Part One: The Einstein Letter
As an archivist here at the California Academy of Sciences, it is our job to preserve, organize, and make available for use the records of scientific activity and discovery. We undertake this effort in a variety of ways; from making available new and beautiful images of the natural world freely available for educational, personal, and non-profit use through the Manzanita Image Project, to digitizing field books and linking the resources to newly digitized specimens and published materials through our work on the Connecting Content Grant, to more traditional processing of our large collection of scientific records in an effort to make the material accessible to those who wish to consult it. Archival materials may include formats such as paper, photographs, film, video and audio recordings on analog or digital media, works of art, and other realia of significance to our collections. In short, you never know what you’ll find when you open a box.
I often boast that this exciting discovery is the best part of the job. As archivists, we get to be part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes (with equally zany fashion sense) and we are given the opportunity to preserve and explore the treasures of the past and allow for new connections and discoveries to be made as a result of our making the collections available. Moreover, in making these collections available, we uncover exciting items that we want to immediately share with you. With that in mind, we have decided to do a monthly (or perhaps more often if we just can’t wait) series of posts dedicated to highlighting some of the exciting new discoveries in our collections.
In our inaugural installment we would like to share with you a recent discovery (to us) when we opened a collection known to us as “Special Collections”. The records themselves were fairly straight forward and were comprised of documents that captured the history and processes that formed the California Academy of Sciences Special Collections but as we perused the contents, a series of “Files from the Rare Book Room” brought forth unexpected treasure. A few items stood out, including the hand written account of a meeting in 1885 between Adolph Sutro, California fish commissioner Joseph D Redding in which the “Sea Lion Question” was addressed. In case you are curious, the sea lion question was essentially, “ Do the sea lions who occupy the bays and coasts near San Francisco pose a threat to the fish populations?” We also found a California land patent for a small section of Mount Diablo signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.
Additionally, we found a letter signed by Albert Einstein!
The letter itself is a form letter asking for money to fund an educational endeavor regarding the responsible use of atomic energy after the tragedy of Hiroshima . Einstein was at the head of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists for its brief existence. The University of Chicago holds the organization’s records, and you can read more about the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists here: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.ECAS
I can only speculate that this letter came to the Academy by way of ECAS member and Nobel laureates Harold Urey and Linus Pauling, who were closely affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences and appeared on several episodes of our Academy produced television program, Science in Action.
Stay tuned for more great finds as we dig into our archives and uncover the history and intrigue of our past!
Connecting Content Project Manger & Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian