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What's In History Office Files?

Have you ever wondered how NIH began? Have you wanted to find out more about the history of the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, or the original uses of the land that NIH now inhabits? Well, you're in luck. The NIH History Office maintains an extensive collection documenting the history of NIH's institutes and NIH as a whole. The office, located in Bldg. 31, Rm. 5B38, holds information from all of the institutes, even those that don't exist anymore. The NIH historian, Dr. Victoria Harden, assisted in establishing the History Office because she recognized the need for preserving the history of the institution. Though not an official archive, the History Office performs many of the roles of a traditional archive including seeking out information from institutes and centers, organizing the records for reference use, and providing access to researchers.

What kinds of material might you find in this collection? There are biography files on key NIH scientists and administrators, files on each institute, general NIH history files, a special collection of materials on the NIH intramural response to AIDS, and files documenting NIH's 1987 centennial celebration. The collection also holds audio tapes of oral histories with NIH staff, videotapes of selected events, and books on subjects such as the histories of infectious diseases, genetics and public health.

The NIH History Office depends largely on the generosity of NIH employees to pass along items for the collection. For example, the collection of NIH phone books, which have helped researchers locate staff members since 1950, was donated by an employee who had kept his phone books during his entire career. It turns out that no one else preserved them, so the NIH History Office now holds a unique resource.

Many different types of researchers use the collection. Scientists often call about material for a talk on the history of their laboratories. Public affairs officers seek assistance in preparing for institute anniversaries. Administrators ask for material related to speeches or congressional presentations. Other employees want to pin down when their relatives worked at NIH. Currently, the office files are being used by contractors of the National Academy of Sciences for a study and report on the historic and current organization of NIH.

If you would like to use the archival collection or donate records, contact archivist Brooke Fox at 496-6610.


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