Albert Einstein archives at Hebrew University 370.
(photo credit: Judy Siegel)
A free online archive of 80,000 documents chronicling all aspects of Albert
Einstein’s life was presented by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Monday for
all the world to see – just in time to mark the 133rd anniversary of his
Although a relatively bareboned archive was set up in Jerusalem
some years ago, the new one is much more comprehensive, containing (at
www.alberteinstein.info) thousands of facsimile pages in the form of PDF files,
images and translations that will continue to grow as more is digitized,
processed and translated. Diagrams and photographs can already be accessed, and
The university’s Einstein Archives, located adjacent to the
Jewish National University Library in the Givat Ram quarter, is expected to be
accessed electronically by countless people.
For its first day, HU
staffers prepared for days and nights to ensure that its servers could handle
millions of “hits” – just as the Sir Isaac Newton Library digitized by HU
benefactor Dr. Leonard Polonsky at the University of Cambridge had 29 million
“hits during its first 24 hours of existence. Polonsky gave $500,000 over three
years to turn the printed words of and about Einstein into electronic text over
the next three years.
The online Jerusalem archives, the only academic
website of its kind, lists more than 40,000 of Einstein’s personal papers and
over 30,000 additional documents related to his life and work. The HUled team
includes the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology
in Pasadena, and New Jersey’s Princeton University Press.
Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson noted that the project relates to different academic
disciplines, including: physics, basic science, the history of science, Zionism
and the university itself. “We have invested considerable effort to advance this
project and are happy to make the world of this great scientist and person
accessible to the interested general public,” he said.
president Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, a renowned theoretical physicist and
lifelong Einstein buff, provided details on the online archives to some 50
reporters and photographers – most of them foreign journalists – at a bilingual
press conference. He noted that the website presents some 5,000 Einsteinauthored
items related to HU – thus showing his deep involvement in its establishment in
1918, and opening in 1925.
“This online archives is a cultural and
scientific asset to be shared by everybody,” said Gutfreund. “Academics already
had access to material, but it was no easy task. They had to write and
apply. They didn’t know what was here.” Now anyone can access the
documents, he said, and it will have a great impact on scholars and
The two foreign academic centers have collaborated with HU in a
long-term project to publish the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein – one of
the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the documentation of
the history of science. The enhanced, userfriendly website enables users
to view printed and annotated versions as they appear in the Collected Papers,
and to its English translation.
About two-thirds of the documents appear in the original German, the Jewish
physicist’s mother tongue, which he spoke until his escape from the Nazis to the
US. The remaining documents are in English and other languages, according to Dr.
Roni Grosz, the curator of the Jerusalem archives.
Einstein bequeathed HU
all his personal papers and intellectual property, including the rights to use
his image; this had earned the university a good income of many millions of
dollars over the years. As if to say “thank you,” the university has devoted
itself to locating, borrowing and even purchasing his papers and letters he
received and sent. Grosz said that in the 1980s, a single Einstein letter sold
for $30, while today, it would cost $3,000 to $5,000.
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. Users can use an
advanced search engine to see all related documents by subject, and, in the case
of letters, by author and recipient.
Glass-topped cases set up at the
press conference showed documents that had never before been visually accessible
to the public. These included Einstein’s letter to Azmi El-Nashashibi, the
editor of Falastin
, suggesting an original (but according to Gutfreund “naive”)
solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict; a letter to the Jewish community in Berlin
giving the distinction between the Jewish religion and Jewish nationalism; a
speech to a Zionist meeting with a report on a HU-fundraising campaign in the
US; an emotional 1919 postcard to his sickly mother; and a letter from his 24-
year-old mistress, Betty Neumann.