AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVI , No. 2, Fall 2004

Van de Graaff generator
General view of the Van de Graaff generator. "Progress Report on the M.I.T. High-Voltage Generator at Round Hill" (typescript), by K. T. Compton, L. C. Van Atta, and R. J. Van de Graaff, December 12, 1933. MIT Office of the President records, 1930-1959 (AC 4), box 187, folder 5, "Round Hill, 1932-1933." Courtesy Institute Archives & Special Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Click on photo to see a larger image.

History of Physics in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections
by Tom Rosko

The MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections serves as a "memory" for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, collecting, preserving, and making accessible records

that document MIT's history and its impact on the world. In addition to being the source for information on the history of MIT, the Archives is one of the premier resources for the study of the history of 20th century science and technology, used by researchers from around the globe. The collections consist of official administrative and academic records of the Institute, personal papers of MIT faculty, staff, alumni, and related organizations, as well as MIT publications and theses. The Institute Archives and Special Collections also houses oral history collections and maintains the MIT rare book collections which include tens of thousands of volumes, many dating from before the 18th century including first editions by Newton and Galileo.

The strength of the MIT Archives is in the combination of the official administrative records of the Institute and the personal papers of faculty, alumni and related organizations. The administrative documentation provides the context, both within the Institute and without, for studying scientific research, professional, societal and related activities.

Along with supporting advances in teaching and research, MIT has been crucial to scientific policy development. The administrative records of former MIT presidents shed light on MIT's national and world impact in this realm. Karl Compton thrust MIT to the forefront of science in the mid-twentieth century. He and James Killian were instrumental in shaping post-war national science policy a role continued by every MIT president since. Other administrative records, such as those of the School of Science, address national science policy issues and give insight into MIT's prominence. Official published records such as the annual Reports to the President provide an in-depth overview of the activities across the Institute. Theses, increasingly available over the Web in electronic form, showcase the research achievements of graduates.

Personal papers and organizational records related to physics include those of acoustician Leo Beranek; Francis Bitter and the National Magnet Laboratory; national science leader Vannevar Bush; atmospheric scientist Jule Charney; Robley Evans and the Radioactivity Center; high-energy physicist Bernard Feld; former director of the Lincoln and Draper laboratories Albert Gordon Hill; former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Shirley Ann Jackson; nuclear theorist and social activist Philip Morison; organizational research theorist Philip Morse; space physicist Bruno Rossi; the Union of Concerned Scientists; Robert Van de Graaff and the High Voltage Energy Corporation; "father" of cybernetics Norbert Weiner; high-energy physicist Victor Weisskopf; and physicist and education reformer Jerrold Zacharias. Oral histories include interviews with Charles Stark Draper and Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues; and the Women in Science and Engineering Oral History Collection, includes interviews with Mildred Dresselhaus and Vera Kistiakowsky. The Archives has continued to make additions to its physics holdings. Thanks to a grant from the AIP Center for History of Physics, several of the above-mentioned collections have finding aids available online.

While continuing efforts to collect, preserve, describe and make accessible the records of MIT and the papers of prominent scientists and organizations, the MIT Libraries and Archives are also grappling with issues related to the preservation and access to digital archival information. Our efforts, such as DSpace (an institutional repository for digital research output), provide hope that future historians will continue to find a wealth of valuable material preserved for posterity.

The MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections is open to the public. Researchers are invited to contact us at 617-253-5690, via email at, or to visit our Web site Our mail address is Institute Archives and Special Collections, MIT Libraries, Building 14N-118, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307.

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AIP History CenterCenter for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
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