James D. Watson, 2003 - 2013
Scope and Contents
The Oral History Collection contains interviews conducted with 200 scientists within the fields of molecular biology, genetics, and the life sciences between 1990 and 2018. The interviewees provide first-hand accounts of their experiences in the fields of modern biology, such as neuroscience, cancer, genetics, plant genetics, genomics, biotechnology and others, from the 1940s through the 2000s. The collection contains audio and video recordings, as well as transcripts of interviews.
The interviews offer a glimpse into the life of prominent scientists. The interviews discuss scientists' early school days and beginning interests in science to what or who made them choose to go into science. They also include reminiscences about their research and major discoveries, experiences of women in science, the character and life of leading scientists like Barbara McClintock and James D. Watson, the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the nature of the double-helix discovery, the ethics of the Human Genome Project and biotechnology.
Many scientists interviewed for this project have either carried out their research or attended scientific meetings at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Their recollections document not only the history of molecular biology and genetics the but also the laboratory's role in this history. The collection comprises of Hi8 8mm tapes; mini-DV; DVCAM and VHS audio cassette tapes. Most of the interviews from this collection have been transcribed. Interviews which have been digitized can be found at the Oral History Collection page.
The collection is organized into two series: Talking Science Interviews and Presentations. Talking Science Interviews consist of individual scientists, while the Presentations series include clips of oral history interviews that were used for a specific meeting or event.
- Talking Science Interviews, 1990-2017
- Presentations, 2016-2019
- Creation: 2003 - 2013
Conditions Governing Access
Portions of this collection have been digitized and are available online: https://library.cshl.edu/oralhistory/. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions regarding availability.
Biographical / Historical
A member of the Time 100 ‘Century’s Greatest Minds’, Dr. James Watson’s life in science has taken him from the revolutionary discovery of the structure of DNA to the head of the National Institute of Health’s Human Genome Project, and places between.
Dr. Watson was born in 1928 in Chicago, and enrolled at the University of Chicago when he was just 15. His graduate studies in genetics with Salvador Luria took him to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the first time in 1948. His graduate work would eventually bring him to the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where, together with fellow scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and Dr. Watson would discover how the four-nucleotide bases arrange themselves to create the unique identities of each living organism. Their account of the structure of DNA, published in Nature, would win them the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Watson's bestselling account of his time at Cavendish, The Double Helix, was named the No. 7 best work of nonfiction by the Modern Library.
Watson spent two decades at Harvard University, where he penned the revolutionary biology textbook, Molecular Biology of the Gene in 1965. Dr. Watson's distinguished academic career led him to the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1968, where he has pushed the lab towards important steps in cancer research and the causes of mental disease. From 1988 to 1992, Dr. Watson was appointed to head the National Institute of Health in the Human Genome Project. Dr. Watons's genome was the first to be decoded and was made public as part of the project in 2007. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. After forty years as a brilliant educator and administrator, Dr. Watson retired as Chancellor of the laboratory in 2007.
From the Collection: 200 Cassettes
Language of Materials
From the Collection: English