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


Intern Report: Learning to Process Collections

This is a guest post by Lauren Wolters, UCSF Archives Intern.

I have recently completed my internship working in the UCSF Archives and Special Collections. I really enjoyed the challenge of a new experience and learned a tremendous amount in my short time working there.

During my internship I was able to complete several processing and arrangement projects. I created two finding aids, one for the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute records and another for the files of Bernice Hemphill, longtime head of the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank.

I appreciated the opportunity to learn from an archival mentor and gain practical experience by independently processing each collection and working with tangible materials. It was very satisfying being able to contribute to the preservation of these documents and their history and help make them more accessible for future use. I look forward to being able to pursue future endeavors with an informed understanding of the archival process.

Processing the Papers of Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop

We are processing the papers of J. Michael Bishop, Nobel Prize-winning scientist and UCSF Chancellor Emeritus. The project will produce a detailed finding aid for the collection and a digital collection of selected material.

J. Michael Bishop

J. Michael Bishop

J. Michael Bishop, MD, joined the UCSF faculty in 1968. He was appointed director of the GW Hooper Research Foundation in 1981 and named UCSF Chancellor in 1998, a post he held until 2009. He continues to serve as Hooper’s director and as professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

In 1989, Bishop and his research colleague, Harold Varmus, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in cancer research. Bishop and Varmus discovered the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. Their work helped clarify the processes that convert normal cellular genes into cancer genes and impacted our understanding of the genesis of human cancer.

Bishop and Varmus. Photograph Collection, Bishop.

Bishop and Varmus in laboratory. Photograph Collection, Bishop.

Bishop’s papers (MSS 2007-21) contain his laboratory research notebooks and professional papers, including article drafts, correspondence with other scientists, and teaching and lecture material. Also included are drafts and figures from Bishop’s autobiographical book, How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science.

Handwritten wager between UC Berkeley faculty member Mike Botchan and Art Levinson, Bishop's staff scientist at the time. Figure included in Bishop's book, How to Win the Nobel Prize. Exhibit files, Bishop.

1983 wager between UC Berkeley faculty member Mike Botchan and Arthur Levinson, Bishop’s staff scientist at the time. Figure included in Bishop’s book, How to Win the Nobel Prize. Exhibit files, Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21.

Group photograph of California Nobel Prize winners with family members and dogs. Exhibit files, Bishop.

Group photograph of California Nobel Prize winners with family members and dogs, 1998. Bishop pictured at center. Exhibit files, Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21.

The collection even includes replicas of Varmus and Bishop’s Nobel Prize medals!

Replicas of Varmus and Bishop Nobel Prize medals. MSS 2007-21.

Replicas of Varmus and Bishop Nobel Prize medals. MSS 2007-21.

The UCSF Archives and Special Collections also houses the papers of Harold E. Varmus (MSS 93-51, MSS 84-25, and MSS 88-47). Please contact us if you would like to view any of these collections.