PASADENA, Calif. - Student protests in Albert Einstein's classroom? Who would have thought the world-renowned genius would have to deal with such disrespect? But according to a new publication coming out of the California Institute of Technology, the protest was very real and very political.
It was anti-Semitism. His students were protesting the presence of poor, refugee Eastern European students who were auditing his relativity lecture in Berlin in 1920. So he dealt with the protest by offering free classes. Six months later, reporters, students, and scientists leveled more serious attacks at Einstein and his work.
In fact, politics had become a very large part of Einstein's life. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: Volume 7, The Berlin Years: Writings, 1918-1921, published by Princeton University Press, was released worldwide this month. It includes many political articles and drafts by Einstein – many of them previously unknown.
The volume includes his course notebook from November 9, 1918, the date Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated, which contains a remarkable and probably unprecedented entry in the annals of professorial documents: Einstein cancelled his lecture on relativity that day "due to revolution."
"Soon after, he met with the new head of the German interim government and secured the release of several University of Berlin professors and its rector, detained by revolutionary students," says Diana Kormos-Buchwald, associate professor of history at Caltech, and director of the Einstein Papers Project.
"Four days later, Einstein addressed a crowd of over 1,000 and, emphasizing the rights of the individual, declared that 'all true democrats must stand guard lest the old class tyranny of the right be replaced by a class tyranny of the left,' and expressed support and a willingness to work for the new post-World War I democratic Germany," Kormos-Buchwald added.
The new book is the first volume in a series coming out of the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech. The volume covers the period of Einstein's rise to international fame, and includes, in more than 70 documents, his lectures, notes, and articles on the general theory of relativity, material relating to his first trip to the United States in 1921, as well as his first publications on political, social, and humanitarian issues.
The volume, under the general editorship of Kormos-Buchwald, was edited by an international group of Einstein scholars: Michel Janssen, Robert Schulmann, József Illy, and Christoph Lehner. Daniel J. Kennefick, a 1999 Caltech PhD, was associate editor. Osik Moses and Rudy Hirschmann were editorial assistants.
"This volume is the first in the series to present a mixture of Einstein's scientific, pedagogical, political, and humanitarian writings," says Kormos-Buchwald. "Here we can see the complexity of his personal and public life, in an almost day by day record of work and public activities – the thoughts and actions of the mature, successful, world-famous, and often controversial Einstein around the age of 40."
After his rise to international fame in late 1919, Einstein's publications changed markedly. He faced an increasing demand for popular articles and lectures on relativity, and its development and meaning.
He completed his general theory of relativity in 1916 after 10 years of intensive and exhausting work. Two years later, in a paper that is now particularly well known, Einstein begins by announcing that he needs to correct a "regrettable error in calculation" and derives the famous quadrupole formula for the flux of energy radiated by a source of gravitational waves. Today, Caltech/MIT Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory scientists are hoping to be able to detect these gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein's work almost exactly 85 years ago.
Also, during this period, Einstein responded to a host of commentators, ranging from skeptical physicists to philosophers trying to reconcile his revolutionary theory with their views. For the first time, he also responded in print to outspoken anti-relativists, some of them fueled by cultural conservatism and, frequently, anti-Semitism. He assisted Central Europeans in the grip of starvation and economic collapse, praised the support of individuals and groups such as the Quakers, and championed the cause of Eastern European Jews. His rejection of assimilation, combined with a fierce defense of the right of Jews to higher education, led him to campaign for the establishment of a university in Palestine, the land that he conceived of as a cultural center for all Jews.
The Einstein Papers Project is a 25-year effort that will result in 29 volumes of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. It has been described as the most ambitious publishing venture in the history of 20th-century science.
The project requires research into more than 60,000 documents, including correspondence, scientific writings, speeches on science and social issues, notebooks, diagrams, photos, as well as various contemporary materials and letters about Einstein penned by family members, colleagues, and the press. The collection of photocopies is housed in seven large, fireproof filing cabinets, each the weight of a baby grand piano.
The cabinets contain copies because most of the originals are located at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's literary estate. The Caltech collection also includes thousands of copied documents from other collections and archives.
The Einstein Papers Project began in 1971 when Princeton University Press agreed to take on the monumental task of the chronological publication of Einstein's annotated writings. The first volume in the series, edited by a team of experts at Boston University, appeared in 1987.
The Caltech connection to Einstein goes back much further than the arrival of the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech in August 2000. Einstein was a visiting scientist on the campus for the winter terms of 1931, '32, and '33. He might have become a full-time faculty member, had it not been for miscommunication between the Institute and Einstein. Because he could not return to Nazi Germany, he joined the new Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained from 1933 until his death in 1955.
The publication comes out at an opportune time because the most comprehensive presentation ever mounted on Einstein's life and work will open in New York's American Museum of Natural History on November 15. The show will then arrive at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in September 2004. The exhibit was coordinated by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Skirball.
When Kormos-Buchwald was appointed to the project, she was offered the option to work at Boston University, where the Project was located for 15 years, or move the collection to Caltech – she chose the latter. Her staff is bilingual because the majority of Einstein's writings are in German.
Copies of the documents in the Albert Einstein Archive are available in microfilm in the Caltech Archives, open to the public by appointment only; call (626) 395-2700.
The Einstein Papers Project web site is at http://www.einstein.caltech.edu/.
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