Access to Activism: Records of Physicians of Social Conscience

Project Summary

Submitted by Scott Podolsky of Director, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

We seek to open access to three collections that demonstrate the global reach of Harvard faculty and the impact of organizing for social change.

These collections include: 1) the records of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, co-founded in 1980 by Bernard Lown (1921-), Professor of Cardiology, Emeritus, Harvard School of Public Health and organizational recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize (1930s-1987, H MS c432, 72 cubic feet); 2) the papers of Sanford Gifford (1918-2013), Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, early member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and organizer of Medical Aid to Indochina (1956-1986, H MS c328, 14.5 cubic feet); and 3) the papers of Jonathan R. Beckwith (1935-), Professor of Microbiology, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School, who, while best known for isolating the first gene from a human chromosome, was an early member of (along with Harvard faculty members Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould) Science for the People, a group opposed to the misuse of science (see: (1969-2009, H MS c370, 43 cubic feet).

Together, these collections demonstrate the unique contributions of American physicians to social action and, as Ellen L. Bassuk states in her introduction to The Doctor-Activist: Physicians Fighting for Social Change (1996), they illustrate the inventive, courageous, and resourceful nature of individuals who redefined the limits of patient care.

Amount requested is $$96,882.00* (12 months, 1full-time project archivist).


Expected Results with Partial Funding

Partial funding would be used to process one or more of the collections proposed, depending on the amount of funding received. While a key benefit of processing all three collections is generating a critical mass, each collection is more than worthy of funding independent of one another.

Estimated Follow-on Activities and/or Costs

Post-processing, it is likely that the Center will want (or need) to transfer a portion of the audio-visual materials found in the IPPNW collection to DVD for research use. In 2013, all IPPNW audiovisual materials were surveyed by the Weismann Preservation Center as part of an overall survey of Center AV holdings; 71 items were identified. Postprocessing,the Center will be able to determine which AV items are in the worst condition and/or have the most potential research value.

Benefit to Harvard Scholars and Patrons

IPPNW records have long been of interest to Center researchers, but this demand has increased with the opening of the papers of cardiologist Bernard Lown, who co-founded the IPPNW in 1980 ( Lown’s papers contain the records of his work with IPPNW, but cannot be completely contextualized or fully appreciated without access to the records of the greater organization.

As Paul E. Farmer, MD, PhD, Kolokotrones University Professor, Harvard University; Chair, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; and Chief, Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote to the Center’s Director, Scott H. Podolsky, on April 15, 2014 upon hearing of our submitting this application:
Not only will such collections reveal the on-the-ground challenges faced by physicians leveraging their authority for the promotion of peace—or, at least, to lessen the chances of war—and health at a global level, they will inspire future students, physicians, and citizens to similarly answer such a call to global action.

Such activism is sorely needed now. Allan Brandt, Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine and Professor of the History of Science, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University and Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, also offered enthusiastic support:

I was so pleased to hear about the Center's important plans to archive key manuscripts in the history of physician activism. Making these collections available to scholars,researchers, and students will make possible a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the nature and role of physician activists around key social issues of the twentieth century.

Additionally, over the past ten years the Center has opened two collections that would be enriched by the processing of the proposed collections, those of: 1) Howard H. Hiatt (1925-), Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Physician-in-Chief at Beth Israel Hospital from 1941 to 2001. Hiatt, an active member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote on the health and human consequences of nuclear war [H MS c314,] and supported the founding of Partners in Health (PIH); and 2) Alexander Leaf (1920-2012), former James Jackson Professor of Clinical Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Ridley Watts Professor of Preventive Medicine at Harvard School of Public Health. Leaf advocated for preventive medicine through nuclear disarmament, and the collection includes records of his development and implementation of curricula on aspects of nuclear war, including courses developed for Harvard Medical School.

Demonstrated Research Uses

Two recent uses of the IPPNW collection are: 1) researcher Claudia Kemper’s (Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg) use of the records in August 2011 to study the German section of IPPNW during the first half of the 1980s (she indicated additional use of the collection would be necessary in coming years); and 2) researcher Christoph Laucht’s (Lecturer in Modern History, Swansea University, U.K.) inquiries related to putting together a fellowship application to use the collection in 2015 for a comparative study on transnational medical activism against nuclear weapons in Britain, West Germany, and the United States during the 1980s.

Related Harvard Collections

At Harvard, synergies may be found among (but are not limited to) the following:

• Papers of Harvard faculty from multiple disciplines, including George B. Kistiakowsky (1900-1982), a Professor of Chemistry who participated in the development of the nuclear bomb and was later an advocate for banning nuclear weapons [Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 94] and George Wald (1906-1997), Higgins Professor of Biology, 1968 to 1977, Nobel-Prize winner, and outspoken advocate for nuclear arms reduction and non-reliance on nuclear power [Harvard University Archives, HUGFP 143].

• Papers of a diverse body of American citizens, international figures, and scientific centers, including those of Homer Alexander Jack (1916-1993), executive director of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) from 1960 to 1964 [Harvard Divinity School, bMS 1270]; the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, 1972-1993 [Nuclear Winter Study Papers, Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives, ESPP LLL001]; and Russian physicist and human rights activist Andreĭ Sakharov (1921-1989), whose work in defense of prisoners of conscience and advocacy of human rights earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 [Houghton Library, MS Russ 79]. ;• Papers of women who participated in anti-nuclear and other activist organizations at the Schlesinger Library, including those of: Barbara Deming (1917-1984), American feminist and advocate of nonviolent social change [408; T-248]; artist Corita Kent (1918-1986), who was active in Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) during the 1980s, notably the Greater Boston chapter [MC 583, T-247]; singer Holly Near (1949-), who toured the country speaking out against the threat of nuclear war and the problems of nuclear weapons in the early 1980s [MC 691]; Cynthia Rich, involved both as an individual and as a member of Voice of Women--New England, a group concerned with such issues as war toys, atmospheric nuclear testing, civil defense, and foreign policy decisions [83-M240]; and Freda Friedman Salzman, and active member of Science for the People and its Sociobiology Study Group. Organizational records include the Audiovisual collection of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, ca.1960-1990 [T-185, Vt-24, Phon-11] and the Records of the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice, 1980-1995 [86-M253--99-M154].

