The following is a guest post by David Gibson and Patrick Midtlyng of the Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress.
The Sigmund Freud Archives were founded in 1951 and built on the mission of advancing the study of Freud’s career and promoting further research into the field of psychoanalysis. Almost immediately following the establishment of the archives, K.R. Eissler, the founding secretary and executive director, took it upon himself to gather memories, stories, and impressions of Freud from many of the people who came into close contact with the renowned doctor. Armed with a portable tape recorder, Eissler traveled the globe to meet with patients, colleagues, and family members to capture these spoken memories of Freud. The Library of Congress Recorded Sound Section, working closely with Sigmund Freud Archives and with funding from the New-Land Foundation, has now made 153 tape reels, comprising 246 separate interviews, available for streaming on loc.gov. The interviews are primarily in German, with one-third in English and one in French.
The recordings offer a fascinating glimpse into Freud’s life, both from those who knew him well and others who may have only met Freud one time. Interviews with noted psychoanalysts, Carl Jung and Wilhelm Reich, offer a glimpse into Freud’s working life, as well as some of the debates that occurred over varying modes of psychoanalysis during its early development as a field of medical study. The collection also includes memories of Freud from family members such as his daughter, Anna, son, Oliver, granddaughter, Sophie and nephew, Harry, along with housekeeper, Paula Fichtl, who worked for the Freud family from 1929-1982. Additionally, there are quite a few recordings that feature patients of Freud, including hours of interviews with Sergius Pankejeff, a Russian aristocrat whom Freud famously dubbed “The Wolf Man” in various academic publications.
Beyond the research value to scholars of Freud’s background and work, these audio records also represent a fascinating time capsule of the era during which they were made. A significant portion of the interviews begin with a discussion of the tape recorder itself, which seems to be an object of fascination for the interviewees, many of whom may not have encountered such technology, as portable tape machines only began appearing in the early 1950s when many of these recordings were made. Background noise, such as busy New York City traffic from an open window and the squawks of a pet bird, also add character to several of the recordings. Perhaps most interesting of all is Eissler’s pronouncement to many of the interviewees that the tapes will eventually go on to be preserved at the Library of Congress. It is thrilling to hear Eissler make this assurance and to have the opportunity to make these recordings available so many decades later.
In addition to the recordings themselves, there is a new essay providing historical context on the audio and Eissler’s role in documenting Freud’s work and life, as well as a table that researchers can employ to access both the recordings themselves and the corresponding transcripts that live on loc.gov under the care of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
We hope that researchers and students with an interest in Freud, or even people who just want to brush up on their German language skills, will find value in the these newly available recordings from the Library of Congress’s Sigmund Freud Papers.
For more information related to this blog or any Library of Congress holdings, please see Ask a Librarian, and if you plan to come in to view or listen to any collection items, please reach out to our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center and the Recorded Sound Research Center.