Fiftieth Anniversary: History Programs at AIP

Fifty years ago today, J. Robert Oppenheimer spoke at the dedication ceremony of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives of the Center for History of Physics (American Institute of Physics).

On Monday, staff from the Saylor Foundation were pleased to be present at the Center in College Park, MD for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the history programs at AIP.

We toured the climate-controlled archives (spotting one of Richard Feynman’s notebooks!) in a group led by R. Joseph Anderson, director of the library and archives, who was also kind enough to lead us through the Center’s extensive, delightful digital collections and exhibits. And in those archives, we shook hands with Prof. Gerald Holton, a venerable physicist and historian of science who has himself worked with the great men and women of physics — those illustrious names of the mid-twentieth century.

Later, with many dozens of guests in attendance, we heard Fred Dylla, Alan Chodos, Gloria Lubkin, Greg Good, Gerald Holton, Roger Stuewer, Spencer Weart, and Peter Galison recount the story, successes, and future of AIP’s History Programs. Liberally sprinkled in were anecdotes in which we heard names like Oppenheimer, Bohr, and Sakharov offered not as figures in bronze but as people of flesh and blood. We heard, in short, delight in the life of the mind and in the stories of the people who do science.

Some words of Dr. Holton are of particular note, however. He said (and here we paraphrase), “We have stood on the shoulders of geniuses, yes, but we also stand upon the many graves of relative unknowns” who have contributed immeasurably to the advancement of science. It is a key part of CHP’s mission to see that we all remember those stories.

(Our thanks for the kind invitation to this anniversary celebration and for AIP’s hospitality!)

Note: on Saylor.org, we offer two physics courses, Mechanics and Electromagnetism, and we hope to expand our offerings in the future. We’re excited about AIP’s Center for History of Physics and the Niels Bohr Library and Archives because they represent the tremendous new access to information available to independent scholars and curious individuals, self-guided students and working professionals alike. Photographs, oral histories, diaries, manuscripts and more are rapidly coming online as fast as archivists like Joseph Anderson and his staff can digitize them. It’s expensive to achieve, but the value produced is incredible: information free for billions. We implore you to never stop exploring, and please come share what you find!

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