Now Online: Sigmund Freud Collection

By Margaret McAleer

Sigmund Freud went digital with the recent release of the Library of Congress’s Sigmund Freud Collection online. Freud’s explorations into the unconscious and founding of psychoanalysis profoundly influenced modern cultural and intellectual history, securing his place in the history of human thought, as Princess Marie Bonaparte once wrote of her analyst and mentor. The collection that was previously available only in Washington is now accessible to the world in a way that it never was before. The online collection was funded by a generous grant from The Polonsky Foundation.

Oil portrait painting of Freud, 1936

Visitors to the site will have access to a remarkable collection with an equally remarkable history. In 1951, a dozen years after Freud’s death, a group of New York psychoanalysts established the Sigmund Freud Archives to collect and preserve his letters and writings. They selected the Library of Congress as the collection’s permanent home, sending the first installment of material to Washington in the summer of 1952. Many more donations followed. Freud’s colleagues, students, patients and family members — most notably Anna Freud — gave original Freud letters and other items in their possession. Also added to the collection were hundreds of interviews with people who had known Freud personally. The interviews were conducted mostly in the 1950s by K. R. Eissler, founding secretary of the Sigmund Freud Archives.

The online edition comprises the personal papers of Freud and members of his family. It includes correspondence, manuscripts of Freud’s writings, calendars, notebooks, legal documents and certificates, and Freud’s pocket watch, among many other items. Also available online are transcripts of the Eissler interviews, more than a hundred of which are newly opened and available for the first time.

The contents of more than 2,000 folders is available digitally, most of it in German. Below is just a sampling of what researchers will discover.

  • Good conduct certificate, 1859: Freud’s parents Jacob and Amalia Freud decided to move their family from Moravia to Leipzig in Saxony in 1859, taking up temporary residence in Leipzig during the city’s Easter fair in May. Permanent residence, however, required the approval of city officials, which was far from certain given the legacy of restrictions on the settlement of Jews in Saxony. Jacob Freud, a wool and textile merchant, solicited character and business references to strengthen his case, including this certificate attesting to the family’s good reputation. Despite such testimonials, Leipzig officials rejected Jacob Freud’s application, and the family settled instead in Vienna, Austria. Anyone interested in the events surrounding the Freud family’s move from Moravia will want to read Michael Schröter and Christfried Tögel’s article, “The Leipzig Episode in Freud’s Life (1859): A New Narrative on the Basis of Recently Discovered Documents,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 76 (2007): 193–215.
  • New Year’s statement, 1897: Prominent within the collection is Freud’s voluminous correspondence written between 1887 and 1904 to his friend and confidant Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin physician. The letters reveal how intellectually fruitful this period was, laying out in real time the development of Freud’s theories. To the left is an English translation of the opening of a letter Freud wrote Fliess. In the original letter, Freud expressed his optimism for the coming year, declaring: “No New Year has ever found both of us as rich and as ripe.” Indeed, on Sept. 21, 1897, Freud announced to Fliess, “the great secret that has been slowly dawning on me in the last few months.” He had abandoned his seduction theory that all neuroses are the result of sexual abuse in childhood.
  • Postcard to Martha Freud from New York, 1909: This postcard of the Statue of Liberty is found among Freud’s “Reisebriefe” or travel letters. It was sent by Freud to his wife Martha on his only trip to the United States, where he delivered a series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in September 1909. The postcard also bears the signatures of C. G. Jung and Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, who traveled with Freud, and A. A. Brill and his wife Rose Owen Brill, who met them in New York. Freud later wrote in an autobiographical work that the positive reception of his theories received in America convinced him that “psychoanalysis was not a delusion any longer; it had become a valuable part of reality.”
  • “Kürzeste Chronik” [“Short Chronicle”], 1929–1939: Other parts of the collection record the daily routine of Freud’s life. Between 1929 and 1939, he recorded events in what he called “Kürzeste Chronik” or “Short Chronicle.” In addition to everyday occurrences, he noted the rise of Nazism. In March 1938, the entries grew chilling:

March 13: “Anschluss with Germany”; March 14: “Hitler in Vienna”; March 22: “Anna at Gestapo,” referring to his daughter’s arrest and interrogation at Gestapo headquarters.

She was released later that day. Freud’s eventual departure from Nazi-controlled Austria and arrival in London in June 1938 are also noted in the chronicle.

And so the Sigmund Freud Papers go online, 65 years after the first Sigmund Freud Archives donation arrived at the Library of Congress.

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