Cornell University
Formerly restricted interview with Barbara McClintock, now available at Cornell University Archives.
--Kass, LB, Provine, WB

In 1980, Professor William B. Provine of Cornell University and Paul Sisco, then a graduate student in Cornell’s Department of Plant Breeding, conducted a day-long confidential interview with Dr. Barbara McClintock in her laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, New York. The interview (Provine and Sisco 1980) was recorded on four cassette tapes, and transcribed by two professional transcribers. It was deposited in the Cornell Archives and, at McClintock’s request, classified as restricted until after her death.

The year after McClintock died, Provine invited Lee Kass to collaborate on conducting research for an intellectual biography of Barbara McClintock. Provine gave Kass permission to obtain copies of the transcripts from the Cornell Archives. These served as a basis for further investigations leading to documented materials for the biography. Provine and Kass secured funding from the National Science Foundation to support the research for this project (see MNL 71, page iv).

In 1996 Kass and Provine shared the transcribed interview with Nathaniel Comfort, who also used it for guidance with his Ph.D. dissertation on McClintock’s controlling elements (Comfort 1997). At the 1997 meeting of the Historical Section of the Botanical Society of America, Kass and Provine (1997) reported initial results from their investigations.

Recently Provine and Sisco’s interview with McClintock has been unrestricted and is now available to scholars at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.


Comfort, N. 1997. Breakage, Fusion, Bridge. The Discovery and Reception of Barbara McClintock’s Controlling Elements. Ph.D. Dissertation. State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY.

Kass, L. B. and W. B. Provine. 1997. Genetics in the roaring 20’s: The influence of Cornell’s professors and curriculum on Barbara McClintock’s development as a cytogeneticist. American Journal of Botany 84(6, Supplement):123.

Provine, W. B. and P. Sisco. 1980. Interview with Barbara McClintock. August 28, 1980. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York.

Please Note: Notes submitted to the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter may be cited only with consent of the authors.

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