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Joshua Lederberg Papers 1904-2008
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Collection Scope and Content Note


Correspondence, reports, research material, published writings, photographs, committee meeting minutes, electronic records, and audiovisual material document the academic, biomedical research, and public service career of Joshua Lederberg.

Lederberg's papers are detailed and extensive. From the start of his career, Lederberg retained his records in a rudimentary organizational arrangement, with the hope they would be preserved for posterity. Many of the series and sub-series are interconnected. Correspondents and information about the many organizations Lederberg was involved with reappear throughout the collection. There is a large amount of correspondence of both a professional and personal nature; however, the collection does not contain a significant amount of biographical resources, such as correspondence between family members. The exception to this is a small number of letters from Lederberg's brother, Seymour Lederberg, found in Series 3: Correspondence, CD sub-series.

In 1945, Lederberg took a research position with Edward Tatum at Yale University where he conducted the research on E. coli bacteria recombination that resulted in the Nobel Prize. The collection is rich in documentation of this discovery. Series 4: Gentics Research contains Lederberg's original lab notebooks and class notes from his time at Yale University, as a graduate student at Columbia University, his University of Wisconsin experiments with bacteria recombination that won him the Nobel Prize, and material from his involvement in the creation of Stanford University's Department of Genetics. There are reprints, notes and correspondence in Series 5: Writing, Published Writings (P Files) sub-series which pertain to Lederberg's research results from his time at the Tatum lab. There are also unpublished manuscripts, in the Unpublished Manuscripts (Q Files) sub-series, prepared in collaboration with his first wife, Esther Lederberg, describing further experiments with E. coli.

Information about Lederberg's academic teaching career at both Wisconsin and Stanford can be found in the form of notes, correspondence, reports, manuscripts, and other material in Series 2: Academic Career. Between the time Lederberg graduated from Yale and received the Nobel Prize, he applied for and accepted a professorship from the University of Wisconsin. During his years at Wisconsin, Lederberg continued his research, which led to his receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at Melbourne University in 1957. Upon returning to the United States, Lederberg decided to leave Wisconsin to develop and head the new genetics department at Stanford University in 1959.

While at Stanford, Lederberg moved away from pure research and teaching to take on more administrative duties within the university. He served on tenure committees and designed curricula for the department. It was also during this period that Lederberg's involvement in private and government organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Science, President's (Kennedy) Panel on Mental Retardation, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Science (CASBS) surpassed his research activities. Series 8: Public Service is the main source of information on these activities, however records from many of these organizations also appear throughout the collection, notably in Series 2 through 7. Series 8 includes correspondence, individual histories, reports, manuscripts, and news clippings describing the organizations and Lederberg's role in them. Several of the sub-series comprise mini-archival collections for the organizations they document. Included are background information such as brochures, historical manuscripts, and other primary source material. Depending on Lederberg's level of involvement, there are semi-complete records of meeting minutes, correspondence, membership lists, drafts, and published reports. This series differs from Series 9: Consulting Work in that the organizations documented in Consulting Work paid for Lederberg's services while those in Public Service did not.

As his extracurricular activities expanded, Lederberg widened the scope of his interests by applying his scientific knowledge to the then emerging U.S. space program. Lederberg developed his interest in space exploration in the late 1950s and early 1960s in reaction to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite. He wanted to increase the scientific influence on this new field and prevent the politicization of space exploration. He served on many NASA committees and his interest would lead to the development of exobiology as a scientific discipline. The Exobiology series documents this subject through correspondence, reports, articles, and meeting minutes. Lederberg would aslo become an expert advisor on bioterrorism to the U.S. military in the 1990s-2000s. Both these activities are documented in Series 8: Public Service.

Series 5: Computer Science Research, documents Lederberg's interest in still another new discipline while at Stanford. This series documents his collaborative roles in developing SUMEX (Stanford University Medical EXperimental Computer), a nationwide time-share computer network hosting biomedical research projects via the ARPANET, and DENDRAL (Dendritic Algorithm), the first medical expert computer system designed to generate hypotheses about the atomic composition of unknown chemical compounds. The series includes drafts, correspondence, reports, grant applications, and manuals.

Sereis 7: Writings, documents Lederberg's prolific professional and general audience scientific writing, reporting, and speaking activities. The series contains original articles, drafts, correspondence, and research material. If particular note is Lederberg's "Science and Man" column (the SAM sub-series), a weekly scientific column he wrote for the Washington Post from 1966-1971 in which he commented on political and social concerns from a scientific perspective. The sub-series contains a complete run of the column.

Lederberg left Stanford to become president of Rockefeller University in 1978. Correspondence, committee meeting minutes, and other printed material documents this career transition in the Rockefeller University sub-series of Series 2: Academic Career, as well as Series 3: Correspondence, sub-series CE, CF, and Chronological.

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