Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 9
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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A Labor of Love, New Institute History Documents “Curiosity Driven Research”

Ellen Gilbert

“I think you can tell that I’m enamored of the place,” said writer Linda Arntzenius in a recent interview about her new book, Images of America: Institute for Advanced Study. Published by Arcadia Press, the heavily illustrated history is already available for sale at Labyrinth Books, Landau’s, and online through Amazon. In addition, Ms. Arntzenius will be signing copies of the book at two upcoming Princeton Public Library events, on March 12 and 19.

In her introduction to the book, Ms. Arntzenius describes the founding of the Institute for Advanced Study — Louis Bamberger and Mrs. Felix Fuld Foundation, as it was known then — as “a great experiment at the start of the Great Depression.” Scholars were invited to work there “without regard to ‘accidents of race, creed or sex.’” In addition to a permanent faculty of “the best and brightest in their fields,” Ms. Arntzenius writes, “the IAS has provided time away from teaching to talented scholars from around the world, totaling over 7,000 in 80 years.”

“The Blue Book”

Ms. Artzenius, a freelance writer already known to Princeton readers for her contributions to the Lifestyle Section of The Princeton Packet, Town Topics, and Princeton Magazine, was a natural for the project. As an Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) Public Affairs employee between 2003 and 2006, she compiled a brief history booklet known to the IAS community as “the blue book.” Her passion for the place began even earlier however; she reported being “enthralled by the IAS” since first hearing about the work of John von Neumann and Kurt Gödel as a student of logic and history of science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (L.S.E.).

While “the blue book,” was intended for the Institute community and documented the first 75 years of its history, the newer book brings that history up to date, and is intended for an audience that is not necessarily familiar with the IAS story. Indeed, one of the objectives of the book, the author said, is to inform area residents about a place that is purportedly better known in Paris than in its hometown of Princeton, where there is often confusion about its location and independent status from Princeton University. (It is separate.)

Among the challenges of preparing the new volume, Ms. Arntzenius reported, were the many fascinating stories that threatened to distract her from the task at hand. Going through the IAS’s own archive, speaking with IAS members, and talking to area residents who had Institute connections she was, she said, constantly in danger of being derailed at every turn.

“Dr. Iodine”

“Everything was interesting,” she enthused. “Everyone had stories: faculty, families, spouses, children, secretaries, even the guy in the mailroom.” Since the volumes of local histories in the Images of America series rely heavily on photographs, she needed to come up with the pictures to match these narratives. A particularly deft example of her success with this challenge is a photograph of Albert Einstein in front of Fuld Hall. In addition to describing Einstein’s passion “for peace and justice,” the caption includes Barbara Rose’s memory of growing up a few doors away from the man she referred to as “Dr. Iodine.”

“There are so many pictures of Einstein because there are so many stories,” explained Ms. Arntzenius. “He is a huge presence,” although, she added, others like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Irwin Panofsky, and Albert Hirschfield hold their own. She also rattled off the names of successive IAS Directors, beginning with Abraham Flexner — who defined the Institute as a place “for curiosity-driven research” — as if they were friends whose foibles and strengths were well known to her.

While Ms. Arntzenius is grateful to current IAS administration for permission to do the book, she is quick to point out that it is not intended to be a definitive history. “It is my publication,” she observed, describing the “idiosyncratic selection” of photographs that made it into the volume. “The Institute is still young by historians’ standards,” she added.

Ms. Arntzenius’s work with the Institute is not over yet; she is currently involved in collecting interviews for its Oral History Project.

She noted that while the IAS really doesn’t have a building like an art museum for the public to visit, the beautiful Institute Woods serves as a public space. The Institute itself, she said, “is a place of work.”

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