What Could Be Lost as Einstein’s Papers Go Online - WSJ
"Following in the footsteps of the National Archives’ “Founders Online” (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc.) and the digitized archives of Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and many others, the online Einstein papers will be the most extensive such project to date. A consortium of Princeton University Press, Hebrew University and Caltech has been publishing his papers with English translations, and the first 13 volumes went online this week at einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu. The site will eventually include 30 volumes, with some 14,000 annotated documents. My initial joy about the project was tempered, however, by a pinch of sadness. I realized that most future Einstein researchers would no longer have to make the journey to the cozy house on the edge of the Caltech campus where the scholars of the Einstein Papers Project were eager to embrace their rare visitors and ply them with guidance, insights and tea. They wouldn’t likely spend delightful days there—as I did for my biography of Einstein—with the science historian Diana Kormos-Buchwald and her colleagues as they debated such issues as how to explain what Einstein meant when he referred to quanta as “spatial” or his fellow Jews as Stammesgenossen (tribal comrades). The next generation of scholars will also lose the tingling inspiration of seeing original documents ... But my brooding soon gave way to marveling about the benefits that will come when millions of curious people, with new technologies in hand, get to dive into the papers of historical figures. While I was doing research years ago for my biography of Franklin, the Packard Humanities Institute in Los Altos, Calif., was at work on a digital collection of his papers. After a lot of begging, I wheedled a beta version of the CD-ROMs. They let me search all of Franklin’s papers for specific concepts ..."