I spent the summer of 2002 in an archive room with no windows. Stored there, in moving boxes and banana crates, were the papers of the physicist and Einstein opponent Ernst Gehrcke, which had just been acquired by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. My initial sorting of the material was followed by countless weekends of reading. Fiery pamphlets against the theory of relativity accompanied by agitative correspondence and solemnly worded alternative universal theories set against modern physics cast light in this small room on a shadowy world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Who were all these people who protested so vehemently against Einstein’s theory? What provoked them to consider one of the most important physical theories of the twentieth century to be one of the greatest threats of their time?
In my dissertation I investigated why Einstein opponents persisted with their fierce opposition to one of the most important scientific theories of the 20th century. I approached this topic by changing the perspective from focusing on the appropriateness of objections to exposing the social contexts and the bodies of knowledge which provided the background of these objections, and by investigating the motivation of the Einstein opponents rather than concentrating on what effect this opposition had on Einstein’s biography. I used source material from the papers of two leading Einstein opponents in Germany and the United States (Ernst Gehrcke and Arvid Reuterdahl), which are analyzed for the first time in my dissertation.
A glimpse into Gehrcke's papers
Gehrcke's newspaper clipping collection from the early 1920s encompasses about 3000 newspaper clippings on Einstein and relativity theory. The entire collection has been digitized and is available online.
Images: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Archival Collection.