Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Michael Boris Shimkin Papers
MSS 0104  
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Shimkin, Michael Boris, 1912-
    Title: Michael Boris Shimkin Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1936 - 1986
    Extent: 18.00 linear feet (45 archives boxes)
    Abstract: Michael Boris Shimkin was born in Siberia in 1912 and emigrated to the United States in 1928. Shimkin played an important role in American cancer research as a clinical and experimental researcher and an editor of major research journals. He also conducted research in public health and engaged in medical exchanges with the Soviet Union. After establishing and directing the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory for Experimental Oncology (1947-1954), he became chief of the Institute's Field and Biometry and Epidemiology divisions, joining Temple University (1963-1969) and, ultimately, UCSD's Department of Family and Community Medicine. He died in 1989, a professor emeritus of UCSD's Medical School. The bulk of the papers documents Shimkin's career at UCSD in the 1970s. Very little material is available here relating to his research at the LEO, his other NCI positions, or his work at Temple University. Correspondence, files on professional societies, subject files, and writings span his entire career and include records of his participation in the American Association for Cancer Research as president and editor, his responsibilities with the United States Public Health Service reviewing conditions of German concentration camps and representing the U.S. in medical missions to Moscow, and correspondence related to his research. UCSD files document his career with the UCSD School of Medicine's Department of Community Medicine (1968-1986), where he researched carcinogenesis and epidemiology and helped plan a Cancer Center at the UCSD Medical Center. Teaching and lecture materials are also included. NCI files span 1962-1980 and document Shimkin's work as a consultant and contractor for that agency. The bulk of the photographs are from his 1956 trip to Moscow.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0104
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    In accordance with federal and state laws, personnel records contained in this collection are restricted until 2067.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Michael Boris Shimkin Papers, MSS 0104. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    Michael Boris Shimkin (1912-1989), the son of Boris M. and Lydia J. Shimkin, was born in Siberia, immigrated to the United States in 1921, and became a U.S. citizen in 1928.
    As an editor of two of the cancer research community's major journals, a US representative for US/USSR medical exchanges, and a popularizer and historian of cancer research, Shimkin was a key spokesperson for cancer researchers throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The pioneering clinical and experimental research he conducted during the 1940s and '50s is considered by some cancer researchers today to have determined the subsequent path of cancer research within the United States. During his fifty-year career, Shimkin published over 300 articles representing clinical and laboratory research on tumors in mice, the effects of carcinogens, various aspects of experimental clinical chemotherapy, and analyses of cancer statistics. He also wrote two books on the history of the study of cancer from ancient times to the present (SCIENCE AND CANCER, revised three times between 1964 and 1980, and CONTRARY TO NATURE, 1977).
    Shimkin graduated from the University of California, San Francisco Medical School in 1936. He had barely begun his medical career with the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) before the U.S. entered World War II, and he fulfilled his military service as a public health officer for the USPHS. In 1943, Shimkin was selected to be part of the Office of Scientific Research and Development's planned medical exchange with the USSR. Shimkin chronicled his experiences as a member of this and other US medical exchanges with the USSR between 1942 and 1962 in an article, "Road to Oz: A Personal Account of Some US-USSR Medical Exchanges and Contacts, 1942-1962." In 1944-1945, he was appointed by the Public Health Service to serve in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration's (UNRRA) European recovery program. On the basis of personal observation, he wrote reports on the health conditions of the concentration camps and their inmates liberated by the Allies, as well as documented the health status of civilian communities. In 1946, the USPHS sent Shimkin to Liberia to review the agency's medical mission there. Shimkin wrote a report briefly reviewing the history of American interests in Liberia as well as assaying the country's public health situation and outlining a three-year plan to be implemented by the agency's medical mission in Liberia.
    After the war, Shimkin returned to the laboratory to resume his experimental research on cancer, where he began pioneering work in the clinical study of cancer. In 1947, the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute (NCI) appointed Shimkin to establish the Laboratory for Experimental Oncology (LEO) at the UC-San Francisco Medical School. The laboratory was housed at the Laguna Honda Home in San Francisco. Shimkin reviewed the history and research of the laboratory in a retrospective article.
