Around the Web: The Newton and Einstein Archives

In addition to being a resource for the Mount Sinai community, the Mount Sinai Archives regularly hosts visitors from other institutions who use our extensive collections to do historical research. The records of the Medical Center and the papers of distinguished Mount Sinai physicians are of great interest to scholars, who have used them as primary source material to study a diverse range of topics in the history of science and medicine.

The Mount Sinai Archives, of course, are just one of many repositories holding valuable collections on these topics. A number of institutions are leading the way in making the papers of eminent scientists available on the Web.

The National Library of Israel recently completed a project to digitize a collection of manuscripts by Sir Isaac Newton, the pioneering mathematician and physicist. In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Newton was a serious student of religion. Although himself a Protestant, he became fluent in Hebrew so that he could study the history of ancient Israel from primary sources. His manuscripts on these topics were eventually acquired by Dr. Abraham Yehuda, the distinguished collector of Judaica, and are now housed at the National Library of Israel; as the National Library’s press release notes, “Newton’s diligence and precision is reflected in this research in the same manner it is reflected in his scientific work.”

These newly digitized documents will join a large number of previously scanned Newton manuscripts in being hosted by The Newton Project. This collaborative effort, the project of several institutions, is working towards making the entirety of Newton’s papers available through a single online portal. Since the papers of many major historical figures are scattered across multiple repositories, collaborative efforts such as this one are important part of the project to make the world’s archival heritage easily available to online readers.

Newton is not the only distinguished scientist whose papers are available online. The papers of physicist Albert Einstein, perhaps the twentieth century’s most well-known scientist, are also the subject of a collaborative digitization effort. At Cal Tech, whose library holds a significant collection of Einstein material, scholars have spent many years preparing a scholarly edition of Einstein’s papers. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, meanwhile, has led the way in scanning material from their own collection of Einstein manuscripts. The recently opened Einstein Archives Online website is a product of the collaboration between these two institutions. Numerous Einstein manuscripts are available for browsing, and new material is regularly being added.

As Newton himself said, “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In a world of fast-paced progress in both theoretical and applied science, resources such as these help memorialize the accomplishments of the pioneers whose work paved the way for today’s breakthroughs.

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