“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.

UCSF Archives Lecture: Karl F. Meyer, California’s Forgotten Microbe Hunter, December 5, 2014

Join us on Friday, December 5th as Mark Honigsbaum, PhD, gives a lecture in a series launched by UCSF Archives & Special Collections.

Date: Friday, December 5th, 2014
Time: 12 pm-1:20 pm
Location: Lange Room, UCSF Library, 530 Parnassus, 5th floor
This lecture is free and open to the public. Light refreshments provided.
Please RSVP to reserve a seat.

In the 1930s California’s rapid population growth and the incursion of agricultural settlers into valleys and deserts teeming with exotic pathogens resulted in outbreaks of ‘new’ infectious diseases. To divine the cause of these outbreaks and trace the epidemics to their source, health officials turned to San Francisco’s premier ‘microbe hunter,’ Karl Friedrich Meyer.

Karl F. Meyer in his office.

Karl F. Meyer in his office.

All but forgotten today, Meyer was once a nationwide figure renowned for his feats of disease detection. As director of the George Williams Hooper Foundation for Medical Research at UCSF in the 1920s, Meyer – a Swiss-born veterinarian and bacteriologist – spearheaded investigations into botulism, mussel poisoning, and brucellosis. By the 1930s he focused increasingly on parasitic diseases of birds and other animals.

These included ‘parrot fever,’ a deadly disease caused by a bacterium in parakeet droppings, and ‘staggers’ (equine encephalitis), a viral disease of horses spread by mosquitoes that bred in irrigation ditches. Most famously, they also included outbreaks of ‘sylvatic’ plague along the California-Oregon border – outbreaks that Meyer traced to migrations of squirrels and other flea-infested rodents. What linked these outbreaks is that, one way or another, they were all ‘man-made’ – the result of human interference with animal ecologies.

Drawing on Meyer’s papers at the UCSF and Bancroft libraries, this talk reviews Meyer’s feats of microbial detection and his pioneering investigations of disease ecology. Dr. Honigsbaum views Meyer as an important bridge figure in mid-20th century medical research who sought to link microbial behavior to broader environmental and social factors that impact host-pathogen interactions and the mechanisms of disease control.

mark_honigsbaum

Mark Honigsbaum

Mark Honigsbaum, PhD, is a medical historian and journalist with wide-ranging interests encompassing health, science, technology and contemporary culture. A specialist in the history of epidemics and pandemics, he is the author of four books, including The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria and A History of the Great Influenza Pandemics: Death, Panic, and Hysteria, 1830-1920. He is currently working on a history disease ecology as a Wellcome Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London.

About the UCSF Archives & Special Collections Lecture Series

UCSF Archives & Special Collections launched this lecture series to introduce a wider community to treasures and collections from its holdings, to provide an opportunity for researchers to discuss how they use this material, and to celebrate clinicians, scientists, and health care professionals who donated their papers to the archives.