The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which owns the German Jewish physicist’s papers, is pulling never-before seen items from its climate-controlled safe, photographing them in high resolution and posting them online – offering the public a nuanced and fuller portrait of the man behind the scientific genius.
Only 900 manuscript images, and an incomplete catalogue listing just half of the archive’s contents, had been available online since 2003. Now, with a grant from the Polonsky Foundation UK, which previously helped digitise Isaac Newton’s papers, all 80,000 items from the Einstein collection have been catalogued and enhanced with cross referencing technology.
The updated web portal, unveiled on Monday, features the full inventory of the Einstein archives, publicising for the first time the entirety of what’s inside the collection and giving scholars a chance to request access to items they previously never knew existed.
“Knowledge is not about hiding. It’s about openness,” said Menachem Ben Sasson, president of the Hebrew University.
Einstein, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist whose theory of relativity revolutionised science, was one of the founders of the university. He contributed the original manuscript of his famed theory to the university when it was founded in 1925, four years after he was awarded the Nobel prize in physics. He bequeathed the rest of his papers – and the rights to the use of his image – to the university upon his death in 1955.
The portal now offers a close look at an initial 2,000 documents, or 7,000 pages, from Einstein’s personal and public life up to the year 1921. In the coming years, archivists will slowly upload the remainder of the collection.
The online project is part of an initiative with Princeton University and the California Institute of Technology to publish annotated scholarly work on all of Einstein’s papers.
The collection includes 14 notebooks filled with research notes in small cursive handwriting, letters to Einstein’s contemporaries on his physics research, and a handwritten explanation of his theory of relativity and its summarising equation e=mc2.