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Archive of Sir Walter Bodmer and Lady Julia Bodmer


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Sir Walter and Lady Julia Bodmer's papers cover nearly all aspects of their research careers, making up a quite unique modern science archive. While it is often the case that scientists discard research papers (or delete digital files) such as laboratory notes and datasets once the scientific conclusion is reached, Sir Walter has been careful to retain every step of the research process leading up to publication. The archive includes a voluminous set of scientific correspondence, sequencing and other experimental data sets, lab notes and log books (of the Bodmers and other researchers from their labs), associated supporting papers, multiple drafts of scientific papers and grant applications. The archive additionally documents the major contributions Walter Bodmer made to national science policy, extending public interest and understanding of science, and international cooperation in science. The archive goes beyond the history of genetics, medicine and science and reveals a wide range of interests and concerns, fully reflecting the level at which the Bodmers operated. They also had numerous interests outside the world of science, including music and dance.

  1. Biographical and personal papers (1955-2008): biographical accounts and memorabilia; desk diaries; photographs; papers relating to early career, awards and knighthood
  2. Correspondence (1959-2005) is a large series of 271 boxes comprising professional, scientific and some personal correspondence and includes Bodmer’s copy letters
  3. Education and Cambridge early career, 1952-71: Manchester Grammar School sixth form work 1952-53; Cambridge undergraduate work (1950-56); Teaching (1957-65); Administration (1956-61); Research (1955-73)
  4. Stanford University, 1960-75: Teaching course materials and correspondence (1951, 1961-1971); Administration (1960-70); Grant award papers (1963-75); Research (1961-74); Non-university bodies (1963-72); miscellaneous laboratory and student related papers (1960s-1971)
  5. Oxford University, 1962-83: Administration and departmental grant applications (1969-79); Medical Research Council and Keble College (1972-79); Teaching papers (1962-79); Faculty, board and committee papers (1969-79); Research (1967-83)
  6. Imperial Cancer Research Fund, 1967-2007 is one of the larger sections, made up of business and research papers covering Walter Bodmer’s terms as Director of Research and Director-General, also covering the preceding period when Michael Stoker was Director of Research. The ICRF merged in 2002 with The Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) to become Cancer Research UK. Comprises: Walter Bodmer correspondence and office notes (1986-96); Council and committees (1967-96); AGM's, reviews and reports (1969-96); Events and public relations (1970-96); Staff personnel files and the correspondence and papers of Sir Michael Stoker (1967-2002); Printed material and historical publications, ([1905], 1970-2001); ICRF Units including Breast Cancer Unit, Guy’s Hospital and Medical Oncology Unit, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (1969-86); Scientific projects including Cancer Families Study Group (1966-89); Director’s Laboratory research and administration (1979-2007). Laboratory notebooks and files contain a considerable number of materials used in electrophoresis experiments, including autoradiographs and Southern and Western blots; other research material (1975-95)
  7. Oxford University Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, 1996-2008: research and administration papers of the Cancer and Immunogenetics Laboratory (founded and headed by both Walter and Julia Bodmer, and funded by the ICRF)
  8. Research data index cards (1968-2001): index cards of patients and donors, principally arranged alphabetically by surname and/or by medical conditions
  9. Research interests (1966-96): includes Human Genome Project (also found elsewhere in the archive); Recombinant DNA; smoking, tobacco and cancer; alternative therapies; EUREKA Labimap Project
  10. Visits, conferences and workshops (1958-2008): a large and comprehensive section relating to events, meetings, conference, symposia and workshops attended by Walter (and often, Julia) Bodmer
  11. Societies and organisations (1961-2009): this is the largest section in the archive reflecting Walter Bodmer’s involvement, activities and responsibilities with a large number of organisations. Well represented organisations include: Advisory Board for the Research Councils (ABRC); British Association for the Advancement of Science; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Fisons Plc; Gemini Genomics; General Motors Cancer Research; Human Genome Organisation (HUGO); Human Frontiers of Science Programme (HFSP); International Union Against Cancer (UICC); Laban Centre for Movement and Dance/Trinity Laban; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Leukaemia Research Fund; Medical Research Council (MRC); National Academy of Sciences; Natural History Museum; National Radiological Protection Board; Royal Society; Royal Institution; University of Salford; University of Cambridge; Sir John Soane's Museum; World Health Organisation (WHO)
  12. Lectures and broadcasts (c. 1958-94) includes material from the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures series, which Walter Bodmer presented in 1984 (titled ‘The Message of the Genes’); Bernal Lecture; BBC Radio talks and BBC Horizon ‘Sir Walter’s Journey (1994)
  13. Publishers and publications (1958-2011): publishers correspondence and editorial papers (1962-2001); Journal editorial papers (1967-2003); Publication drafts and related papers being made up of a complete chronological bibliography of Walter Bodmer’s publication output of articles and essays, with files containing drafts, proofs, correspondence and background material (1958-2011); Offprints (1958-2008)
  14. Illustrative Material (1960s-90s): exhibition poster material; photographic material; figures and illustrations; slides

