Thursday, September 30, 2010

Historical Documents

I consider letters historical documents. I think that when you put words down on paper, even in the casual form of a personal letter it becomes a piece of history. It records what you were thinking at a specific time and place, sealing a bit of history onto paper. I love seeing an envelope in my mailbox, so in the age of email I am lucky to have a few friends that love mail as much as I do, and so write me letters in exchange for me filling their mailboxes.

I just got a letter today from my friend Cassi, and have been wanting to write a reply all day, but have been tremendously distracted by my paper on the American Red Cross, among other things. The paper is for J620 my International Communication class -- we are studying the media of humanitarian movements, which has nothing to do with science writing but as far as electives go I'm learning a lot. It is due tomorrow and my brain is totally tapped out so I'm taking a break from editing to blog (although blogging isn't exactly relaxing for my brain.)

Anyway, I was already thinking about letters and how much I love and appreciate all of my letters, when I saw the article "Rivalry Among DNA Sleuths Comes Alive In Letters," by Nicholas Wade for the New York Times. I am very tempted by the field of science history, if I were ever to turn academic instead of professional I would definitely be interested in exploring the history of science journalism, which in my opinion would include correspondence between scientists (if it becomes part of public record of course.)

The authors of biographies of Watson and Crick (the scientists credited with discovering the double helix structure of DNA) told Wade that the newly found letters from Crick's personal documents don't really add anything new to the historical record of the research that led up to the double helix discovery, but do add personal anecdotes to the rivalry that existed between the researchers at the time.

The correspondence also added a bit to the sympathy that I feel for Rosalind Franklin. She is a researcher who was working on finding the structure of DNA, and she had done all the research and documented everything that she needed to unravel the structure -- she just didn't realize the significance. Watson and Crick are the ones that took Franklin's basic research and realized that DNA has a double helix structure. I've always felt that Franklin got gypped when they were giving out the Nobel Prizes, so I feel for her, she was so close! The snippets from the letters in Wade's article just reminded me of that.