I’ve just had the privilege of reading a fantastic series of letters written in 1954 by James Watson and Francis Crick. They were written a year after they published their seminal article on the structure of DNA. In the letters the two men are exchanging ideas and their excitement shines through. They write about all sorts of things, for example, the importance of building space filling three dimensional models, confusion over how thymine fits into the helical structure and what the researchers at KCL are up to. In March 1954 Watson also expresses his frustration with the research process, “The whole thing is puzzling and paradoxical (for could DNA be wrong) and is slowly driving me to despair and to loath nucleic acids.” (PP/CRI/D/2/45)
I got to read them because last month the first batch of digitised material arrived from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, one of the five external organisations contributing digitized material to the WDL pilot project. The James Watson archive is held at Cold Spring Harbor and contains the letters written to him by Francis Crick. The letters Watson wrote to Crick are held by the Wellcome Library.
Later this year, when the WDL is launched, Watson and Crick’s correspondence will be digitally united. Lots of people will be able to read these letters (and lots of other stuff) online while the originals stay safely tucked away in their archival homes. I am excited about that!