The Sigmund Freud Archives and the Library of Congress: A Psychoanalytic Tale of Two Cities

Louis Rose and Jennifer Stuart

The Archives and the Library: From Vienna to Washington

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of an important professional, scholarly, and cultural collaboration: the partnership between the Sigmund Freud Archives and the Library of Congress. The occasion is a good moment to reacquaint American psychoanalysts with the shared goals and activities of the Archives and the Library.

In 1951, a group of psychoanalysts in New York founded the Sigmund Freud Archives. The group's members were the Viennese émigrés Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris, and Herman Nunberg; the American analyst Bertram Lewin; and the Viennese-born Kurt R. Eissler, who served as the Archives’ first executive director. They created the Sigmund Freud Archives as a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting Freud's manuscripts and correspondence and all available artifacts connected with his life and work (see Before the Second World War, the Viennese analysts experienced the opposition to Freud's work in Austria, and after the Anschluss with Nazi Germany in 1938, they witnessed the threat to his life. In the immediate postwar years, they committed themselves to locating and preserving materials essential to understanding the development of his thought and the history of his time.

The Sigmund Freud Archives remains the title of the organization that was founded seventy years ago. It continues to be composed of a board and executive director. The term “archives” did not—and does not—refer to a physical location with a professional staff or reading room. Instead, soon after the organization's creation, the founding members negotiated a contractual agreement with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., according to which the Library would serve as the depository for all papers, correspondence, and artifacts gathered by the Sigmund Freud Archives, while the Archives agreed to transfer ownership of its collections to the library. Seventy years later, that agreement remains in force. The Sigmund Freud Archives has donated all its discoveries and acquisitions to the Library of Congress, which has conserved, organized and catalogued those donations and made them available to researchers and readers.

This partnership extends beyond a contractual relationship. The Sigmund Freud Archives and the Library of Congress assist each other in accomplishing their intellectual and civic goals. The Archives has a threefold aim: to acquire and preserve writings and documents from Freud's life and work; to open those materials as soon as possible to readers and researchers; and, in the digital age, to make the Freud collections globally accessible. The Library's purpose, as stated on its website, is “to develop universal collections, which further the creativity of the American people and contribute to the advancement of knowledge around the world.” Its collaboration with the Sigmund Freud Archives advances that stated purpose. The partnership with the Library of Congress has been and remains the alpha and omega of the Sigmund Freud Archives.

Acquisition of the Sigmund Freud Papers

In the years since 1951, the Sigmund Freud Archives has created the world's largest single collection of Freud manuscripts, papers, correspondence, and biographical materials. The Library of Congress houses those items in four areas of the library, according to the format of the materials. The Manuscript Division holds the great majority of the documents and artifacts and has designated its collection as the “Sigmund Freud Papers.” The Papers include holographs and notes, family and general correspondence, published writings, personal notebooks, and diverse documents and memorabilia connected to Freud's biography and to the history of psychoanalysis. They also contain the written transcripts of interviews that Eissler conducted from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Library's Moving Image Research Center houses the films and home movies donated by the Archives. Its Prints and Photographs Division keeps the Freud photographs. Finally, the Recorded Sound Section preserves the original audiotapes of the Eissler interviews. The online links to all of these collections can be found at Sigmund Freud Archives website.

The Archives has a threefold aim: to acquire and preserve writings and documents from Freud's life and work; to open those materials as soon as possible to readers and researchers; and, in the digital age, to make the Freud collections globally accessible.

The Sigmund Freud Papers and the collections of films, photos, and audiotapes have grown through voluntary donations, archival purchases, and family bequests. The materials have been acquired at various times and in various physical conditions. They have come from members of Freud's family, as well as from friends, patients, and colleagues. In 1970 Anna Freud donated many of her father's papers and letters, which now form the largest single donation within the Sigmund Freud Papers. Freud's extensive courtship correspondence, or Brautbriefe, with Martha Bernays (1882-1886) comprised part of that gift; the correspondence covers the period in Freud's life from medical school to private practice. Anna Freud bequeathed the remainder of her father's papers following her death in 1982. In the bequest she included not only her own correspondence with her father but also fourteen pocket notebooks that he kept from 1901 into the 1930s. During his long and productive service as executive director of the Archives, Harold Blum—who succeeded Eissler—not only arranged for but also personally accompanied the transfer of the large donation from Anna Freud's London home to Washington, D.C. Another highlight of Blum's directorship was the Archives’ collaboration with the Library of Congress to mount in 1998-1999 a major exhibition timed for the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams. APsaA members who attended the national meeting of APsaA in Washington, D.C., at that time may recall visiting that exhibition, titled Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture.

The materials assembled by the Sigmund Freud Archives and housed in the Library of Congress are the foundation of a continuously growing body of materials on Freud and psychoanalysis. Since 1951, the library has expanded its Freud collections through independent acquisitions and donations. Examples are its acquisition of Freud manuscripts from the American Psychoanalytic Association and case records from Vienna's Allgemeines Krankenhaus, the general hospital where Freud trained and worked. At present, Freud's writings, letters, interviews, films, photographs, and related materials in the library number approximately 50,000 items. The Library of Congress has also acquired the papers of later generations of psychoanalysts, as well as members of Freud's family, forming those acquisitions into distinct collections. Prominent among these are the Anna Freud Papers and the Ernst Kris Papers. Currently, the library holds more than a hundred collections on the growth of the psychoanalytic profession, the development of psychoanalytic theory, and the history of the psychoanalytic movement. One of the Library's historical specialists, Margaret McAleer, directly supervises both the Sigmund Freud Papers and related manuscript collections.

