UCSF Archives and Special Collections acquires and makes available the papers of Dr. Michael S. Gottlieb, pioneer HIV/AIDS researcher and clinician

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accesioning Archivist

June 5, 1981 is widely known as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States because it was the day that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the appearance of a cluster of diseases that would later come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Difficiency Syndrome). The report, titled “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles,” was authored by five UCLA doctors: MS Gottlieb, MD, HM Schanker, MD, PT Fan, MD, A Saxon, MD, JD Weisman, DO, of the Division of Clinical Immunology-Allergy at the UCLA Medical Center. The article reports, “In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.”[1] The primary author of this report, Doctor Michael S. Gottlieb – then 33 years old – made history as the person who discovered AIDS.  UCSF Archives & Special Collections is pleased to house Dr. Gottlieb’s archives, which are now processed and available for the first time. 

Photo of Dr. Michael Gottlieb by Elizabeth Nathane, originally published in the Los Angeles Blade

A record of his professional life and accomplishments, as well as the many honors and awards he received over the course of his career, the Michael S. Gottlieb papers contain published papers by Gottlieb and many others on AIDS-related topics. They also include information on various AIDS drug treatment studies (including AZT), professional and personal correspondence, and information about various talks and events attended by Gottlieb during the 1980s – a busy decade for him. They also document his prodigious philanthropic activities and AIDS advocacy.

Gottlieb figures prominently in this UCSF-generated timeline of the AIDS epidemic. The timeline, which begins with the 1981 MMWR report, notes that, in 1985, Rock Hudson – star of classic Hollywood films like Giant, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind – announced that he had AIDS and later died, becoming “the first major celebrity to succumb to the disease.”[1] Later that same year, the timeline reports, “The American Foundation for AIDS Research is founded with the help of movie star Elizabeth Taylor.” Gottlieb, who served as Rock Hudson’s physician from the time of his AIDS diagnosis to his death from the disease, was also one of the founding chairs of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, along with medical researcher Mathilde Krim and Taylor, who was a close friend of Hudson’s and his costar in Giant. The Foundation was established with a $250,000 gift from Hudson’s estate.  The Gottlieb papers also contain a fascinating trove of letters, which he dubbed “Crazy letters,” that he received after becoming publicly associated with Hudson in newspapers and the press. The letters indicate a fascination with the disease, which was still very new and widely misunderstood by the world at large.

If you’re interested in checking out the Michael S. Gottlieb papers, you can consult the finding aid or the library catalog record for the collection. The papers were a gift from Michael Gottlieb.


[1]Center for Disease Control. (1981, June 5). Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/june_5.htm

[2] Cisneros, Lisa. (2021, June 4). 40 Years of AIDS: A Timeline of the Epidemic. UCSF News. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2021/06/420686/40-years-aids-timeline-epidemic


UCSF Receives NNLM PSR Subaward: “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: Digitizing and Providing Universal Access to Historical AIDS Records”

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This Fall the UCSF Archives & Special Collections received a $138,370 subaward from the  Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, for a project titled The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: Digitizing and Providing Universal Access to Historical AIDS Records.

Black-and-white poster of on African American man reaching for another; Brothers offers services for African American gay/bisexual men and transgender people. UCSF AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, MSS 2000-31, box 7, folder 9, item 22.
Black-and-white poster of on African American man reaching for another; Brothers offers services for African American gay/bisexual men and transgender people. UCSF AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, MSS 2000-31, box 7, folder 9, item 22.

UCSF’s project supports a priority area for NLM and NIH by digitizing approximately 45,000 pages from 15 archival collections related to the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the San Francisco Bay Area with the objective of making them widely accessible to the public. This project will chronicle the experience and struggles of communities of color and other marginalized communities during the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

This project will make publicly accessible experiences of communities that are “absent or excluded from the history of HIV/AIDS in the United States” [Jennifer Brier,  The Oral History Review, Volume 45, Issue 1]. Its goal is to include the voices of underrepresented and marginalized groups in the historical record and increase public impact of these archival collections. These collections cover diverse issues communities are faced with: poverty, racial and socio-economic segregation, health care policy inequalities, public health and sexual education and prevention, disparities in the HIV response, the impact of HIV on migrant communities, and the intersection of the criminal justice system and HIV.

It will build on the success and expand the UCSF’s AIDS history digital collection that was developed with the assistance from the Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2017-2019 and resulted in digitization of 160,197 pages from 35 archival collections from the three collaborating institutions: UCSF, San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society (GLBT HS).

