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H MS c190

Davis, Bernard, D., 1916-1994. Papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk): Finding Aid.

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

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Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College


The Bernard D. Davis Papers were processed as part of the Center's Maximizing Microbiology project, with funding from a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Library.

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: H MS c190
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Creator: Davis, Bernard D., 1916-1994
Title: Bernard D. Davis papers,
Date(s): 1909-1995 (inclusive),
Date(s): 1939-1994 (bulk).
Quantity: 31.2 cubic feet (31 records center cartons and 1 flat oversize box)
Language of materials: Papers are in predominantly in English. Some papers are in Japanese, German,French, and Russian.
Abstract: The Bernard D. Davis Papers are the product of Davis's professional, research, teaching, and publishing activities throughout the course of his career. The papers are arranged in four series: I. Correspondence and Subject Files, 1931-1994, undated; II. Professional Appointments, 1955-1993, undated; III. Writings and Publications, 1934-1995, undated; and IV. Collected Publications, 1909-1994.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The Bernard D. Davis papers were gifted to the Center for the History of Medicine by Elizabeth Davis in 1998.
  • Accession number 1998-014. Elizabeth Davis. 2004 January 08.
  • Processing Information:

    Processed by Elizabeth Coup.
    Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the papers, and created a finding aid to improve access. Items were rehoused and, where necessary, photocopied to acid-free paper. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals when available; titles supplied by the processing staff appear in brackets on the physical folders. Processing staff discarded duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine. Books that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were transferred to the Rare Books Cataloger.

    Conditions Governing Access:

    Access requires advance notice. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series I and II. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I and II. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.
    Please note: access to audio-visual records is dependent on access to the appropriate hardware. Please contact Public Services for more information.
    The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

    Conditions Governing Use:

    The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.

    Preferred Citation:

    Bernard D. Davis Papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk). H MS c190. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

    Related Papers in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

    Biographical Notes

    Bernard D. Davis (1916-1994) A.B., Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.D., Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, was the Chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology from 1957 to 1968 and the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology, a subunit of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, from 1968 to 1984, both at Harvard Medical School. He was a microbiologist who focused throughout his career on biochemical and genetic mutations, microbial and bacterial physiology, and the impact of science on human relations. Early in his career, Davis created the penicillin enrichment method for obtaining nutritional mutants of Escherichia coli, as did Joshua Lederberg (1925-2008), independently. While at Harvard Medical School, Davis' key scientific findings included the details of the ribosome cycle; protein secretion vesicles; the dominance of susceptibility to streptomycin (due to the misreading of the genetic code); and in 1987, with colleague P.C. Tai, a unified mechanism of streptomycin killing. Later in his career, Davis also became known as a science policy advocate, interested in the controversy over recombinant DNA and genetic engineering, academic standards and affirmative action, and scientific fraud and academic misconduct.
    Bernard D. Davis was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on January 7, 1916, to parents who had emigrated from Lithuania and were proprietors of a dry goods store. He received his A.B. from Harvard College in Biochemistry in 1938, and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School, with the rare honor of graduating summa cum laude, in 1940. From 1938 to 1940, he also worked with the biochemist E.J. Cohn (1892-1953), and following graduation, completed a medical internship and research fellowship at Johns Hopkins University Hospital between 1940 and 1942. Davis then became a Commissioned Officer of the United States Public Health Service, initially involved with a study of high altitude tolerance in the field of aviation medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Late in 1942, he began working in the laboratory of Elvin Kabat (1914-2000) at Columbia University, and then with Jules Freund (1890-1960) at the Public Health Research Institute, both in New York, New York. He was offered his own laboratory for work related to tuberculosis in 1945; he prepared for this by spending two years working under René Dubos (1901-1982) at the Rockefeller Institute, New York, New York. Following a year spent recovering from tuberculosis, Davis ran a laboratory studying the disease at Cornell University Medical College (1947), where he worked in part with David Sprinson (1910-2007). In 1954, he was appointed the head of Pharmacology at New York University College of Medicine, remaining in New York, New York. He moved back to the Boston, Massachusetts, in 1957, when he became the Chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at Harvard Medical School. He departed this role in 1968 in order to become the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology, a subunit of the same department; he remained in this position until his retirement in 1984.
    Davis is most known for his scientific research in microbiology and bacterial physiology, focusing on the ribosome cycle, streptomycin, protein secretion vesicles, studies of Escherichia coli, bacterial membrane transport systems, and mechanisms of drug resistance and chemotherapy. His work with Werner Maas foreshadowed later findings in genetics although genetics was not his intended focus. He authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific papers. In the latter portion of his career, Davis became more involved in issues outside of the laboratory, including the role of science in culture, the ethics of genetic engineering, evolution and human diversity, the implications of affirmative action, and the defense of fellow scientists accused of fraud and misconduct. He was also in the classroom, leading a physiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, between 1955 and 1960, and held visiting professorships at Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel (1985), the University of California, Berkeley (1986), and National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan (1987). Davis authored multiple editions of a new textbook for medical students, Microbiology (first edition, 1967), along with R. Dulbecco, H. Eisen, H. Ginsberg, and, initially, W.B. Wood. In his role as advocate, he published a collection of essays concerning contemporary controversies facing science and scientists, entitled Storm Over Biology: Essays On Science, Sentiment, and Public Policy, in 1986. At the time of his death, Davis had nearly completed a manuscript on the topic of accusation of scientific fraud against Dr. David Baltimore (born 1938), which was never published. In 1967, Davis was elected to the National Academy of Science, and was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among numerous other professional affiliations. He acted as a Fogarty Scholar at the National Institutes of Health in 1988, and received the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology in 1989. That same year, he also received the Hoechst-Roussel Award from the American Society of Microbiology.
    Bernard D. Davis married Elizabeth Menzel (died 2014) in 1955. They had three children, Franklin Arthur (born 1956), Jonathan Harry (born 1958), and Katherine Judith (born 1960). Davis died on January 14, 1994, in Belmont, Massachusetts.

