Papers and correspondence of David Joseph Bohm, 1917-1992

Scope and Content

There is significant biographical material in the collection. There are obituaries and tributes, interviews, discussions and Dialogues with Bohm, including those at Ojai, California. Bohm's ideas attracted much interest and there are significant number of articles and papers inspired by him. Material directly recording his life and career is comparatively slight but there are papers relating to Bohm's difficulties with the House Committee on Un-American Activities 1949-1951. There are drafts by Bohm of papers and lectures, mostly unpublished, including some drafts on quantum theory, although the bulk are of a philosophical nature. There are also copies of a few of his published works and book reviews by others of Bohm's work and drafts by F.D. Peat drawing on Bohm's work which were found with the papers. The correspondence, is divided into two sequences. There is a sequence of general correspondence, including photocopies of correspondence with Einstein ca 1950-1954 which include discussion of quantum theory as well as Einstein's advice on Bohm's career. Other significant correspondents are R. Karnette, H.M. Loewy and M. Phillips. The second sequence is photocopies of the voluminous correspondence on a wide range ofphilosophical and scientific subjects with the American artist and theorist Charles J. Biederman, 1960-1969.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on 20 December 1917. He studied at Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 1939, then moved to the California Institute of Technology for post-graduate work, completing his Ph.D. in 1943 at the University of California at Berkeley under J.R. Oppenheimer. He then worked on the Manhattan Project at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. In 1947 he was appointed Assistant Professor at Princeton University. He worked there until 1950, when Princeton refused to renew his contract after he had fallen foul of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. While working at the Radiation Laboratory during the war Bohm had been active in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT) trade union. In 1949, as Cold War tensions increased, the Committee on Un-American Activities began investigating staff who had been working there. As a member of FAECT and as a former member of the Communist Party Bohm came under suspicion. He was called upon to testify before the Committee but pleaded the Fifth Amendment refusing to give evidence against colleagues. After the USSR tested its first atomic device in September 1949 it was thought that atomic bomb secrets must have been passed to the USSR. It was alleged that members of the FAECT had been in a Communist cell working at Berkeley during the war. In 1950 Bohm was charged with Contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May 1951 but Princeton had already suspended Bohm and after his acquittal refused to renew his contract. Bohm left for Brazil in 1951 to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of So Paulo. In 1955 he moved to Israel where he spent two years at the Technion at Haifa. Here he met his wife Saral, who was an important figure in the development of his ideas. In 1957 Bohm moved to the UK. He held a research fellowship at University of Bristol until 1961, when he was made Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College London. He retired in 1987.

Bohm made a number of significant contributions to physics, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics. As a post-graduate at Berkeley he discovered the electron phenomenon now known as 'Bohm-diffusion'. His first book, Quantum Theory published in 1951, was well-received by Einstein among others. However, he was unsatisfied with the orthodox approach to quantum theory and began to develop his own approach, expressed in his second book Causality and Chance in Modern Physics published in 1957. In 1959, with his student Yakir Aharonov, he discovered the 'Aharonov-Bohm effect', showing how a vacuum could produce striking physical effects. His third book, The Special Theory of Relativity was published in 1965.

Bohm's scientific and philosophical views were inseparable. In 1959 he came across a book by the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. He was struck with how his own ideas on quantum mechanics meshed with the philosophy of Krishnamurti. The two first met in 1961 and over the following years had many conversations or dialogues. Bohm's approach to philosophy and physics are expressed in his 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and in the book Science, Order and Creativity, written with F.D. Peat and published in 1987. In his later years, partly through his connection with Krishnamurti, Bohm developed the technique of Dialogue, in which a group of individuals engaged in constructive verbal interaction with each other. He believed that if carried out on a sufficiently wide scale these Dialogues could help overcome fragmentation in society. Bohm led a number of Dialogues in the 1980s and early 1990s, the most well-known being those held at Ojai Grove School in California. Bohm was elected FRS in 1990. He died in 1992. See B.J. Hiley, 'David Joseph Bohm', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 43, 105-131 (1997).


By section as follows: Biographical, Drafts, publications and lectures, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

By appointment. Users should contact the College Librarian or the Science Subject Librarian.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of David Joseph Bohm (1917-1992) by T.E. Powell and P. Harper, NCUACS catalogue no. 66/4/97, 53pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in March 1995 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Professor B.J. Hiley. In February 1997 Dr Olival Freire Jr made available copies of Bohm material held elsewhere, especially in Brazil. Deposited in Birkbeck College 1997.