The Sociology of Knowledge in Classical and Molecular Genetics: The 20th Century Scientific Networks of Barbara McClintock and the Jackson Laboratory

Material Description

Since its inception in 1743, the mission of the APS has been to “promote useful knowledge,” which was the primary impetus for collecting materials on McClintock and the Jackson Laboratory. The 80 tapes come from three different collections and comprise about 125 hours of recordings. The first two collections include interviews conducted by scholars of McClintock’s life and work, professors Evelyn Fox Keller and Nathaniel Comfort. Eight of these tapes include interviews with McClintock herself, who is best-known for her discovery of “jumping genes,” the movement of genetic material between chromosomes, a finding that allowed scientists to better understand the complexity of heritable traits. Additional tapes contain interviews with McClintock’s colleagues who describe her significance, reputation, and personal life. Both collections are uncataloged and have never been accessed by the public. For over 50 years, McClintock performed her research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, one of several independent organizations that promoted scientific discovery in the 20th century. The role of these non-profit associations is further described by the third collection selected for this project, the 50 interviews by Susan Mehrtens detailing the history of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The work at the Jackson Laboratory, founded in 1929, mirrors the shift in genetics from the visible study of reproductive results to the molecular manipulation of genetic material for medical benefits. The Laboratory, which has 26 associated Nobel prizes, played key roles in the establishment of cancer as a genetic disorder, the discovery of stem cells, and the practicality of bone marrow transplants in mammals, among other significant findings. Mehrtens interviewed figures associated with laboratory up to the mid-1980s, and donated the tapes and transcripts to the APS in 1988. The collection is cataloged and can be accessed here:


The American Philosophical Society (APS), one of the largest repositories for the study of genetics and eugenics in the United States, plans to reformat, digitize, and make accessible 80 cassette tapes containing oral histories of scientists involved in the development of classical and molecular genetics during the 20th century. The selected materials focus on some of the most important trends in the 21st-century study of the history of science: the role of social networks, economic support for scientists, and women in science. They include interviews with Nobel prize-winning maize cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock (1978-1980) as well as her professional colleagues. To extend the story into the later 20th century, nearly 50 oral histories from the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, produced in 1985, offer an extended view of the history of genetics as a field of molecular biology, especially as it relates to cancer.


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American Philosophical Society


  • Dr. Patrick Spero (American Philosophical Society)


80 items