    The LEO was unusual in its combination of clinical and laboratory research in a single setting. Research focused on testing the effects of chemotherapeutic, radiation and surgical treatment on both mice and humans. The use of terminally ill human subjects, albeit volunteers, in experimental research caused some distress. Prompted by his anxiety in this regard, Shimkin organized a symposium on the use of human subjects. At the request of NIH, Shimkin deliberately failed to disclose his affiliation with the agency when he co-authored a report of the results in SCIENCE magazine in 1953. After NCI established its own clinical research hospital in Bethesda, the LEO was closed (1954) and Shimkin returned to Maryland to head NCI's Biometry and Epidemiology Division.
    At NCI headquarters, he participated in writing the "Joint Report of the Study Group on Smoking and Health" (1957), a position paper critical in effecting the popular acceptance of the link between smoking and lung cancer. In his role as chief of two research divisions at the NCI during the 1950s and 1960s he determined the research agenda and controlled up to $5 million in annual research funds. His analysis of cancer statistics at this time caused him to be skeptical about the advantages of radical mastectomies; he strove to popularize less radical surgery and the early detection of breast cancer.
    After 1963, Shimkin's research activity was more fully based in academia, first at Temple University and later at UCSD. He maintained his ties with the federal government, however, by serving as a consultant for the NCI until his death. He also worked for other agencies, including the National Research Council (1963-67) and, during 1970-1971, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. When he joined Temple University in 1963, he began a long association with the journal CANCER RESEARCH, serving six years as editor and another twenty as associate editor. He left Temple in 1969 to join the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, where he co-ordinated the California Department of Public Health's Regional Medical Program (RMP) for San Diego and Imperial counties. The RMP was dissolved in 1973 and Shimkin returned to epidemiology and laboratory study. As a member of the Department of Community and Family Medicine, Shimkin taught courses in epidemiology and clinical research. He received grants from the NCI to conduct studies of tumors in mice, as well as to write a history of the study of cancer (CONTRARY TO NATURE, 1977). Shimkin became emeritus professor at UCSD in 1980 and died in 1989.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Michael B. Shimkin Papers, 22.5 linear feet, span the period 1936 to 1986, with the bulk of correspondence and writings clustering in the 1970s. The papers contain letters, reprints, reports, speeches, drafts, memos, newsletters, pamphlets, news clippings, photographs, interview transcripts, scrapbooks, posters, and appointment books. The collection provides substantial documentation of Shimkin's professional life.
    The Collected Reprints (a subseries of the WRITINGS series, 1936-1986), which encompass the whole of Shimkin's career, serve as the best guide to his work. The Collected Reprints are unusual in that they include unpublished lectures, articles, reports, curriculum vitae, and biographical sketches, as well as newspaper and magazine articles in which Shimkin is quoted. The materials within the Collected Reprints are sometimes duplicated in individual files in other series or subseries. These duplications remain because they provide information relevant to other items in those folders.
    The collection includes reports and correspondence from Shimkin's early days with the National Cancer Institute of the United States Public Health Service, but his activities and influence in the long effort to link cigarette smoking and lung cancer receive no fuller amplification here than what is available in his published accounts of this battle. The Scrapbooks (in the SUBJECT series) best document his general interest in cancer and smoking. Shimkin's work during his twenty year tenure at UCSD is well represented in this collection. However, documentation is less complete for the years after 1982. Similarly, little remains of his laboratory or research notes for the years between his wartime duties and his acceptance in 1969 of his posts at UCSD. Probably the most substantial gap is the lack of materials from the 1950s, when Shimkin was directing research in the Laboratory of Experimental Oncology housed in the Laguna Honda Home near San Francisco.
    To the limited extent that the Shimkin Papers include information on his work at the Laboratory of Experimental Oncology, it may be found in the PHOTOGRAPHS series and in the SUBJECT series files on University of California at San Francisco, Bone Marrow Infusion, Chemical Compounds for Testing, and Oxygen Inhalation. Shimkin's personal account of the Laboratory of Experimental Oncology, "Lost Colony," provides the most informative documentation of the Laboratory (see Box 37, Collected Reprints, 1947-1954).
    Shimkin's involvement with the USSR/US medical exchange may be traced through the papers included in the CORRESPONDENCE series (see the Subject subseries), in the SUBJECT series (see the USSR and USPHS subseries), in the WRITINGS series (see the Collected Reprints subseries), and in the PHOTOGRAPHS series.
