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Now at Your Fingertips: The Digital Einstein

New work cheered as "one of really important milestones in what people today call the 'digital humanities'"

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. (Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

A new digital database launched Friday offers the public free access to decades of documents from the twentieth century's most influential scientist.

Called the Digital Einstein Papers, the new website, made possible by Princeton University Press, in partnership with Tizra, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the California Institute of Technology, harnesses technology to bring thousands of documents—including papers, correspondence and lectures—from the Nobel winning scientist to a wide audience.

The open access database currently holds 13 volumes covering the first forty-four years of Albert Einstien's life. More volumes will be added—adding up to an expected 30 volumes—to the site following their print publications.

"This material has been carefully researched and annotated over the last twenty-five years and contains all of Einstein’s scientific and popular writings, drafts, lecture notes, and diaries, and his professional and personal correspondence up to his forty-fourth birthday—so users will discover major scientific articles on the general theory of relativity, gravitation, and quantum theory alongside his love letters to his first wife, correspondence with his children, and his intense exchanges with other notable scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and political personalities of the early twentieth century," Diana L. Kormos-Buchwald, director of the Einstein Papers Project, said in a media statement.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"It’s a terrific achievement," says Jürgen Renn, a director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin. For the way it permits seamless searching and comparison among Einstein’s papers, "it will be one of the really important milestones in what people today call the digital humanities."

Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, writes Friday in an essay for the Wall Street Journal that the digital collection "reinforce[s] a basic truth about the digital age: By empowering everyone to get information unfiltered, it diminishes the role of gatekeepers and intermediaries."

Among the noteworthy pieces readers can find are the telegram informing Einstein of his Nobel win, his lectures on the theory of relativity delivered at Princeton University during his first trip to the U.S., personal documents including letters to his mother and future wife Mileva Marić, and his thoughts on disarmament and pacifism.

In a document within the database that was published in 1922, for example, Einstein wrote: "Wars present the most severe obstacle for the development of all endeavors, in particular all cultural goals that are essentially based on the cooperation of people from all nations."

Anyone who's curious about what else Einstein wrote about pacifism is just a few clicks away from finding more within the trove of documents.

California Institute of Technology, uploaded this video to YouTube to explain more about the new website:

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