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Highlights of the Sigmund Freud Papers

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Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

(The following post is by Harold P. Blum, M.D., executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives 1986-2013. It is the second in a series of three weekly guest blogs by current and former executive directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA), an independent organization founded in 1951 to collect and preserve for scholarly use Sigmund Freud’s personal papers. The collection, assembled by SFA and others, has resided at the Library of Congress since 1952 and is now available online. In this blog, Dr. Blum provides an account of major events during his tenure as executive director of the SFA, including Anna Freud’s bequest of the papers of her father she still possessed at the time of her death in 1982 and the work leading up to the major Library of Congress exhibition, “Freud: Conflict and Culture,” which went on display in 1998.)

Sigmund Freud’s scientific papers, correspondence, books, memorabilia, films, and photos are critical for psychoanalytic, historical, and biographical scholarship. Freud was a prolific letter writer, perhaps one of the most prolific in history.  The amount of his correspondence in fact exceeds his 23 volumes of psychoanalytic publications.  Not only did Freud have prolonged correspondences with friends and colleagues, but he also responded to worldwide inquiries.  The Sigmund Freud Papers collection at the Library of Congress is the major repository of these documents.

When I became Executive Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives in 1986, access to most of the collection was restricted; much of it would be unavailable well into the following century.  One of my first tasks was to increase vastly the availability of the treasure trove of Freud materials at the Library of Congress.  With the approval of the Board of Directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives and the General Counsel of the Library of Congress I embarked on a gradual, systematic derestriction of the Freud collection.

By the year 2000 the vast majority of materials were derestricted, open to scholars with the permission of the Library of Congress. The new availability of the previously restricted material made possible the publication of important sets of correspondence, between Freud and his close colleagues, including, for example, Eduard Silberstein, Karl Abraham, and Ernest Jones.  Their relevance to the history of psychoanalysis is immeasurable, revealing–through letters he may never have envisioned becoming public–the private Freud.

During my tenure, Sigmund’s daughter Anna Freud bequeathed to the Library collection an extraordinary addition of papers, which she had kept in the Freud home at Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, England.

Following the legal release required after Anna Freud’s passing in 1982, the Sigmund Freud Archives could claim the bequest. I went to London, and after (for security’s sake) making photocopies of the documents, I brought the papers to the American embassy.  By prearrangement with the Library of Congress, the documents were placed in a diplomatic pouch, flown to Washington by the United States Air Force, and delivered to the library under the protection of military police.

Anna Freud also designated that the Maresfield Gardens home become a museum.  Initially managed by a joint committee of the Sigmund Freud Archives and Muriel Gardner’s New Land Foundation, the London Freud Museum, containing Freud’s couch, library, and collection of artifacts, opened regally in 1986.  At present, Sigmund Freud Archives is represented on the museum’s board of directors and is ultimately responsible for the museum’s contents.

While I served as executive director, the virtually complete first editions of the works of Sigmund Freud became yet another significant addition to the Freud Papers.  Originally donated by Dr. Robert Stoller in my honor to another institution, I subsequently was able to ensure that this precious collection become a permanent gift to the Library of Congress.

In 1995 I proposed a Freud exhibition at the Library of Congress, “Freud: Conflict and Culture,” based mainly upon the priceless Freud collection.  Curated by Michael Roth, the carefully prepared exhibit had the collaboration of the Freud museums in London and Vienna.  It opened, not without controversy, in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in October 1998, and it remains the largest and most in-depth display of Freudiana.  The exhibit enjoyed extensive press coverage and subsequently travelled nationally and internationally, attracting thousands of visitors.  In June 2010, with the splendid cooperation of the Library of Congress, I organized a more compact Freud exhibition at the library.  Arranged with the staff of the Manuscript Division, it appeared in conjunction with the meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in Washington, D.C.

The Library of Congress has provided benevolent, resourceful support for the Sigmund Freud Archives, for which I was particularly grateful to Dr. James Hutson, chief of the Library’s Manuscript Division, as well as to the Sigmund Freud Archives Board and its presidents, Drs. Alexander Grinstein, Eugene Halpert, and Deanna Holtzman, during my tenure as executive director.

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