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Blog

New Einstein online archive

By James Dacey

He is still regularly quoted as a supreme authority on a range of topics from fundamental physics to Eastern religion, along with his more whimsical asides on people, places and experiences. Now, the thoughts of Albert Einstein have just become more accessible, thanks to a new website launched yesterday that collates 2000 digitized items, including his scientific writings and his personal correspondence. The website also contains various curios, newspaper clippings and even some of Einstein’s poetry.

The new collection has been assembled by the Albert Einstein Archives, a subdivision of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, which has teamed up with the Einstein Papers Project (EPP) based in California. Funding has come from the UK-based Polonsky Foundation, an organization that previously digitized the writings of Sir Isaac Newton for the University of Cambridge. The new Einstein collection is designed to replace an earlier database launched in 2003, which contained just 900 digitized papers.

Personally, I think the new site could still be a little easier to navigate. But the best thing to do is to take the tour of the gallery, which showcases some of the most interesting items. It includes an image of the 46-page manuscript presented to the Hebrew University on its opening in 1925, which is said to be Einstein’s first systematic exposé of his general theory of relativity. It also includes a letter that Einstein wrote in to his mother in 1919 after hearing the news that Eddington’s preliminary findings appeared to confirm general relativity. There is an image of the original letter in German, and there is also an English translation (see below).

Dear Mother,

Good news today. H.A. Lorentz has telegraphed me that the British expeditions have definitely confirmed the deflection of light by the Sun. Unfortunately, Maja has written me that you’re not only in a lot of pain but that you’ve also had gloomy thoughts. How I would like to keep you company again so that you’re not left to ugly brooding. But I will have to stay here a while and work. I will also be travelling to Holland for a few days to show my gratitude to Ehrenfest, even though the delay is rather painful.

I wish you good days.

Affectionately yours,

Albert.

The archive also includes some of Einstein’s writings on the plight of the Jewish people. One powerful example is this extract taken from a speech Einstein delivered in 1921 to a Zionist audience in Berlin.

Palestine is for us Jews not a matter of charity or colonization: it is a problem of paramount importance for the Jewish people. Palestine is first and foremost not a refuge for east European Jews, but the incarnation of a reawakening sense of national solidarity for all Jews. Is it opportune and necessary to waken and strengthen this feeling of community? I believe I can answer this question with an absolute “yes”, based on not only on [sic] spontaneous emotion but on sound reason.

Einstein goes on to discuss the history of the Jews in Germany during the previous 100 years, and the respect he has for the strong sense of community that his forefathers sustained.

German speakers may also enjoy the quirky feature of being able to leaf through a digital version of Einstein’s travel journal.

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