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Ernst Mayr, March 2002

 Item — Multiple Containers
Oral History | Ernst Mayr
Oral History | Ernst Mayr

Scope and Contents

Ernst Mayr, the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century, is interviewed by Mila Pollock and Jan Witkowski in Bedford, Massachusetts, on March 31, 2002.

Ernst Mayr reminisces about his visits to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory during the 1940s and 1950s and his relationship with its leading scientists. Other topics discussed are his relationship and work with Theodosius Dobzhansky; Jim Watson at Harvard and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Charles Darwin, and scientific writing.

Ernst Mayr discusses the following in his interview: Scene 1. Ornithology -- Scene 2. Jared Diamond: the New Guinea expeditions -- Scene 3. Russia, 1972 -- Scene 4. Harvard University -- Scene 5. Advent of molecular biology -- Scene 6. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory -- Scene 7. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: atmosphere -- Scene 8. A summer day at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: 1940s -- Scene 9. 1950 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium "Origin and evolution of man" -- Scene 10. 1955 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium: "Population genetics" -- Scene 11. Theodosius Dobzhansky -- Scene 12. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: Drosophila research -- Scene 13. Barbara McClintock -- Scene 14. Milislav Demerec -- Scene 15. Max Delbrück -- Scene 16. Avery's experiment: DNA is the hereditary material -- Scene 17. G. G. Simpson: photograph -- Scene 18. Bruce Wallace: photograph -- Scene 19. Historian: Michael Ruse -- Scene 20. Influence on Jim Watson -- Scene 21 Jim Watson as a young man -- Scene 22. Jim Watson and "The double helix" -- Scene 23. Jim Watson, "Lucky Jim" -- Scene 24. Ed Wilson and Jim Watson -- Scene 25. Bringing Jim Watson to Harvard -- Scene 26. A personal message to Jim Watson -- Scene 27. Harvard biology department -- Scene 28. Physics vs. biology -- Scene 29. Science and writing -- Scene 30. Charles Darwin's books and letters -- Scene 31. Non-scientific interests.


  • March 2002


Conditions Governing Access

Portions of this collection have been digitized and are available online: Select tapes have been digitized thanks to support from CLIR Recordings at Risk Grant awarded in 2021, these tapes are available for research online via our Oral History Website and in person at CSHL Archives. Please contact CSHL Archives with any questions regarding availability.

Biographical / Historical

Ernst Mayr (July 5, 1904-February 3, 2005) has been universally acknowledged as the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century. He earned his Ph.D. in ornithology at the age of 21 from the University of Berlin in 1926. During his tenure at the Berlin Museum, from 1926 to 1930, Mayr led ornithological expeditions to Dutch New Guinea and German Mandated New Guinea. In 1931, he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Ornithology. During his 20-year AMNH tenure, Dr. Mayr described 26 new bird species and 410 subspecies, more than any other living avian systematist. In 1953, Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and served as Director of the Museum (1961-1970). He has published hundreds of papers and eight books, including Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), which became a landmark of evolutionary biology. Mayr has been honored with more than 25 major scientific awards and honors and many honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science (1970), the Balzan Prize in Biology (1983) and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1999) with John Maynard Smith and George C. Williams "for their fundamental contributions to the conceptual development of evolutionary biology." In 1995, Harvard’s Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology was rededicated as the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr was a longtime friend and mentor to Jim Watson.


2 Cassettes (Camcorder footage) : Hi-8 - CSHL1280, CSHL1281

2 VHS (Copies) : VHS - 2043: MAYR_ERNST_01 [1:50:28] unedited (tracking issue around 56 min mark, colors not right); MAYR_ERNST_02 [0:01:42] unedited, (video cuts out around 2 minute mark) ; 110 min

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English