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BHL Re-tweets CBS Graduate Student

October 3, 2017

This summer marked my second opportunity to return to the MBL. This time, I worked as a fellow for the MBL History Project, but this year I was also fortunate to receive the Catherine Norton Fellowship to both complete my research and to design a physical exhibit for the MBL Library. Cathy is often remembered as a people-person, which is something that I merely aspire to be. She has also been remembered as a “Force of Nature,” the kind of person who always got things done with a strength, tenacity, and conviction of character that is uncommon. I had only just met her the year that she passed, and although she had been battling cancer for several years at the point we met, nothing about her attitude or her bold charm would have indicated to me that she was afflicted with any sort of ailment, whatsoever. I noted a strength in her then, a kind of perseverance that was both refreshing and immensely powerful. So, this is one of the lasting legacies of Cathy’s time as the head librarian at the MBL. She left behind such a wonderful group of people, a great institutional legacy, and an endowed fellowship where young people like myself can dream big and make an impact at her library.

In Woods Hole, I attempted to understand the work that the Nobel-prize winning geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan was doing with various marine organisms that he brought back to his laboratory at the MBL in the late 19th century. Before Morgan started working on the genetics of fruit flies at Columbia University in New York, he was doing biological research with marine organisms in the emerging field of experimental embryology. My dissertation project at Arizona State University attempts to understand the shifting contexts in which biologists in the late 19th and early 20th century made their choices about which particular organisms to bring into the laboratory. By asking questions about organisms and choices in the history of science, my work uncovers unexplored historical terrain and attempts to weave together narratives about exploration and discovery involving organisms and experimentation in the biological sciences at the turn of the 20th century. I will further discuss the products of my research in Woods Hole this upcoming fall when I travel to Toronto to tell Morgan’s story at the History of Science Society annual meeting. For now, I express my thanks and appreciation to the wonderful staff at the Center for Biology and Society at ASU and to the incredible librarians who work at the MBL Library in Woods Hole.  

I don’t know that we express enough gratitude towards the people who help us along the way. I’m plagued with thoughts like these. Plagued because we are often remembered for how well we treat those around us just as much or more than we are recognized for the quality of our contributions to academic scholarship. Nowadays, in the dissertation research and writing phase of my PhD program, I tend to be less mired with concerns about the quality of my PhD research, and instead I am much more attentive to the question of whether I am being a kind and considerate person to the people who are constantly making the work I do possible. These are folks like Andrea Cottrell and Jessica Ranney in the Center for Biology and Society, who make sure we get paid on time and in the right amount and enable us to travel to professional conferences and events. These are also the Librarians and Archivists who I constantly have the distinct pleasure of working with as a young historian of science. So, it is with this sentiment of heartfelt gratitude and appreciation that I want to thank and recognize the library staff at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts: Matthew Person, John Furfey, Nancy Stafford, and Jennifer Walton, without whom none of my work would be possible.

More information: Sean Cohmer (sean.cohmer@asu.edu

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