Poster for AIDS Awareness week; San Francisco Community College district; San Francisco AIDS Foundation, 1986, artist: T.P. Ranger. UCSF AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, MSS 2000-31, box 7, folder 9, item 23.
Poster for AIDS Awareness week; San Francisco Community College district; San Francisco AIDS Foundation, 1986, artist: T.P. Ranger. UCSF AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, MSS 2000-31, box 7, folder 9, item 23.

The materials that will be digitized range from hand handwritten correspondence and notebooks to typed and printed reports and agency records. Photographic prints, negatives, transparencies, and posters will also be digitized. They will be added to a growing digital collection documenting the AIDS crisis established by UCSF on the California Digital Library platform, Calisphere and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) becoming publicly accessible around the world.  The materials will be digitized by the UC Merced Library’s Digital Assets Unit that has been partnering with UCSF on successful collaborative digitization projects for more than 10 years. All materials selected to be digitized will be carefully examined for privacy concerns and the archivists will consult with an existing Advisory Board.

UCSF plans to partner with NLM’s History of Medicine Division and DPLA to create a collaborative AIDS history primary source set on the Digital Public Library of America in order to disseminate the project results and enable their educational use. UCSF will also promote the availability of this resource to organizations in the San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, CA areas. This project is led by Polina Ilieva and Edith Escobedo serves as a project archivist.

“They Were Really Us”: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS — A New Exhibition on Calisphere

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By Polina Ilieva, Head of Archives and Special Collections

When HIV/AIDS first seized the nation’s attention in the early 1980s, it was a disease with no name, known cause, treatment, or cure. Beginning as a medical mystery, it turned into one of the most divisive social and political issues of the 20th century. The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was at the forefront of medical institutions trying to understand the disease and effectively treat early AIDS patients.

Drawing on materials from the AIDS History Project collections preserved in UCSF’s Archives and Special Collections, the UCSF Library presents “They Were Really Us”: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS, a new digital exhibition on Calisphere that highlights the ways UCSF clinicians and staff addressed HIV/AIDS from its outbreak in the 1980s to the foundation of the AIDS Research Institute in 1996. 

From medical professionals defining the disease and developing a model of care, to activists calling for treatments and public education, this exhibition amplifies the resilience of a community not only responding to its local needs, but also breaking ground on a larger scale with efforts that continue to impact HIV/AIDS care and research today. 

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt panels displayed at San Francisco City Hall during San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day Parade, UCSF Library, Archives and Special Collections.

This exhibition, including the digitization of materials used in this exhibition, has been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (PW-253755-17) “The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: Digitizing, Reuniting, and Providing Universal Access to Historical AIDS Records,” awarded to the UCSF Library in 2017-2020.

About UCSF Archives and Special Collections

UCSF Archives and Special Collections identifies, collects, preserves, and maintains rare and unique materials to support research and teaching of the health sciences and medical humanities and to preserve UCSF institutional memory. The Archives serve as the official repository for the preservation of selected records, print and born-digital materials, and realia generated by or about the UCSF, including all four schools, the Graduate Division, and the UCSF Medical Center.

The Special Collections encompasses a Rare Book Collection that includes incunabula, early printed works, and modern secondary works. The East Asian Collection is especially strong in works related to the history of Western medicine in Japan.The Japanese Woodblock Print Collection consists of 400 prints and 100 scrolls, dating from 16th to the 20th century. The Special Collections also contains papers of health care providers and researchers from San Francisco and California; historical records of UCSF hospitals; administrative records of regional health institutions; photographs and slides; motion picture films and videotapes; and oral histories focusing on development of biotechnology; the practice and science of medicine; healthcare delivery, economics, and administration; tobacco control; anesthesiology;  homeopathy and alternative medicine; obstetrics and gynecology; high altitude physiology; occupational medicine; HIV/AIDS and global health.

About Calisphere

Calisphere provides free access to California’s remarkable digital collections, which include unique and historically important artifacts from the University of California and other educational and cultural heritage institutions across the state. Calisphere provides digital access to over one million photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more.
Calisphere Exhibitions are curated sets of items with scholarly interpretation that contribute to historical understanding. Exhibitions tell a story by adding context to selected digital primary sources in Calisphere, thereby bringing the digital content to life. Calisphere Exhibitions are curated by contributing institutions and undergo editorial review. We are currently refining these processes, which are outlined in the Contributor Help Center. Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about Calisphere Exhibitions.