University digitises Einstein archives via new website

20 Mar 2012

View of Einstein Archives Online

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has revamped its Albert Einstein online collection to digitally showcase never-before-seen documents from the theoretical physicist and scientific genius, including manuscripts, a postcard to his sick mother and correspondence with his lovers.

A founder of the Hebrew University, Einstein bequeathed his entire writings and intellectual heritage to the university, including the rights to the use of his image.

Yesterday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem launched the updated and expanded Einstein Archives website.

The launch was simultaneously marked at Princeton University Press and the Einstein Papers Project at California Institute of Technology. Both entities have collaborated with the Hebrew University in a long-term project to publish The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.

So what can you stumble upon in the new Einstein website? Well, it now contains a catalogue of more than 80,000 documents in the university’s Einstein Archives. You can sift through more than 40,000 documents contained in Einstein’s papers and more than 30,000 additional Einstein and Einstein-related documents that have been discovered by the Einstein Archives staff and the editors of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein since the 1980s.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, who collaborated with Dr Chaim Weizmann in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Via the new website, it is also possible to link each document to its printed and annotated version as it appears in The Collected Papers, and to its English translation.

The digitisation project has been funded by the Polonsky Foundation UK. Through his foundation, Dr Leonard Polonsky also helped digitise the writings of Sir Isaac Newton at the University of Cambridge. This attracted 29m hits within the first 24 hours after its launch.

“We have every reason to believe that the launch of the expanded Einstein website will attract as much attention as the Newton papers. Clearly, there is a pent-up demand for open access to these intellectual treasures,” said Polonsky at yesterday’s launch.

Advanced search technology 

The university said the expanded site will initially feature a visual display of about 2,000 selected documents amounting to 7,000 pages related to Einstein’s scientific work, public activities and private life up to the year 1921.

These documents are sorted according to five categories: scientific activity, the Jewish people, the Hebrew University, public activities and private life.

Project manager Dalia Mendelsson said that advanced search technology would enable the display of all related documents by subject, and, in the case of letters, by author and recipient.  

”This project relates to different academic disciplines: physics and basic science, the history of science, the history of Zionism and of the Hebrew University,” said Hebrew University president Prof Menahem Ben-Sasson.

This past 14 March marked the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Einstein. He was born on that day in 1879 at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany. Often termed the father of modern physics, it was in 1905 that Einstein developed the theory of general relativity. He’s also renowned for his mass-energy equivalence formula E=mc2. In 1905, he wrote the paper Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy Content?

Einstein formulated the general theory of relativity in 1916. Five years later, he received the Nobel Prize in physics based on his contribution to theoretical physics, especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

In 1933, he renounced his citizenship of Germany for political reasons and emigrated to the US where took up the position of professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University. He became a US citizen in 1940 and retired from his Princeton post in 1945.

Einstein died in Princeton Hospital on 18 April 1955 at the age of 76 due to internal bleeding following the rupture of an aortic aneurysm.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic