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Vol. LXIV, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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Local Author Preparing “A Pictorial History” of Renowned Institute for Advanced Study

Ellen Gilbert

The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion local author Linda Arntzenius is writing a pictorial history of the legendary home of Albert Einstein and other intellectual luminaries.

The book will be published as a volume in Arcadia Press’s Images of America Series, and Ms. Arntzenius is busy tracking down any memorabilia associated with the Institute. Arcadia specializes in local histories, and Ms. Arntzenius means to really put the “local” into this endeavor as she locates photographs (non-professional pictures are welcome), reminiscences, and anything else that will enrich her account of this storied institution.

“While much of the material for the book will come from the IAS archives, the Historical Society of Princeton, and other sources,” said Ms. Arntzenius, “I’m looking for townspeople with memories of encounters with Institute professors, who may have worked there or been involved with the Institute in some capacity, as well as those who may have vintage photographs of the campus or grounds, including a house that once stood in the Institute Woods and which housed a black family named Bedford.”

“I’ve spoken to some very interesting people about this and hope to interview many more,” she said. “But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m really hoping that some heretofore unpublished photographs might emerge. Any images must meet the publisher’s stringent quality standards so rather than send any photographs that I am loaned to the publisher, I would scan them myself and return them to the owner.”

Early Interest in IAS

“When I moved to Princeton, I was drawn to the Institute, first to the Institute Woods and then as an employee, working on the Institute’s newsletter,” recalled Ms. Arntzenius in a recent interview. “Because I had been a philosophy student in England (I have a Master of Science degree in Logic and Scientific Method from the London School of Economics and Political Science), the names of John von Neumann and Kurt Godel held the most significance for me. At the Institute, these men step out of the pages of history into real life, idiosyncracies and all. These were the names that impressed me originally but there is much more, and not just great figures in science and mathematics, but eminent contributors to historical studies, art history, and the social sciences.” 

“I love finding connections,” said Ms. Arntzenius, so “discovering ties between people at the Institute and people in the town is deeply satisfying. Everyone knows of Einstein’s friendship with Paul Robeson and his visits to the Jackson/Witherspoon neighborhood, but there were other unsung relationships. Emma Epps, now-deceased, is not only well-remembered in Princeton’s African American community, she was a respected and valued member of the household of one of the world’s most distinguished art historians, Erwin Panofsky. Emma ran the home and lectured on civil rights. Alice Satterfield also worked at the Institute for a time and her daughter Shirley Satterfield, now a Trustee of the Historical Society of Princeton and a leading exponent of the history of the Jackson/Witherspoon neighborhood, remembers visits there.”

“The Institute for Advanced Study is a real bit of New Jersey history that draws together the famed Bamberger Department Store (which used to have a branch at the Princeton Shopping Center until McCaffrey’s came along); Abraham Flexner, whose name is not widely recognized today but who was the leading authority on medical and higher education during the first quarter of the last century; and leading European intellectuals including the world’s most famous, Albert Einstein. It was Flexner who brought Einstein to Princeton, although it could also be said that he shared responsibility for that with Adolf Hitler.”

“Of course, there is always interest in Einstein and Oppenheimer and the big guns, but I am also keen to show the day to day workings of the place and the life of members who visited and still visit today, often with their families for a year or more,” added Ms. Arntzenius. “In many cases, the time spent at the Institute allows young researchers to focus on their research and to determine their future careers.”

Dispelling Myths 

Among the myths about the Institute that Ms. Arntzenius hopes to dispel are the perception of it as a “think tank,” which she described as “a total misunderstanding of its purpose,” and the fact that “there are no hidden bunkers underneath the campus left over from Oppenheimer’s time.” Nor was Einstein a professor at Princeton University, she adds. “He came to Princeton to join the Institute, which is not now and never has been a part of the University, although the University offered to accommodate the Institute’s first faculty members on its campus, in what was then the new mathematics building, Fine Hall. “

“The people who founded the Institute at the start of the Great Depression embarked on what can only be described as a ‘great experiment,’” said Ms. Arntzenius. “It’s an extraordinary story, especially these days when people with fortunes as large as the Bambergers are inclined toward private pleasures like creating personal Neverlands. These two people (Louis Bamberger and his sister Carrie Bamberger Fuld) sold their business and gave away millions, to their employees first of all and then in support of the Institute for Advanced Study. The Institute’s founding was a stroke of luck. Three strands came together at just the right moment in history. The time was ripe, you might say and, of course, the situation in Germany where Hitler was rising in power, allowed Flexner to build a fantastic first faculty. It is somewhat ironic that Flexner admired German education very highly, and there was much to admire until Hitler cut the heart out of it in a rather gruesome act of what can be regarded as self-mutilation.”

Anyone with photographs or stories is encouraged to get in touch with Ms. Arntzenius either by email at iashistory@gmail.com, or by phone (609) 921-2323. “If you don’t hear from me right away, don’t worry, it may take some time for me to get back to everyone who calls!” she noted, adding that “if all goes well, the book should be in bookstores this time next year.”

Ms. Arntzenius is a Princeton-based professional writer who specializes in profiles, interviews, reviews, poetry, memoirs, and oral history. The author of a short book about The Gamble House in Pasadena as well as an earlier, brief history of the IAS, her work has appeared in Town Topics, The Princeton Packet, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Princeton Magazine, American Bungalow Magazine, and USC Trojan Family.

Arcadia Publishing is the leading local history publisher in the United States, with a catalog of more than 6,000 titles in print and hundreds of new titles released every year. It recently expanded its focus on preservation efforts and is now the country’s first major book publisher to achieve the use of 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council certified paper across its entire book publishing program.

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