EINSTEIN’S LECTURE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KYOTO
I
After his rise to fame following the confirmation of the prediction of gravitational light
bending by the British solar eclipse expeditions of 1919, Einstein began to deliver numer-
ous lectures on the theory of relativity to both scientific and popular audiences. On occa-
sion, he was also asked to relate the history of his discovery of the theory. Thus, in 1921 he
published “A Brief Outline of the Development of the Theory of Relativity” in the British
journal Nature at the request of his translator, Robert
Lawson.[1]
During his trip to the
United States that same year, Einstein gave a lecture at the Parker School in Chicago to an
audience of schoolteachers and provided a brief personal account of his path toward the
theory of relativity. This lecture seems to have been held extemporaneously, and only a
transcription of stenographic notes of what Einstein told his audience is
extant.[2]
Similarly, when visiting the University of Kyoto, Einstein was asked to talk about his
discovery of the theory of relativity to an audience of students. Again, Einstein spoke freely
and the only extant account is that published not long afterwards in Japanese by Jun Ishi-
wara, a physicist trained in Germany who was Einstein’s friend and his guide during the
Japan trip. Since this document has been widely and controversially discussed in the his-
torical literature, and since a number of differing English translations of Ishiwara’s account
have been published to date, his published account in Japanese is reproduced here together
with a new English translation.
II
On 14 December 1922, Einstein attended a student reception at the Kyoto Imperial Uni-
versity. It appears that he was asked to talk about how he had found the theory of relativity,
and complied with this request in an extemporaneous lecture. Information about the lecture
derives from three sources: an entry of this date in Einstein’s travel diary; the prefatory
paragraph, added by Ishiwara to the Japanese version of his notes of Einstein’s address
published in Kaizo; and Ishiwara’s prefatory notes to the reprint of this same text that ap-
peared as Einstein kyoju koen-roku (Records of Professor Einstein’s Lectures), published
as a separate book in 1923. We will briefly indicate what these sources tell us about the
event.
The occasion of his address to the students is mentioned in Einstein’s diary (Doc. 379).
He wrote for that day:
Festive luncheon with professors from the university. Large assembly of stu-
dents. Address by university president and representative of the student associ-
ation in impeccable German (very cordial). Then talk by me about the coming
into being of the theory of relativity (by request).
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