    1943-1984 0.5 box
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series includes biographical sketches and autobiographical writings, a curriculum vitae, and newspaper articles regarding Shimkin. Each group of materials has been arranged in chronological order. Additional autobiographical writings can be found within the Collected Reprints.
    1939-1987 1.5 boxes
    The CORRESPONDENCE series consists of General (personal and professional) correspondence, arranged chronologically; and Subject correspondence, arranged alphabetically, in reverse chronology. General correspondence contains formerly unfoldered or miscellaneous letters. Note that these files are not the sole location of correspondence. Correspondence related to a specific subject will often be found in the SUBJECT series, and some correspondence appears in most of the other series, as well. Undated or unidentified correspondence precedes dated material in the folders. Photographs accompanying letters remain with the correspondence.
    The subseries USPHS contains the most extensive documentation of Shimkin's early career with the USPHS; many of the letters and memos address administrative topics and/or Shimkin's US/USSR medical exchange activities. Additional correspondence on these topics can be found in the SUBJECT series under USSR or USPHS. The USPHS subseries also includes correspondence with Vannevar Bush, and with the Surgeons General Thomas Parran and Norman T. Kirk.
    1943-1981 5 boxes
    The PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES series includes files documenting Shimkin's affiliation with and service on behalf of international and national professional associations, civic groups, charitable agencies, and local organizations. These files, which have been left in their original alphabetical and reverse chronological arrangement, contain related correspondence, memos, reports, articles, and newsletters. For lectures or papers presented at meetings of specific organizations, see the WRITINGS series.
    Among Shimkin's activities with professional societies and agencies, his service as president and board member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is most fully represented in this series. Much of the correspondence is with Hugh Creech, Secretary/Treasurer of the AACR. These files also contain correspondence on the subject of human experimentation, as well as letters to and from Senators Ted Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey during 1973. Materials concerning Shimkin's work as cover editor for Cancer Research (Journal of the AACR) are found in the SUBJECT series.
    1937-1984 10 boxes
    The SUBJECT FILES series is arranged alphabetically by name of subject or individual. The contents of the individual files remain in their original reverse chronological order. This series also reflects two original groups of files: Cancer Studies (1967-1980) and Chemical Compounds (1947-1956). These groups, composed mainly of correspondence, are maintained in their original order even though their contents overlap with the NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE series.
    The files entitled Cancer Research span Shimkin's years as editor and associate editor of this AACR journal. The files contain correspondence, annotations, and all of the covers and cover editorials for which he was responsible. Correspondence, reports, and some research notes concerning cervical cancer epidemiology may be found in the India-USA Wahi Project subseries.
    Articles featuring Shimkin are in both the Newsclippings of the SUBJECT series and in the Collected Reprints subseries of the WRITINGS series. The Scrapbooks, too, contain newsclippings, as well as correspondence, reports, pamphlets, and posters on a variety of subjects. The scrapbook on cancer includes originals and copies of correspondence with Hubert Humphrey.
    The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) files contain employment materials and reports about Shimkin's wartime missions to the USSR and Liberia. The USSR files encompass nearly three decades of Shimkin's involvement with US-USSR medical exchanges and includes some articles in Russian. More personal accounts of these missions can be found in the Collected Reprints for the years between 1936 and 1957, as well as in Shimkin's 1979 article "Roads to Oz" (#308 in the Collected Reprints).
    1968-1986 9 boxes
    In the UCSD series are materials generated while Shimkin lived and worked in La Jolla. The contents have been reorganized to reflect Shimkin's many functions. Within the subseries, files are arranged in chronological order; within the files, the papers are arranged in reverse chronological order.
    The Department of Community Medicine files consist of faculty memos, correspondence, and reports. The files entitled Basic Science Research Projects & Correspondence are arranged by projects related to experimental carcinogenesis and the epidemiology of cancer. The files contain progress reports, budgets, proposals, and correspondence. The Cancer Center files trace Shimkin's efforts and involvement as a member of the Cancer Center planning committee. The files include memos, proposals, budgets, and cancer study reports, most often addressed to UCSD Dean Clifford Grobstein.
