Quantum Physics Collections and Databases

quantum graphicIntroduction

Between 1961 and 1964, a wide-ranging project was carried out under the rubric “Sources for History of Quantum Physics.” A research committee composed of Thomas Kuhn, John Heilbron, Paul Forman, and Lini Allen interviewed nearly one hundred people involved in the development of quantum physics. Limiting their study to the years from 1898 to 1933, Kuhn and his colleagues had the further goal of discovering and preserving manuscript materials, i.e., letters, drafts of papers, laboratory notebooks, lecture notes, and so forth. With the cooperation of the physicists involved, these materials were assembled and microfilmed. In the years immediately after 1964, relevant additions were made to the holdings as opportunities presented themselves.

These materials constitute the original Archive for History of Quantum Physics (AHQP), whose primary home is the American Philosophical Society and whose copies are deposited in various locations around the world. The Office for History of Science and Technology (OHST) at the University of California, Berkeley, maintains a copy of the AHQP, including the additions since 1964. As the physical home base of the Sources for the History of Quantum Physics (SHQP) project, Berkeley is one of the original repositories. It also holds many administrative and organizational papers from the project.

Since 1964, OHST’s holdings have been further supplemented beyond the AHQP material. The current collections include 355 microfilms and 774 files of paper documents. They are catalogued in the Quantum Physics Database, a search aid that is now available in OHST upon application, along with the materials in the collections.

Contents of the collections

The bulk of the AHQP microfilm collection consists of copies of primary source materials. The original manuscripts were sorted into the following categories: all correspondence, all preliminary drafts of papers on quantum physics, all research notebooks, and a representative selection of lectures on topics related to quantum mechanics or to the education of quantum physicists. Within those broad categories, the committee made it a policy to microfilm all the manuscripts related to quantum mechanics, rather than apply arbitrary selection criteria. Particularly extensive collections exist for the papers of Niels Bohr, Paul Ehrenfest, Werner Heisenberg, Edwin Kemble, Hendrik Kramers, H. A. Lorentz, O. W. Richardson, Ernest Rutherford, Karl Schwarzchild, and Arnold Sommerfeld.

The extensive paper documents in OHST’s holdings include transcripts of the interviews with physicists between 1962 and 1964, a brief biography and bibliography for each scientist, other working papers for the SHQP project, photographs, annotated and unannotated reprints, and photocopied papers and correspondence.

Outside the AHQP materials, several additional manuscript collections are represented, and a number of dissertations on the history of quantum physics have been microfilmed. There are also thirteen microfilms, covering the years from 1896 to 1930, of Nobel Press Cuttings from the Swedish and international press.

The database

All the OHST collections have been catalogued in a database. Resources can be conveniently browsed by author, source, or collection code, and the collection can be easily searched.

The full database is not accessible on the web, but should be consulted in person. However, options are available for researchers seeking preliminary assistance:

  • Materials from AHQP (through 1964) are inventoried and cross-referenced in linear format in Thomas S. Kuhn, John L. Heilbron, Paul Forman, and Lini Allen, Sources for history of quantum physics: an inventory and report (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1967). An updated edition with materials added since 1964 is available online at the American Philosophical Society. For AHQP materials, these inventories frequently contain more information than OHST’s database but are harder to search.
  • The content of OHST’s collections will be available online in the Berkeley database History of Science and Technology Sources. While that larger database contains the OHST materials of greatest interest to researchers (primary sources of all sorts, including interviews), its coverage of SHQP internal documents (principally working papers and reprints) is curtailed, and its searching and browsing capabilities are more limited.
  • Specific queries can be searched by OHST staff.


Researchers interested in using the database or accessing the collections should contact the Office for History of Science and Technology for more information. OHST subscribes to AHQP’s Conventions for Use. Please call (510) 642-4581 or send e-mail to diana@berkeley.edu.