Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology

Waclaw Szybalski

New Year’s is not only a time to look ahead, but it's also a time to look back and honor those that have enriched our institution. At the close of this year, we would like to honor Dr. Waclaw Szybalski, world-renowned molecular biologist and CSHL alumnus. Dr. Szybalski’s substantial gift to the Library & Archives enabled the essential renovation and expansion of the Carnegie Building in 2010.


Karl Maramorosch and Waclaw Szybalski in Cold Spring Harbor, summer of 1951 (Courtesy of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia Collection)

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Ghostly Habitues of the Store-House Loft

This ghostly photograph is from 1899 and is part of a scrapbook depicting Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory that was made by Harry Perkins. Harry Perkins, a native Vermonter born in 1877, came under the influence of Charles Davenport and was active in the American Eugenics Society. Harry Perkins gave the scrapbook to Ada Watterson Yerkes, who took a summer course at Cold Spring Harbor. In 1966, Ada’s daughter Roberta Watterson Yerkes donated the scrapbook to the Laboratory.

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Albert F. Blakeslee Postcard - A Special Find

The annual antiques fair held in Cold Spring Harbor Village in September draws many people, including lab employees. This year one lab employee purchased and so kindly donated to the archives a postcard she spotted at the fair. This postcard contains a photograph captioned “Carnegie Building, Cold Spring Harbor, L.I.” The Carnegie Building still exists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as the Carnegie Library. The Carnegie Building was the first research laboratory erected by the Carnegie Institution’s Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor in 1905. On the verso of this picture postcard is a message to Dr. R.A. Gortner at University Farms, St. Paul Minn. The sender’s message:

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Women's History Month - Barbara McClintock

Barbara McClintock in the cornfield at CSHL, ca. 1950s

Barbara McClintock excelled at a time when there were very few women in science. She faced discrimination throughout her studies and work, such as being asked to sit outside the door while the men discussed her experimental results. She couldn’t understand why women and men couldn’t have better relationships and was so perplexed by it, that she believed there must be a biological reason behind it (Nancy Hopkins, Oral History).

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Printing Blunders


I came across this clipping in Sydney Brenner’s Collection. It is a newspaper clipping from the May 10th, 1978, "Daily Camera," about Jean Watson, a Nursing Professor in Colorado. This clipping features a photograph of “Jean Watson;" however, this photograph is not of Jean Watson, but is actually of James D. Watson.


Besides a good laugh and probably some embarrassment for Jean Watson of Boulder, Colorado, this article serves as a reminder of the importance of checking primary resources and conducting research on your own. You can’t trust everything you read; even the professionals get things wrong sometimes.

Evelyn Witkin Collection Processing


Witkin and A.H. Sparrow at the 1947 CSH Symposium

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

Evelyn M. Witkin is an American geneticist whose research has been widely influential in the areas of DNA mutagenesis and DNA repair.

The Evelyn Witkin Collection at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory consists of three series including Dr. Witkin’s professional correspondence with Nobelist Barbara McClintock, Joshua Lederberg, and Ruth Sager among others. There is a complete collection of her personal reprints as well as historical documents related to her work on the “SOS Response”.

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The Office of Technology Transfer Collection


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

The Office of Technology Transfer Collection documents CSHL’s first inroads into the world of Biotechnology.  Research that was initially carried out in academic laboratories led to the development of recombinant DNA techniques.  This in turn stimulated entrepreneurial scientists to create biotechnology companies. Recombinant DNA is the technology that allows us to insert genes from one organism into another to make it produce a protein product, copy the gene multiple times, or give it a new trait. The discovery of recombinant DNA was considered the "birth" of modern biotechnology.  

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Francois Jacob, 1920-2013

Jacob clipping

Last Friday famed molecular biologist Francois Jacob passed away.  Jacob, along with Andrew Lwoff and Jacques Monod, was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for identifying messenger RNA and their work on gene regulation.  This research was conducted during the golden age of molecular biology--the period from the late 1940s until the early 1960s when our understanding of genetics grew leaps and bounds.  Jacob described the tight-knit community of scientists at the time in an oral history interview for Web of Stories:

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CSHL Map and Bluepint Collection Processing

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

“To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper -- maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all...They make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can't see and spaces we can't cover.”
― Robert Harbison, Eccentric Spaces
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is listed on the Historic Register of Places in New York. Our Map and Blueprint Collection is the only place to find many of the unique maps dating from the 1890s. Even the local historical societies do not have these maps, which represent the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.This Collection is truly a record of the evolution of the property, buildings and institution in its entirety.

The Cold Spring Harbor Map and Blueprint Collection consists of topographical maps, architectural drawings, pencil drawings, pencil sketches, and blue prints of the grounds and buildings over the course of 140 years.

These records have been stored on site since their creation, originally in administrative offices under various Laboratory Directors until their removal to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library and Archives. Most of the material designates the sibling institutions that commissioned the work: Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Long Island Biological Association and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

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Banbury Reports Collection Processing

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

In 1976, Charles Sammis Robertson, who lived in Lloyd Harbor, about 5 miles from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, gave his estate on Banbury Lane, together with an endowment for its upkeep, to the Cold Spring Harbor Lab for use as a conference center.  This postcard, incorporating a photo taken by R. Meurer, captures the Charles Sammis Robertson House looking towards Coopers Bluff.


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An Ode to Bacteriophage Lambda


Poem by Richard O. Roblin III, who was a student of James D. Watson at Harvard University in the mid to late 1960s.

Digitized as part of the "Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics" project.