Release of collected papers of Albert Einstein give insight into a genius

2 pictures

The collected papers of Albert Einstein's early life are now able to be viewed online

View gallery - 2 images

The name "Einstein" is synonymous with genius. A cultural icon of the 20th century, the mere mention of his name prompts many to quote his famous mass-energy equivalence formula, E=mc2, whilst the photograph of him sticking out his tongue has become an instantly recognizable meme of the digital age. But what do we really know of the man behind the face and that equation; his home life, his dreams, his aspirations? To allow a glimpse into his private world, Princeton University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have now released the collected works from Einstein's early life in digital form online for anyone to read.

Einstein lectured at Princeton University from 1933 until his death in 1955, and it is this university that has taken charge of producing a new digital archive of around 5,000 documents in 13 volumes. The volumes of work have also been physically published and so far comprise the period of Einstein’s life from his youth up to the year 1923, when he was 44 years of age.

Under the editorship of Diana Kormos-Buchwald, professor of physics and the history of science at the California Institute of Technology (CIT), The Einstein Papers Project is predicted to produce a complete set of works totaling around 30 volumes.

This enormous number of volumes is due to the fact that Einstein bequeathed some 80,000 documents to the Princeton and Hebrew universities. Tasked with collating, organizing, translating, and publishing these vast tomes, the Einstein Papers Project still needs to produce versions of these volumes that carry on from 1923 through to 1955.

However, given that much of the documentation was not delivered neatly bound in chronological order, ready for easy printing but, rather, stored in an assortment of shoeboxes, attics, and other hidey-holes, the task is made that much harder than even its sheer volume would suggest.

The works that have been printed so far range from letters, notebooks, postcards, diaries, notebooks, and school reports. It is just one of these school entrance reports alone that shows a glimmer of Einstein’s true personality, and allows one to guess at his precocious nature.

For example, in 1895, Einstein failed to gain entry to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, and his entrance report for the Aargau District School evaluates him as having "great gaps" in his knowledge of French, and a need to redo his work on chemistry. One can only imagine the precocious young Einstein struggling to do work that held no real interest for him. However, the following year he must have knuckled-down a bit as, by 1896, he graduated from school with top marks in physics (of course) along with algebra and geometry, a reasonable grade in chemistry, and his lowest mark – you guessed it – in French.

This is just one example in a plethora of fascinating tidbits. Merely glancing through the many tables of contents and alighting on the odd interesting page or two can fill up a number of enthralling hours exploring the back-story of Einstein. Everything from his finally being awarded a Nobel Prize after more than a decade of nominations, through to his personal worries on political tensions in Berlin, and on to his musings on art in Spain or an analysis on superconductivity, the Einstein document archives are a treasure trove of captivating information for academics, students, and historians alike.

Visitors to the Einstein Papers site will find his documents separated into volumes, each of which is shown in chronological order. The series is also broken up into various topics, such as "Writings" and "Correspondence," along with documents based on Einstein’s location at the time, such as "The Swiss years."

All of these volumes include various items including Einstein's published and unpublished articles, letters written by and to Einstein, lectures, research notebooks, book reviews, patent applications, and significant documents by others on his lectures, his life, and his speeches, along with interviews of him. All of which is extensively cross-referenced.

The co-hosted (Princeton and Hebrew universities and CIT) archival database of the complete works so far also has a catalog of works that is searchable and viewable, however, it remains a largely academic site and information seems not so easily accessible as the Einstein Papers site.

Though most of the documents on the Princeton Einstein Papers site are in Einstein’s native German tongue, each document published is also accompanied by an English translation. The rest of the volumes' contents, including the introduction, headnotes, footnotes, and other items specific to the structure of the book, are in English.

A 14th volume of the documents, comprising more than 1,000 documents, is due for release in January 2015.

View gallery - 2 images

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Remarkable People

Editors Choice