Center for Humanities

The Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology was created in 2018 to establish a permanent home for the humanities at CSHL, one of the world’s premier private, nonprofit scientific research institutions.

The Center promotes humanistic understandings of modern biology and medicine and offers a variety of educational programs. We organize public events, host virtual and physical exhibitions, and create and publish resources for popular and scholarly audiences. The center also awards a range of visiting fellowships and internships.

Since its inception the Center has also taken over CSHL’s oral-history initiative and the lab’s series of annual History of Science meetings, both of which are aimed at creating and preserving historical records to complement the material in our archives. The CSHL history meetings are distinctive in bringing participants who shaped a significant field of scientific research together with current practitioners, educators, and historians of that field. These activities have been supported by donors including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

The Center is guided by an advisory board of distinguished historians, scientific researchers, and biotechnology pioneers, including two Nobel laureates and two past presidents of the History of Science Society.

The Center is located in CSHL’s historic Carnegie Building alongside the library and archives. The archives preserve an internationally significant collection of primary material on the life sciences and medical research since 1890. In addition to institutional records from CSHL and a variety of precursor institutions and philanthropic organizations, the archives hold personal collections of nearly three dozen notable scientists from around the world.

Center initiatives:

              Oral history collection: https://library.cshl.edu/oralhistory/

              Public outreach events: http://library.cshl.edu/center-events

              History of science meetings: https://library.cshl.edu/Meetings/History-of-Science

              Fellowship program: http://library.cshl.edu/grants

PEOPLE

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE:

Ludmila (Mila) Pollock, Executive Director

Founder of the CSHL Center for Humanities & History of Modern Biology, Mila Pollock has been the Executive Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library & Archives since 1999. She received an MLS and an advanced degree in scientific retrieval and theory in Russia and a second MLS from St. John's University, NY. For over twenty years she has led many grant-funded projects and has been involved in creating a wide range of educational programs. Along with her work developing the CSHL library and archives, Mila has interviewed almost two hundred prominent international scientists in molecular biology, genetics, and biotechnology (link: OH collection) and established the successful, internationally-attended, History of Science series of meetings hosted annually by the Center and the Meeting and Courses Department.

Alistair Sponsel, Ph.D., Historian of the Life Sciences

Alistair works as a liaison between humanities scholars (and other potential users of the CSHL historical collections) and the scientists and archives and library staff at CSHL. An experienced researcher and educator, he contributes to all the Center’s programming and outreach as well as pursuing scholarship in the diverse topics represented by CSHL’s historical collections. Before coming to CSHL he taught at Harvard and Vanderbilt universities and held fellowships at the Smithsonian Institution, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. His publications include the book Darwin’s Evolving Identity: Adventure, Ambition, and the Sin of Speculation (Chicago, 2018).

Tara Bonet-Black, Administrative Assistant

ADVISORY BOARD:

Chair: Richard Roberts, Director of Research
New England Biolabs
Nobel laureate

Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science
Harvard University

Elof Carlson, Historian and Professor Emeritus
Stony Brook University

Angela Creager, Thomas M. Siebel Professor in the History of Science
Princeton University

Walter Gilbert, Carl Loeb University Professor
Harvard University
Nobel laureate

Philip Goelet, President
Acidophil, LLC

John Hawkins, Vice Chairman and Board Director
Odgers Berndtson, LLC

Leroy Hood, President
Institute for Systems Biology

Jack Meyers, President
Rockefeller Archive Center

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Assistant Professor of Medicine
Columbia University Medical Center

Mila Pollock, Executive Director, Library and Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Charlie Prizzi, VP Development, Government & Community Relations
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Bruce Stillman, President & CEO
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Waclaw Szybalski, Professor Emeritus, McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Charles Weissmann, Chairman, Professor, Department of Infectology
Scripps, Florida Campus

Jan Witkowski, SBS Professor, Banbury Center
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Institutional Archives

The Institutional Archives, which documents the 125-year history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory through collecting the materials of its researchers as well as records relating to the Lab’s operations. These include administrative records, contracts, trustees’ meeting minutes, plans and blueprints, and reprints. These materials not only document the scientific legacies of the Laboratory and its faculty, but also the professional and social interactions of CSHL researchers.

CSHL Archives Mission

Officially established in 1972, the CSHL Archives houses unique materials relating to breakthrough discoveries and world-recognized research from 1890, as well as, participates in broad scholarly and educational programs.

The mission of the CSHL Archives is to identify, collect, preserve, and provide access to original materials documenting the history of molecular biology and genetics worldwide and the 125- year history of CSHL and its role in modern biology. This documentary evidence is made available worldwide. In doing so, the CSHL Archives strives to advance its role as a premier repository of documents reflecting the development of molecular biology and genetics.

The CSHL Archives:

  • Provides access to our materials to scholars, students, educators, and the public
  • Promotes leading-edge uses of these materials by scholars, authors, filmmakers, visual artists, and other creatives
  • Develops scholarly, educational, and public programs for the worldwide community

The CSHL Archives fulfills its mission by:

  • Identifying, acquiring, and preserving original materials (rare books, manuscripts, lab notebooks, correspondence, photographs, scientific reprints, born digital, etc.) on the history of molecular biology, genetics, life sciences, and biotechnology
  • Digitizing our collections to reach as broad an audience as possible
  • Offering scholarships to support research using primary resources on different topics in molecular biology, genetics, life sciences, and biotechnology
  • Offering a fellowship program for professionals who are interested in learning and building professional skills in scientific archives
  • Organizing annual history of science meetings and special events that bring together scientists, scholars, journalists, and the public to discuss the intersection of science and history
  • Creating and curating exhibitions

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Availability of Material

For specific information on the availability of materials or to arrange an appointment to use the Archives, please contact (516)367-8414 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please consult our Permissions & Copyright Policies for any materials you wish to use.

This collection was processed under the grant History and Development of Molecular Biology: New Sources through the Hidden Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Collections (1890-1910), (NAS11-RB-50178-11). Funding provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. nhprc-2-m