Albert Einstein (1879–1955), one of the foremost scientists and public figures of the 20th century, revolutionized our views of time and space, matter and light, gravitation and the universe.
The Einstein Papers Project is engaged in one of the most ambitious scholarly publishing ventures undertaken in the history of science. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein provides the first complete picture of Einstein’s massive written legacy.
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein series now covers Einstein's life and work up to his 48th birthday. It presents, as annotated full text, 484 writings by Einstein and 3,450 letters written by and to him. An additional 3,441 documents appear in abstract.
Tilman Sauer's most recent publication, "Einstein's Working Sheets and His Search for a Unified Field Theory", was published in the The European Physical Journal H. The paper abstract is as follows: The Einstein Archives contain a considerable collection of calculations in the form of working sheets and scratch paper, documenting Einstein's scientific preoccupations during the last three decades of his life until his death in 1955. This paper provides a brief description of these documents and some indications of what can be expected from a more thorough investigation of these notes.
1. Welcome to the Einstein Papers Project! What has been your work in recent years, and how did it lead you to the EPP?
After completing college, I did research for several government agencies on issues related to Nazi Germany, World War II, and the Holocaust. Since finishing my PhD in history at Penn in 2014, I’ve had postdocs in Berlin and Florida, and lectured at Penn. Several things attracted me to the EPP. First, I liked the idea of a challenging new project on a rather unfamiliar subject matter that still intersects with my own interests. Secondly, I welcomed the chance to use documents in diverse ways. At heart, I love nothing more than being in the proverbial salt mine of an archive and plumbing what I can out of the material. Finally, the team-driven atmosphere of the EPP really drew me in when I first came to visit. That same salt mine I adore can also be very isolating and the prospect of having other people to discuss the documents and history with was incredibly appealing.
2. In what ways does your previous research dovetail with or diverge from what we work on at the project?
At first glance, it would appear to most people that my research—as a non-scientist or history of science person—would entirely diverge from Einstein’s work, and what we do here at the project. In reality, there is much more overlap with my research than even I expected, especially once you read against the archival grain, to steal from Ann Stoler.
My book manuscript, The Archives of Humanity: The International Tracing Service, the Holocaust, and Postwar Order, examines aspects of the ongoing refugee and humanitarian crises that swelled because of Nazi racial policies and World War II, two issues Einstein was very engaged with even before Hitler came to power. In fact, while doing the research that underlies the book, I came across correspondence between Einstein and the tracing service in the early 1950s. I remember asking myself at the time: "Why is Albert Einstein intrigued by this place?" Our current and future volumes at the EPP will contain documents that specifically address topics that my own research deals with: refugees, displacement and statelessness, humanitarianism and human rights, and war.
3. You've conducted extensive research in various archives. Can you elucidate how or why working with primary sources is a motivating factor in your work as an historian?
I think the foundation of being a historian is using primary source material. Archives and other primary sources let you peel back layers to get at how the past essentially unfolded, to paraphrase Leopold von Ranke, the founder of the modern historical profession. While historians today have a considerably more refined understanding of this trope, drawing on this core truth to follow the sources, we still use ever-evolving theories and methods to interrogate and contextualize primary material, allowing us to construct considerably more nuanced histories and understandings of the past. I also just love the materiality of being able to physically touch and examine original sources and revel in the "dust" of history.
Photo by Lucinda MacTaggart Rodgers