Julia Bodmer:

  1. O. Correspondence (1970-2000): alphabetically arranged correspondence
  2. P. Tissue Antigen Laboratory (1967-2006): a large series comprising a complete set of laboratory research notebooks and associated papers of Julia Bodmer and other researchers (1967-2000); research papers of Steve Bryant (1987-2001); papers on testicular cancer research (1982-96); laboratory administration papers (1976-2001). This ICRF lab was headed by Julia Bodmer. Laboratory notebooks contain materials used in electrophoresis experiments, including autoradiographs and Southern and Western blots
  3. Q. Visits and Conferences (1983-92): papers relating to various conference, meetings and symposia attended by Julia Bodmer
  4. R. Publications (1964-2000): offprints and papers relating to Julia Bodmer’s publications (see also main publications section in Walter Bodmer’s archive)


  • Creation: 1955-2011


243.76 Linear metres (2216.0 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

Please ask Reading Room staff for guidance on separate handling guidelines when consulting the laboratory materials in MSS. Bodmer 710-829.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Bodmer 1, fol. 1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Bodmer 1-2216

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 6763


Papers of Sir Walter Bodmer (b. 1936) and Julia, Lady Bodmer (1934-2001), geneticists.

Biographical / Historical

Walter Bodmer was born 1936 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany to a German father and English/Swiss mother. His father was Jewish and the family fled from Germany in 1938 and settled in Manchester, England. His mother was the notable dancer, choreographer and teacher, Sylvia Bodmer.

Bodmer was educated at Manchester Grammar School, and won a scholarship to attend Cambridge University to read mathematics. As an undergraduate at Cambridge, he discovered the relatively new world of genetics and his interests led to him to the statistically oriented lectures of the Genetics Department, given by the statistician Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, who would remain an importantly influence on Bodmer’s career. This period in Cambridge represents the early years in the history of genetics, with the double helix structure of DNA having recently been discovered in 1953 by Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins. Bodmer then went on to take his PhD, with a major part of his thesis focusing on the population genetics of homostyl in primroses. After graduation in 1959, he stayed in Cambridge for a further two years on a Junior Research Fellowship, as a Fellow of Clare College and Demonstrator in the Department of Genetics. Bodmer became increasingly interested in the more biochemical and molecular aspects of genetics. In order to learn more about molecular biology, in 1961 he left England with his wife and three young children for Stanford University to work as a post doctoral fellow in the laboratory of bacterial geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Joshua Lederberg. Under Lederberg’s influence he became involved with work on the organism Bacillus subtilis and DNA transformation, making substantial contributions in this field. During his time in Stanford, he was made Professor of Genetics in the Department of Genetics at Stanford School of Medicine, and increasingly moved towards somatic cell genetics. While in Stanford, he initiated the work that contributed to the discovery of the major human histocompatibility system, HLA (together with his wife, Julia and the haematologist Rose Payne).

In 1970, at the invitation of Oxford University, Bodmer and his family returned to England and he took up the newly created Chair of Genetics. In his capacity as Professor of Genetics and as a molecular biologist increasingly involved in biochemical work, he chose to bring this newly created sub-department of genetics within the Department of Biochemistry. In his laboratory he continued his research and work on somatic cell genetics and made further advances in human gene mapping. Bodmer left Oxford in 1979 to take up the appointment of Director of Research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London (now Cancer Research UK). He was appointed Director General of the Fund in 1991. During his time at the ICRF, he continued with his research into the molecular and biochemical analysis of the HLA system and its association with disease. His laboratory helped to localise the gene for inherited colon cancer susceptibility, adenomatous polyposis coli.

After retirement from the Fund in 1996, he returned to Oxford University as Principal of Hertford College (until 2005). Since returning to Oxford he has been head of the Cancer and Immunogenetics Laboratory at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine where he continues his scientific research into cancer and population genetics (his wife Julia jointly headed this laboratory until she died in 2001). His work in this lab has involved research into the genetics and biology of colorectal cancer and their applications, and the characterisation and population distribution of genetic diversity in human populations, especially of the British Isles. With a team of researchers from Oxford University, he led a major Wellcome Trust funded project into the genetic make-up of the British public, with results of the study presented in the Channel 4 television series “Face of Britain” (broadcast in 2007).

