Birky, C. William Jr., 1991-1995
Scope and Content
The Dr. Matthew Meselson Collection is composed of two record groups: Professional Materials and Chemical and Biological Warfare Materials.
Materials in the first record group were accrued by Dr. Matthew Meselson during his doctorate work at the California Institute of Technology from 1953-1957 under Linus Pauling, his tenure as an Assistant Professor at Caltech, his work with Franklin Stahl in 1955-1957 demonstrating self-replication of DNA, and his tenure as a Professor at Harvard University beginning in 1960. The collection consists of correspondence, laboratory files, course notebooks, photographs, reprints, X-ray films, and graphs. The date range is from 1948-2022.
Materials in the second record group consist mainly of correspondence and reports concerning Dr. Meselson’s efforts for the cessation of biological and chemical warfare in Vietnam; research concerning this type of warfare—such as rapid detection methods and investigations into the ‘yellow rain’ allegations—and its effects on humans; and political work and activism, including work with the Pugwash Conferences and the ratification of the Geneva Protocol by the United States, eventually leading to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. The date range is from 1944-2020.
The Biological and Chemical Warfare series consists of general correspondence and reports. Frequent correspondents include Martin Kaplan (World Health Organization), Julian Perry Robinson (Stockholm Institute Peace Research Institute), and Henry A. Kissinger. Along with fellow concerned scientists and citizens, Meselson advocated for research to be done on the short- and long-term effects of the usage of biological and chemical weapons on civilian populations and environments. He also advocated to high-ranking United States government and military officials for the cessation of the “rainbow herbicides” and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The U.S. military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 U.S. gallons of chemicals during Operation Ranch Hand, which are still affecting the population today. Among other weapons opponents, Meselson attended Pugwash Conferences, founded by Joseph Rotblat and Bertrand Russell.
Series II: Herbicide contains not only Meselson correspondence but also materials from Arthur Westing and Eleanor Mathews, Meselson’s assistant. In August 1970, Meselson, Westing, and Robert E. Cook traveled to Vietnam for a study commissioned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science of the effects of military use of herbicides in Vietnam. While there, Mathews handled Meselson’s office at Harvard University.
Materials in the Yellow Rain series are related to Meselson’s investigation of the 1981 claims of U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig Jr., that the Soviet Union had supplied a chemical weapon to the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao. The alleged weapon took the form of sticky yellow liquid, which killed plants and sickened people who came into contact with it. Meselson, after testing samples and traveling with a team to Laos in 1983, concluded the substance was fecal matter of the giant Asian honeybee.
Series IV: Sverdlovsk Correspondence contains materials accrued during Meselson’s 1986 and 1992 investigations of the April 2, 1979, anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, Soviet Union (now Yekaterinburg, Russia). Meselson’s findings initially agreed with the Soviet assessment that the outbreak was caused by a contaminated meat processing plant. In 1991, this assessment was undermined by an investigation by Wall Street Journal Moscow Bureau Chief, Peter Gumbel, and a 1992 admission by President Boris Yeltsin that Soviet military development was the cause. Meselson led a team, which included his wife, Jeanne Guillemin, to the region in June 1992 and eventually determined all 68 victims affected by the outbreak had been downwind at the time of the release of the spores via aerosol.
The final series of the second record group contains scientific materials related to research and presentations concerning rotifers and introns.
The collection is organized into two record groups:
Record Group I: Professional Materials, 1948-2010From the Collection:
- Correspondence, 1951-2019
- Laboratory Files, 1953-1996
- Writings, 1987-2013
- Subject Files, 1948-2022
- Awards & Honors, 1975-2009
Record Group II: Biological Chemical Warfare Materials, 1944-2020From the Collection:
- Biological and Chemical Warfare Correspondence, 1962-2016
- Herbicide Correspondence, 1944-2010
- Yellow Rain Correspondence, 1970-2012
- Sverdlovsk Correspondence, 1980-2004
- Rotifers and Introns, 1962-2020
- Other: 1991-1995
- From the Collection: Meselson, Matthew, 1930- (Person)
Some restrictions apply to this collection. Materials containing recent email addresses, addresses, or other personal information are restricted and not available for use. Access is given only by appointment, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Language of Materials
From the Series: English