    Series and Subseries in the Collection

    Scope and Content

    The Bernard D. Davis Papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk), are the product of Davis's professional, research, teaching, and publishing activities throughout the course of his career as a researcher in the fields of microbiology and bacteriology, and in his roles as the Chair of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at Harvard Medical School (1957-1968) and as the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology (1968-1984). The papers are arranged in four series: I. Correspondence and Subject Files, 1931-1994, undated; II. Professional Appointments, 1955-1993, undated; III. Writings and Publications, 1934-1995, undated; and IV. Collected Publications, 1909-1994.
    Correspondence and Subject files (Series I) constitute the bulk of the collection, and include correspondence between Davis and his colleagues and students, as well as materials relating to his research interests, such as research papers, position papers, and collected resources organized by topic. Professional Appointments and Activities records (Series II) contains administrative, teaching, and travel records as well as related correspondence and photographs generated by Bernard D. Davis as a product of his appointment at Harvard Medical School (HMS), appointments at other academic institutions, as well as conference, public speaking, membership, and administrative records generated through a variety of professional activities and involvement with professional organizations. Writings and publications records (Series III) consists of manuscript drafts, scientific paper reprints, published books, editorials and position papers, newspaper and journal clippings, and publication correspondence. The papers also contain scientific reprints, papers and abstracts, journals, books, and some related newspaper clippings by colleagues and related to research interests, collected by Davis throughout his career (Series IV).
    Records in each of these series relate to Davis's scientific research concerns within microbiology and bacteriology, including chemotherapy, mycotic infarctions, aromatic biosynthesis, Escherichia coli, the biological structure of enzymes, streptomycin, ribosomes and the ribosome cycle, antibiotics, aminoglycosides, and recombinant DNA. Writings from later in Davis's career tend to relate to social, ethical, legal, and political aspects of science and academia, frequently concerning sociobiology, genetic engineering and the use of recombinant DNA, evolution and the Human Genome Project, affirmative action and academic standards, and scientific fraud and academic misconduct.
    Papers are predominantly in English. Some papers are in Japanese, German, French, and Russian.

    Container List

    Additional Index Terms

    Affirmative action programs.
    Aminoglycosides.
    Antibiotics.
    Bacteriology.
    Chemotherapy.
    Enzymes--Structure.
    Escherichia coli.
    Evolution.
    Fraud in science.
    Genetic engineering.
    Human Genome Project.
    Microbiology.
    Microbial genetics.
    Proteins--synthesis.
    Recombinant DNA.
    Ribosomes.
    Sociobiology.
    Streptomycin.
    Aminoglycosides.
    Antibacterial Agents.
    Bacteriology.
    DNA, Recombinant.
    Drug Therapy.
    Enzymology.
    Escherichia coli.
    Evolution, Molecular.
    Genetics, Microbial.
    Human Genome Project.
    Microbiology.
    Protein Biosynthesis.
    Ribosomes.
    Scientific Misconduct.
    Sociobiology.
    Streptomycin.
    Slides (photographs).
    Phonograph records.
    Photographic prints.
    Bacteriologists.
    Microbiologists.
    Davis, Bernard D., 1916-1994
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    Harvard Medical School. Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology.
    Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, Mass.)
    National Academy of the Sciences (U.S.)

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