This month sees the opening of the papers of Professor Max Born, allowing researchers access to the personal papers of one the twentieth century’s most important physicists.
When I was first asked to catalogue the papers – my first major cataloguing project – I had little idea of the wealth and variety of material they would contain. For although the figure of Max Born is at the heart of the collection, this is also a family archive, with documents and photographs dating back to the early nineteenth century, and forward almost to the present day. In them we see not only the progress of science, but also world events and social history.
Passage from a letter sent by Max Born to his son, Gustav Born, after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. Born was opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, and was one of the founders of the Pugwash movement. Reference: Born Papers, BORN 3/3/6, Aug. 1945
Professor Max Born, c. 1930s. Reference: Born Papers, 6/2/8.
Max Born is most famous as one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1954. He is also one of the many German scientists of Jewish origin who left Germany after being expelled from their university posts by the Nazi regime. He numbered amongst his friends many famous scientists, including Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, Otto Hahn and James Franck. He also loved music, and music and science run as twin themes throughout the Born family history (Max’s father and son achieved great distinction in their scientific fields, and his granddaughter is the well-known singer and actress, Olivia Newton-John).
Page from a book belonging to Max Born’s mother, Margarethe Kauffmann, showing the signature of her friends, Johannes Brahms. Reference: Born Papers, BORN 4/2/13
In 1933 Max came to Cambridge to lecture in Applied Mathematics, before moving to Edinburgh in 1936, where he remained until his retirement and return to Germany in 1953. On his death in 1970 he left papers including lecture notes, documents concerning his expulsion from Germany, material concerning his family history and that of his wife, photographs of trips to the US, Russia and India, and a great quantity of letters. His three children also collected the letters he wrote to them, and letters they wrote to each other. The archive also includes the papers of Max’s wife, Hedwig ["Hedi"], and artefacts including his Nobel Prize medal.
The variety of content, media and provenance of the papers provided some interesting challenges when it came to arranging and cataloguing the collection. It is hoped that the resulting catalogue both facilitates the work of researchers and reflects the multi-faceted life of Max Born and his family.
Max Born (second left) with fellow scientists and their wives, 1925. Max’s wife, Hedwig (‘Hedi’) is at the far right of the picture. Reference: Born Papers, BORN 6/1/18