Opening the Sigmund Freud Papers

Under Harold Blum and his successor Anton Kris, the second aim of the Sigmund Freud Archives became increasingly crucial: to ensure that the Sigmund Freud Papers in the Manuscript Division became open to the public at the earliest possible date. Anna Freud and many other donors attached conditions to their donations, some more restrictive than others. Further, Eissler attached waiting periods to the opening of Freud's correspondence, the written transcripts of his interviews, and the recollections sent him by Freud's colleagues. As a result of the work initiated by Blum, Kris, and the trustees of the Archives, all materials in the Sigmund Freud Papers have been steadily opened to researchers and readers.

The final stages of that work were completed last year. Excepting redactions still necessitated by patient confidentiality or the stipulations of donors, the contents of the Sigmund Freud Papers are now fully open. In January 2020— the release date specified in her bequest of papers—the Library of Congress opened Marie Bonaparte's correspondence with Freud, as well as notebooks she kept during her analysis with him, as part of its Marie Bonaparte Papers. Recently, the Sigmund Freud Archives purchased and donated to the Library a letter that Freud sent in 1913 to Paul Federn. Perhaps for the first time in writing, Freud here described his family history, which he later incorporated into his Autobiographical Study (1925 [1924]). The letter is now open to researchers in the digitized Freud Papers.

Digitization and Global Access

Over the past five years, digitization of the Sigmund Freud Papers has fulfilled the third aim of the Sigmund Freud Archives: to create a collection universally accessible to researchers, readers, and the public. Beginning with Harold Blum, the aim of creating digital access became central to the collaboration between the Archives and the Library. During Anton Kris's term as executive director, the Papers became available to readers and researchers worldwide. Kris arranged for the Polonsky Foundation—a cultural heritage non-profit in the U.K.— to fund the digitization of the Freud Papers. The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress—under the guidance of James Hutson, Janice Ruth, and Margaret McAleer—undertook the professional organization and technical process of digitizing Freud's writings, correspondence, and records within the Sigmund Freud Papers, including the written transcripts of the Eissler interviews. With the active leadership of Anton Kris, the support of the Polonsky Foundation, and the assistance of Emanuel Garcia—the literary executor of the Eissler Estate—the Manuscript Division completed the project in 2017 (see

In 2018, the goal of global availability of the Freud collections advanced still further. The Library of Congress's Moving Image Research Center placed the Freud family films online (see The Freud photos now appear under the Prints and Photographs Division on the Library of Congress website (see The Recorded Sound Section in the Library of Congress preserves the original audiotapes of Eissler's interviews with Freud's family, friends, patients, and colleagues, including cassettes and reel-to-reel recordings. Inevitably, the tapes risk physical deterioration. In 2018, Anton Kris and Louis Rose arranged with the New-Land Foundation—a non-profit based in the U.S.—to fund the digitization of the more than 500 audiotapes of the Eissler interviews. Earlier this year, George Blood LP—a leading provider of archival audio preservation—completed the digital recording process. Currently, the Recorded Sound Section of the Library of Congress is organizing, describing, and cataloging the newly digitized interviews. When it completes that task, the audio of the Eissler interviews, like the Freud manuscripts, films, and photographs, will become electronically available. Digitizing the Eissler interview tapes will achieve the long-term aim of the Sigmund Freud Archives to make the Sigmund Freud Papers and the Eissler interviews universally accessible.

Return to Vienna

The Sigmund Freud Archives recently came full circle back to its Viennese origin when it helped to arrange for the display in Vienna of Freud's daily calendar from the year 1918. This was the first time the calendar had returned to Vienna since Freud was forced into exile from Austria in 1938. The Library of Congress's Manuscript Division and its Conservation Division approved and prepared the calendar for transport from Washington, making certain that the document arrived safely in Vienna. The occasion of the display was the opening in 2018 of the House of Austrian History, a new public museum devoted to the history of the Austrian republic from its founding in 1918 through the era of Austro-Fascism and the Anschluss to the creation of the Austrian Second Republic and its present-day membership in the European Union. The museum is housed within Austria's National Library. Freud's calendar was placed on view at the entry to the library, which functioned also as the entry to the historical exhibit celebrating the opening of the museum. In his calendar, Freud recorded the day that marked the creation of Austria's First Republic: November 12, 1918— the day after the armistice that ended the First World War. The Anschluss in March 1938 brought an end to the First Republic, forcing Freud to leave Berggasse 19, where he had lived and worked for nearly five decades.

At present, republics in Europe and the U.S. again face uncertain times. The Sigmund Freud Archives and the Library of Congress created the Sigmund Freud Papers and related psychoanalytic collections at the beginning of the reconstruction of postwar democracy. The recent journey of Freud's calendar—one artifact from a vast collection—reminds us of the meaning of that historical moment, of the significance of such cooperative projects, and of the ongoing need and obligation to draw new persons and institutions into that circle of cooperation. APSAA

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Louis Rose, PhD, is executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives; author of Psychology, Art, and Antifascism: Ernst Kris, E. H. Gombrich, and the Politics of Caricature, also in Chinese translation; a recipient of the Austrian Cultural Institute Prize for The Freudian Calling; and past editor of American Imago.

Jennifer Stuart, PhD, is president of the Board of Directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives; training and supervising analyst at the Psychoanalytic Association of New York (PANY); and co-editor of the Book Review section of Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA).