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Vassar launches digital version of the college’s prized collection of Albert Einstein’s papers

The Vassar College Libraries have launched the Albert Einstein Digital Collection, an online version of the college’s prized collection of the famed scientist’s papers. The entire collection has been digitized for open access and ease of use, including zoom-in and full-text search capabilities.

Available at einstein.digitallibrary.vassar.edu, this ambitious project was made possible by a generous grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett in honor of Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE, and in cooperation with Hebrew University, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Princeton University Press, and the Philippe Halsman Archive. The online papers provide robust access to materials for Einstein scholars and new researchers alike.

Vassar’s Einstein collection documents a lesser-known aspect of Albert Einstein’s career: his social and political work in the United States and abroad, with special attention to Jewish affairs. The collection was formed by Einstein's friend and executor of his will, Otto Nathan, an economist and professor at several institutions of higher learning, including Vassar College. Einstein and Nathan met at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and became friends on the strength of their similar backgrounds and common interests.

The collection is composed of correspondence between Einstein and Nathan, as well as letters from Einstein's wife, Elsa, to Nathan, some manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs of Einstein. A number of letters discuss the fate of Jews in Europe and other aspects of World War II. Others deal with Brandeis University, Jewish affairs in the United States, and personal matters. Nathan gave his collection of Einstein materials to two close friends, Morris and Adele Bergreen. Mrs. Bergreen, a Vassar alumna, made a gift of the collection to the college in 2003.

"Digitizing the Einstein collection posed many challenges, and perhaps the most significant one was providing an online interface that met the needs of researchers and undergraduates alike,” explains digital projects librarian Joanna DiPasquale. “High-quality scans and translation of all documents from German to English took considerable effort, but the results were well worth the time,” she enthuses. “The project took approximately one year, and now we have a searchable collection that is available to the entire world."

The new site's many features include images that provide zoom-in and zoom-out capabilities, full-text searching, browsing by author, and access to a variety of materials, from photographs to telegrams to letters. All documents have been translated into English through the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech, providing a new level of access to Einstein's materials: searching and reading documents are available in both English and German, with side-by-side views of the languages for each page available.  Searches are also cross-referenced with Hebrew University's Einstein Archives Online (http://www.alberteinstein.info) to provide quick access to records for additional materials, many also available online.

“This collection has been a highly-valued possession of the library for more than ten years and online availability only enhances this asset,” said Ronald Patkus, head of special collections at Vassar.

Library director Sabrina Pape concurs. “Having these documents and materials now widely available to anyone with internet access is absolutely in the spirit of the sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas that Einstein himself embraced. We are thrilled that, through the generosity of Dr. Bennett, we were able to bring this important collection into the digital realm.”

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, May 13, 2014