micro-organism at CSHL in the 1980s.

The Yeast Group in 1980

James “Jim” Hicks obtained his B.A. in Biology from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon and in 1975 received his PhD in Molecular Biology and Genetics from the University of Oregon Institute of Molecular Biology. He earned his Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics from the University of Oregon, working with Ira Herskowitz. Dr. Hicks continued his post doctoral studies in Molecular Genetics at Cornell University. From 1977 until 1985 when he left CSHL, Dr. Hicks collaborated with Jeff Strathern and Amar Klar in the Cold Spring Harbor Yeast group where they researched the mechanisms of mating type switching in yeast. Dr. Hicks returned to CSHL as a visiting professor in 2003 and works with Dr. Michael Wigler on the genomics of breast cancer.

Read more: The Yeast Collections: James Hicks

"Modern Genetics and its Foundations" Digitization Project

Postcard from Crick to Watson

Postcard from Crick to Watson, from the James D. Watson Collection at CSHL

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library & Archives is pleased to announce a large-scale digitization project that will provide free, online access to the papers of Nobel Laureates Dr. James D. Watson and Dr. Sydney Brenner. This project is part of the Wellcome Library’s "Modern Genetics and its Foundations" series, and will include the papers of Francis Crick (Wellcome Library), Rosalind Franklin (Churchill College), and Maurice Wilkins (King's College, London), as well as Guido Pontecorvo, James Harrison Renwick and Malcolm Ferguson-Smith (University of Glasgow).

Read more: "Modern Genetics and its Foundations"...

Undergraduate Research Program (URP) Collection Processing

The following is another post in our series highlighting the collections that are being processed through the NHPRC Basic Processing Grant.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Undergraduate Research Program (URP) was established in 1959 to give undergraduate students an opportunity to conduct research in a professional environment. The program was initially composed of 10 American students but today has expanded to 25 international students.

urp 1987

URP Students - 1987

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Building the Foundation of Modern Cancer Research: Four Decades of Discovery within the MIT CCR

The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT recently released a short film documenting the history of its predecessor institution, the Center for Cancer Research (CCR). The film features contributions from both Dr. James D. Watson and former CSHL scientist and Nobel Laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp. The CCR was founded in 1974 by Salvador Luria (who was also one of Watson's early mentors) and has been at the forefront of cancer research ever since.

Processing the Roberto Malinow Laboratory Collection

The following is another post in our series highlighting the collections that are being processed through the NHPRC Basic Processing Grant.

malinow 305 dpi

Dr. Roberto Malinow is a neuroscientist whose research at CSHL focused on synapse transmission. His goal was to increase understanding of the changes that take place in synapses during the development of the neuronal networks and during learning and memory processing.

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The Elof Axel Carlson Collection - Part 3

The following is the third post in a series about processing the Elof A. Carlson Collection under the NHPRC Basic Processing Grant.

Elof Carlson: Renaissance Man

The Elof A. Carlson Papers span Dr. Carlson’s career from his first teaching post at Queens University, Canada through his retirement and second career as a writer. As the bulk of Dr. Carlson’s career was spent at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY on Long Island), the majority of documents reference his life at work at and around that institution. Carlson hand-wrote a significant portion of his work and when donating his papers he was kind enough to include a guide to deciphering his handwriting. He was a habitual doodler and very skilled amateur artist. Many of his academic writings contain hand drawn illustrations. He also authored poetry and plays.

The first major group of papers are in the collection the Teaching Files, which are labeled by course. Titles include "Fall 1969 Biology 101", "Spring 1974 Biology 1974", and "Fall Biology 1975". Many are handwritten and some are on oversized index cards.

Read more: The Elof Axel Carlson Collection -...