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Full Michael Ashburner archive catalogued

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By | From the Collections

Throughout 2015 the Michael Ashburner archive was catalogued and released in stages. The final batch of records has now been finished and the entire catalogue is available online (Wellcome Library reference: PP/MIA).

Previous blog posts have demonstrated why Ashburner is viewed as one of the key figures in the development of genomics and bioinformatics in the late twentieth century. This final release goes back a step and charts Ashburner’s academic beginnings, as seen in Section F: Academic Career Papers. This section contains papers relating to his time both as an undergraduate and as an employee at the University of Cambridge.

There’s a comprehensive run of exercise books from Ashburner’s undergraduate seminars and practical sessions, which document the development of his interest and ability in genetics, as well as showing how the subject was taught in the early 1960s. Ashburner’s progress from student to master is also evident in his teaching papers. These include lecture scripts from the late 1960s and early 1970s along with other teaching materials.

Heredity chart from one of Ashburner's exercise books. Wellcome Library reference: PP/MIA/F/3/1/21

Heredity chart from one of Ashburner’s exercise books. Wellcome Library reference: PP/MIA/F/3/1/21.

This release also contains Section H: Correspondence. The files date from the late 1960s to 2008 and so provide a widespread view of Ashburner’s scientific networks and interests throughout his career. The files also show how popular a choice he was with postdoctoral students and peers seeking sabbaticals. Some of the correspondence shows his more irreverent attitude to aspects of the profession, one example being the wagers over theories that he enjoyed with peers and colleagues.

Decision on a wager won by Ashburner. Wellcome Library reference: PP/MIA/H/2/12

Decision on a wager won by Ashburner. Wellcome Library reference: PP/MIA/H/2/12.

The final section to be released in this batch is Section I: Sun files. This is a set of born-digital records, ie resources that were originally created in a digital form. It comprises records that Ashburner archived when his Sun computer system was decommissioned.

There are over 8,000 digital files covering most aspects of Ashburner’s career from the early 1990s to 2010, which nicely complement many of the paper records found in other sections of the archive. Unfortunately, the Library does not currently have the infrastructure to make born-digital archives available to researchers, but this is something we are working on and these Sun system files will be ready and waiting when the time comes.

Now that the full catalogue is available, researchers can browse all of it and get a sense of its scale. It provides one of the most comprehensive examples of a scientist’s professional papers held by the Library, given that the records span Ashburner’s entire career and document all aspects of his work. It should prove to be a goldmine for all sorts of research.

Victoria Sloyan

Victoria Sloyan is an archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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