    As Professor of Community Medicine and Oncology, Shimkin taught courses on the epidemiology of cancer and tumors, led clinics, seminars and conferences, and advised medical students and post-docs. These activities are documented in the Teaching & Lectures subseries. The Notes & Ideas file has been created artificially from assorted handwritten memos and letters that Shimkin wrote but did not categorize. The last subseries, Bladder Tumors in the Physics Department, is a study that Shimkin conducted tracing the incidence of bladder tumors among graduate students.
    1962-1980 2 boxes
    The NCI series reflects Shimkin's involvement as an NCI consultant and contractor, particularly his efforts with the Cancer Control Advisory Committee. This series is organized chronologically with reports and correspondence within files in reverse chronological order.
    1936-1986 13 boxes
    Lectures, prepared remarks, speeches, transcripts of interviews, manuscripts and drafts of scientific papers, books, book reviews, articles for encyclopedias, and other writings by Shimkin constitute the WRITINGS AND ORAL PRESENTATIONS series. These files were originally found in alphabetical order, but they were rearranged by date to reflect the general chronological scheme of the collection as a whole and to correspond more readily to the numbered publication list and Collected Reprints created by Shimkin. Numbers in folder titles are artifacts of Shimkin's bibliographic numbering system. Items not originally numbered have been inserted into the numerical sequence by date. The series contents are limited to drafts and correspondence for articles published during the 1970s and 1980s and there is a lack of materials relating to earlier publications.
    The Collected Reprints contain not only publication lists and numbered reprints, but also biographical data, copies of diplomas and awards, newsclippings, reports, and other mementos of Shimkin's career. In addition to these representations of his professional life, published accounts such as the autobiographical "As Memory Serves" and "Early Lessons" provide some sense of Shimkin's personal life.
    1947-1981 0.5 box
    The WRITINGS OF OTHERS series includes articles and reprints collected by Shimkin. Most prominent are the writings of his UCSD assistants, Gary Stoner and Jeffrey Theiss. Other authors include Del Regato and A. Baird Hastings. Writings by members of Shimkin's family are found in the SUBJECT series in the Shimkin Family subseries.
    1956-1962, 1966-1981 0.5 box
    This series includes a collection of Shimkin's appointment books.
    1956; n.d. 1 Box
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series contains a facsimile of a scrapbook of the Laguna Honda Home, Laboratory of Experimental Oncology, as collected by Dorothy Messee Benyunes. This unique scrapbook was borrowed and reproduced, with permission, by the University of California, San Diego, in 1992. The scrapbook is comprised of news articles and black and white photographs which depict life at the Laboratory of Experimental Oncology, including its patients and employees. The series also contains a few outdoor photographs of the Laguna Honda Home which were collected by Shimkin.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series also consists of black and white photographs and a 16mm film, all apparently taken during Shimkin's 1956 trip to Russia. The photographer is unknown and the photographs are unidentified. Although originally kept together in a single envelope, the photographs are now arranged following an alpha-numerical code pencilled on the back of the 4X6 and 5X7 photographs. This arrangement shows that many of the larger prints are duplicates of the smaller ones. The 16mm film, approximately two minutes in length, depicts a laboratory, some unidentified scientists, and Shimkin.
    The remainder of the series contains an assortment of undated portraits taken of Shimkin for unspecified purposes, and some personal and otherwise unidentified photographs. The file of photographs from his book CONTRARY TO NATURE was found loose on Shimkin's desk after his death. Photographs in the Correspondence and Subject Files have been put in protective sleeves, but remain where they were. Other images, such as slides and negatives, mostly prepared for lectures and publications, have been removed from the papers and placed either in the UCSD Archives Negative File or in the Archives Slides File.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Shimkin, Michael Boris, 1912- -- Archives
    National Cancer Institute (U.S.). -- Office of the Director
    University of California, San Diego. -- School of Medicine
    University of California, San Diego. -- University Hospital
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty -- Archives
    National Cancer Institute (U.S.)
    National Cancer Institute (U.S.). -- Laboratory of Experimental Oncology
    United States. -- Public Health Service
    California. -- Dept. of Public Health
    Cancer -- Research
    Physicians -- Biography
    Medicine -- Research
    Science -- Social aspects
    Medicine research personnel
    Photographic prints -- 20th Century


    Purvis, Martin L., 1910- -- correspondent
    Humphrey, Hubert H. -- (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978, -- correspondent