OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU seeks public’s help to transcribe historic letters from start of the Cold War

09/04/2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. – After the atomic attack on Nagasaki at the end of World War II, America’s jubilation at the ending of the conflict turned to fear as the real implications of nuclear war began to sink in. In 1946, Albert Einstein founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to educate the public on the dangers of atomic warfare and the mounting need for world peace.

A portion of the records from that committee are now available in an online exhibit through the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at Oregon State University Libraries and Press, and help is being sought from the public to transcribe the letters in the collection.

The exhibit includes documents and letters to and from the nine scientists making up the committee, including appeals for donations to support the group’s mission of peace.

Though only a portion of the collection has been loaded into the exhibit so far, each letter will be digitized and available for reading within the exhibit. Special Collections is crowdsourcing transcription of the letters, and encourages viewers to help create a full-text database of the letters' contents.

The collection was received at OSU as part of the personal papers of OSU alumnus and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, who was a member of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. It includes thousands of letters, and responses to them, reflecting appeals from ordinary Americans. Citizens sent anything from $1 to $10,000, along with letters expressing deep fear about the new world they lived in. In a personal and intimate tone, they wrote to Einstein expressing their distress at the idea of such a powerful and destructive weapon, and lamented the potential for atomic war.

The exhibit explores the work of the committee and illustrates its story through items from Special Collection’s extensive nuclear history collections. It highlights different types of letters received by the committee, including letters of criticism, encouragement, and advice, and closes with a brief look at the impact of the committee’s efforts. 

The exhibit also features maps, timelines, and other interactive features via Viewshare, a platform from the Library of Congress that creates visualizations of digitized cultural heritage collections.

Viewers of the exhibit can also browse a comprehensive list of tags for each letter, showing city, state, and donation amount, as well as the occupation and organizational affiliation of the sender.

The exhibit is of interest to a broad swath of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including the history of science and technology, peace studies, public policy, sociology, political science, communication, and more.

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About Oregon State University: OSU is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution. OSU is also Oregon’s only university to hold both the Carnegie Foundation’s top designation for research institutions and its prestigious Community Engagement classification. Its more than 26,000 students come from all 50 states and more than 90 nations. OSU programs touch every county within Oregon, and its faculty teach and conduct research on issues of national and global importance.