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John B. Calhoun Film 7.1
1970-72 / 38 minutes (edited version)
Producers: National Institute of Mental Health, Time-Life Broadcasting
Sound, color

Film Stills

Black title slate with yellow lettering reads 1972, Fall, Univ. 25, Study 102, Scenes include last survivors 20 or so white mice cling to a wire wall with a water bottle mounted on it, attempting to get a drink Dr. Calhoun faces a blackboard and writes with chalk: Rx (as in a prescription) followed by Evolution
An arm is stretched out with a well-groomed white mouse resting between the thumb and forefinger. Dr. Calhoun stands next to a dark-haired man with a notebook and pen in his hand, in front of a chalkboard Hundreds of white mice push against one another in an enclosure with low dividers radiating out from the center
Black title slate with yellow lettering reads 1970, 12 aggressive males from Study 102

Images from the John B. Calhoun Papers

John B. Calhoun Papers. 1909-1996. Located in: Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 586.

A drawing of the rat habitat shows food hoppers, water bottles, elevated burrows, and ramps connecting the four pens Study 134, Rat Habitat. no date. MS C 586. Series III: Historical Flow Chart (HFC), 1909-1995, box 143, folder 1.

Four mice cluster on a shelf near a water bottle, with several more mice in nooks beneath them. Some have little fur, others look thin and dirty. Mice in Universe 25
Image #1633, no date. MS C 586. Series VII: Negatives, Photographs, and Slides, 1960-1992, box 142, folder 21.

Dr. Calhoun and his colleagues are seated at a counter that surrounds the mouse universe, several feet off the floor of the enclosure. Dr. Calhoun has a pen in his left hand and an open notebook in front of him. Bagley, Hill, and Calhoun look over the mouse enclosure
Image #04, no date. MS C 586. Series VII: Negatives, Photographs, and Slides, 1960-1992, box 142, folder 28.

About three dozen white mice cluster behind the brown-shoe-clad feet of a person walking through the enclosure. “Following the piper”
Scene #4, 1978. MS C 586. Series VII: Negatives, Photographs, and Slides, 1960-1992, box 142, folder 50.

A drawing of a 3-dimensional object with numbers, lines, and labels indicating the relationships within a population among environment, needs, conditions, and adaptations. Graphic with multiple lines, points, and sides.
Graphs, no date. MS C 586. Series VII: Negatives, Photographs, and Slides, 1960-1992, box 143, folder 1.

White and gray mice cluster near the center of the mouse enclosure, pressing against and atop one another in places. Sixteen spoke-like dividers radiate from the center. Scores of mice cluster together.
1970. MS C 586. Series VII: Negatives, Photographs, and Slides, 1960-1992, Box 143, folder 17.


Read the transcript


Finding Aid to Calhoun Papers

Explore the Finding Aid to the John B. Calhoun Papers at NLM

Research data, audio and video tapes and film, photographs and negatives, charts and graphs, and reprints document Dr. Calhoun's research activity at NIMH's Section on Behavioral Systems. Users will also find much information about NIH internal and external politics. Calhoun was often on the cutting-edge of behavioral research during a time of dramatic scientific organizational change at NIH. He arranged the entire corpus of his research documentation within a series entitled the Historical Flow Chart (HFC). In addition to this, Calhoun employed several other organizational schemes, such as numbered Section on Behavioral Systems (SOBS), Unit for Research of Behavioral Systems (URBS), Internal Research Query (IRQ), Research Communications (RC), "Review and Synthesis," and alphanumeric document sets. Users will find these organizational codes throughout the collection. These materials provide exceptional insight into Calhoun’s own mind and thought processes.


Articles and Essays

The researcher who loved rats and fueled our doomsday fears, by Fredrick Kunkle

Washington Post, Retropolis column, June 19, 2017

Medical Historian Examines NIMH Experiments in Crowding

In 2008, essay author Dr. Edmund Ramsden visited NLM and delivered a History of Medicine lecture titled “Finding Humanity in Rat City: John B. Calhoun’s Experiments at NIMH”.

Population Density and Social Pathology

In this 1970 piece published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Calhoun writes about the destructive social implications of severe overcrowding. “In the celebrated thesis of Thomas Malthus, vice and misery impose the ultimate natural limit on the growth of populations. Students of the subject have given most of their attention to misery, that is, to predation, disease and food supply….But what of vice? Setting aside the moral burden of this word, what are the effects…of population density on social behavior?”

Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population

In a 1973 article published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr. Calhoun describes his experiments and findings. “I shall largely speak of mice, but my thoughts are on man, on healing, on life and its evolution. Threatening life and evolution are the two deaths, death of the spirit and death of the body….”


Additional Films

Calhoun’s work

Behavior of Wild Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus): a study conducted by John B. Calhoun from 1947 to 1959 near Towson Maryland


US Government Films

The US Army and the US Public Health Service produced many films in the 1940s and 1950s about the habits of rats, the perils of contamination and disease, how to ratproof homes and buildings, and as necessary, how to poison rats effectively. See links below to two titles from NLM Digital Collections.

Keep 'em Out

Practical Rat Control: Ratproofing

An arrow pointing left. Read the Essay | Bibliography An arrow pointing right.