Processing of the collections will also nurture and contextualize international scholarship on the global medical peace movement. In June 2014, the U.K.’s Wellcome Library will open the records of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW), which formed the same year as the IPPNW, and Medact (, the organization created in 1992 as a result of the merger of MCANW and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW). Medact is an organizational affiliate of IPPNW.

These international partnerships play out across the collections, offering insights into shared experiences at international congresses and across causes. And like IPPNW and PSR, Medact recognizes a broad global health agenda, including environmental health and safety (be it air pollution, superfund sites, or hydraulic fracturing), the impact of war on health (such as the mental health of veterans), safe energy, and nuclear terrorism. The Center is pleased to be participating in an international exchange with the Wellcome this summer and to have the opportunity to connect with an international group of scholars at the Wellcome’s June conference celebrating the opening of the Medact records; two of its archivists will be attending the conference, with one speaking on the IPPNW collection.

Ways the Project Supports Cross-Unit or Cross-Discipline Activities

The collections are rich in content, supporting multiple disciplines and areas of inquiry: 20th century American history (Cold War, the nuclear arms race, foreign relations); activist, peace and social movements; the history of medicine; medical ethics; global and public health; and women’s studies. Our faculty, then and now, as Harvard President Drew Faust so succinctly stated in her April 7 email on confronting climate change, “are deeply engaged as well in informing the development of law and policy to advance sustainability.” These collections clearly illustrate the work of faculty as agents for change.

Resources the Sponsoring Library Can Support or Will Need Support For

In order to open all three collections in one year, the Center is committed to creating preliminary box and folder lists for all three collections prior to the start of the project. Additionally, the Center will: pay for all preservation rehousing and associated supplies necessary to process the collections; provide project management and oversight; pay for audiovisual transfer services as deemed necessary; and commit to publicizing the project though its website, blog, and other social media and print outlets.

Other Approaches to Achieving Goal or Result

If unfunded, the Center will continue to seek outside funding to process the collections through private gifts or through grant funding. Additionally, the collections would likely be processed by different archivists over the course of many years. Grant funding will enable us to process the collections by one person, which brings efficiencies, such as reduced staff training efforts (one person trained, not three) and building subject expertise.

Risks if Proposal Is Not Approved

Bernard Lown, the co-founder of IPPNW, is now 93; his role as an informant would be invaluable. The Center would also be unable to satisfy an emerging international research trend, as evidenced by the Wellcome’s conference and the European scholars who have recently used (or plan to use) the Lown and IPPNW collections.

Additional Information

This could not fit in the AMOUNT REQUESTED field:

Costs and project periods by collection are as follows:

• IPPNW $52,477.75 6.5 months

• Beckwith $36,330.75 4.5 months

• Gifford $8073.50 1 month

Project duration is predicated on data derived from the Center’s processing metrics database, MD, which has been used to track processing workflow and outputs for Center staff for five years. The average annual salary for a project archivist at the Center is $60,000 plus fringe at the Harvard Medical School rate of 44.6% of the proposed salary. As will be illustrated in the resources Center for the History of Medicine: 2 section below,the Center is committed to purchasing rehousing supplies and funding audiovisual conversions.


In addition to contextualizing local and international collections, processing would aid the Center’s collection development efforts by illustrating our commitment to opening collections relevant to physicians as social advocates. We seek to build on the heritage of the IPPNW through opening its records and obtaining accruals, collecting the papers of other Greater Boston PSR members, and the papers of members of other PSR chapters in Massachusetts.

This project will also help us advocate for funding the processing of other Center-held collections demonstrating the work of socially concerned faculty, including the papers of Paul Farmer, infectious diseases physician and medical anthropologist; Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard University; Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston [papers, 1990-2009, H MS c396], the records of the non-profit corporation Partners in Health, founded by Paul Farmer, Thomas J. White, and Todd McCormack, and joined soon thereafter by Ophelia Dahl and JimYong Kim to offer medical care to poor communities in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Russia, and the United States [Records, 1992-2006, H MS c299], and the papers of Malkah T. Notman and Carol Nadelson, two Harvard Medical School faculty members active in PSR.

From: Brandt, Allan [] Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 1:45 PM To: Podolsky, Scott Harris Subject: Physician activist archives

Scott Podolsky, MD
Center for the History of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Countway Library

Dear Scott:

I was so pleased to hear about the Center's important plans to archive key manuscripts in the history of physician activism. Making these collections available to scholars, researchers, and students will make possible a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the nature and role of physician activists around key social issues of the twentieth century.

I understand you plan to organize and develop finding aids for the substantial materials of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, as well as key figures in the development of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Science for the People. The accessibility of these unique collections will be of great value as we begin to chart the social and political role physicians have played in major twentieth century debates about nuclear proliferation and human genetics, among other topics.

Please do let me know if I can be of any assistance as you move forward with this important and timely project.


Allan Brandt
Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine
Professor of the History of Science
Department of the History of Science
Department of Global Health and Society

Evaluate Proposal

Please evaluate this project by the four criteria below and provide comments in the comment field.