contributed by Kristina Bender.
What was Albert Einstein doing on August 21, 1937?
Someone with a popular knowledge of Einstein might recite E = mc2 or mumble a few details about the Manhattan Project.
Most people would not imagine Einstein–famous by then and rightfully bracing for another war–scribbling from his desk at the Institute for Advanced Study, a passionate letter in praise of an animal welfare pamphlet.
Einstein wrote to Bertram Lloyd of the National Society for the Abolition of Cruel Sports, an animal advocacy organization out of London that day. This “very interesting letter from Professor Einstein” endorsed the views expressed by activist Henry S. Salt in the pamphlet Two Similar Pastimes: Sport and War, a publication of the society. Einstein’s letter, forwarded by Lloyd to the National Council for Animals’ Welfare, was printed in the November 1937 issue of the council’s monthly magazine, The Animals’ Friend. An original copy of this issue now resides in Special Collections at NC State.
This is one of many fascinating tidbits found in the recently acquired collection of animal rights, animal welfare, and animal advocacy pamphlets dating from the 1870s to the early 1950s. These pamphlets illuminate the social, political, ethical, and scientific discourses surrounding the animal rights movement in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Einstein’s letter, in particular, exemplifies the rich interdisciplinary possibilities of such rare materials. For Einstein, the connections Salt draws between “blood-sports” and “war” are “essential to any truly humane outlook on life.” Furthermore, Einstein explains, to replace the primitive “love of slaughter” with a more “civilised” pacifism involves not only “our attitude to the animal world, but also the whole question of man’s humanity to his fellows.”
How might this bit of information complicate our understanding of Professor Einstein, as a public figure and an ambivalent individual, especially considering his impending association with nuclear proliferation in World War II? What does his letter tell us about the work of Henry Salt, the role of pamphlets, or the state of the animal rights movement in the 1930s?
This kind of interdisciplinary inquiry is enabled and enriched by the new additions to the NCSU Libraries. If you are interested in seeing this or any of the other materials in this collection. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center.