The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of the Bernard D. Davis papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk). 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 1957-1968 and the Adele Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology from 1968-1984, 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 society and culture.
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. 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, his 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. His work with Werner Maas foreshadows later findings in genetics, as well, though he did not focus primarily on genetics. Davis authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific papers, most of which are included in the Bernard D. Davis Papers.
In the latter portion of his career, Davis became an advocate for 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. Davis was also a passionate teacher, and co-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. Many of the papers relate to these moral and ethical issues, including correspondence, articles, and manuscript and chapter drafts.
Overall, the papers include correspondence and subject files, administrative, teaching and professional records, unpublished writings and drafts, and reprints and volumes written by Davis, as well as the collected publications of colleagues and students. This includes the manuscript of an unpublished book on the topic of scientific fraud written late in his life, and several chapters of an unpublished autobiography.
The Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology, 1936-2000 project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Libraries. In addition to the Bernard D. Davis papers, the project will also open the collections of other scientists and professors whose work relates to the origins of molecular genetics, virology, and microbiology: the Luigi Gorini papers, 1922-1988; the Arthur B. Pardee papers, 1949-2001; the Francesc Duran i Reynals papers, 1913-1960; the Myron Essex papers, 1949-1996; and the Harold Amos papers, 1949-2003. For more information on the project, please contact Emily Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services or Elizabeth Coup, Processing Assistant.