Bodmer is the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, memberships and fellowships of scientific and medical societies. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, is a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and was knighted in 1986 for his contributions to science. He served as Chairman of COPUS (the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science), which was established jointly by the Royal Society, Royal Institution and British Association for the Advancement of Science (Bodmer has been closely involved with the activities of all three societies throughout his career). In 1985 the Royal Society published the landmark report, “The Public Understanding of Science” (commonly known as the Bodmer Report). In 1984 he was invited to deliver the BBC televised Royal Institution Christmas lecture, 'Message of the Genes'. Bodmer is the author of numerous journal publications and several monographs, including the classic textbook The Genetics of Human Populations, first published in 1971 and co-authored with Luca Cavalli-Sforza. He has been credited as one of the first to propose the idea of the Human Genome Project, an international quest to sequence the complete set of DNA in the human body. He was President of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) in 2005. In 2013, he was awarded the Royal Society ‘Royal Medal’.

Julia Gwynaeth Bodmer was a geneticist, trained economist and prominent figure in the field of immunogenetics. Her discoveries helped the understanding and development of knowledge about the HLA associations with diseases, including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and cancer.

Born Julia Pilkington in Manchester, 1934, she was educated at Manchester High School for Girls where she became head prefect. She won a state scholarship to Lady Margaret Hall to read philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), specialising in economics and statistics. She moved to Cambridge with her husband Walter Bodmer, where she held a position as statistical assistant to the economist W. B. Reddaway. She then moved to Stanford with her husband and three young children in 1961, where she worked initially as a research assistant in the laboratory of the haematologist Rose Payne, and later in her husband’s laboratory. With a strong statistical background and the ability to manage large and complex collections of data, she moved towards the field of HLA serology, collaborating with Walter Bodmer and Payne. During this time she worked on tissue typing and laid the basis for one of the first two genes of the HLA system.

In 1970 she returned with her family to England where her husband took up the Chair of Genetics at Oxford University. Julia was appointed Research Officer in the Genetics Laboratory where she continued with her work on HLA disease associations and the population distribution of the HLA types. She was responsible for highlighting the association between HLA type and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and Ankylosing spondylitis in women, and helped establish the immunological basis of these diseases. In 1979, she moved to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London, and now having established an international reputation, she headed the Tissue Antigen Laboratory. During her time at the ICRF she extended her work, making significant contributions to the genetics of Hodgkin’s disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma and testicular cancer. As a consequence of her work in the Tissue Antigen Laboratory, she contributed towards the identification of the first testicular cancer susceptibility genes. Upon retirement from the ICRF she returned to Oxford, and with her husband, jointly founded the Cancer and Immunogenetics Laboratory at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine where she worked on genetic variation in human populations.

Julia Bodmer played a key role in the discovery and definition of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system of genetic markers and became one of the world’s leading experts in HLA serology and the genetic definition of the HLA system. Among her many professional activities, Julia Bodmer served on many committees, including Chair (1992) of the Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics Group of which she was a founder, and Secretary then President (1996-97) of the European Foundation for Immunogenetics (EFI). She also played an active role in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Nomenclature Committee. Known for her warm personality, she spent time encouraging and welcoming new scientists to the field of Immunogenetics in her labs, both in London at the ICRF, and later, in Oxford. She died in January, 2001.


The catalogue is structured to reflect Walter Bodmer’s full career, from his school days in the early 1950s in Manchester to his recent research at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Oxford. Lady Julia Bodmer was a distinguished and leading geneticist in her own right, therefore her papers (for the most part sit) as a distinct series. However, while a smaller archive than Sir Walter’s, much of Julia Bodmer’s work was collaborative with her husband, and can be found among his papers.

Sir Walter kept good records of his activities and his secretaries maintained a highly efficient recordkeeping system. As such, very little archival arrangement or artificial structure has been required or imposed on the records and catalogue, with the original order retained as far as possible. Julia Bodmer’s section of papers has been retained in the original order, and have not been redistributed from Walter Bodmer's papers.

The main series that has required some arrangement is the Societies and Organisations section (MS. Bodmer 1154-1757). While retaining much of Sir Walter’s secretaries filing systems, some files have been redistributed in well represented societies, organisations and committees.

File titles as originally inscribed on folders or notebooks, where they exist, are given in inverted commas preceding descriptions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian Library by Sir Walter Bodmer in 2012.

Catalogue of the archive of Sir Walter Bodmer and Lady Julia Bodmer
MSS. Bodmer 1-2216
Finding aid prepared by Jacqueline Cahif, Adrian Nardone and Tim Powell
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust
Finding aid note
Cataloguing support provided by Rosanna Blakeley, Hedy Boland, Harriet Costelloe, Oliver House and Susan Paisley.

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom