The Archives of Edmund Husserl in the United States

By the late 1930s, the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science at the New School for Social Research was a center for the study of Husserlian phenomenology in United States. This was mainly due to the presence of refugee scholars Felix Kaufmann and Alfred Schutz, and then the scholars Dorion Cairns and Aron Gurwitsch who joined the Graduate Faculty in 1950 and 1959 respectively. In fact, by the mid-1940s, Schutz promoted the characterization of the department of philosophy as a “center” of phenomenology. This characterization helped avert the department’s elimination in the midst of financial constraints during the early 1950s.

Towards the end of the 1950s, Schutz also advanced the project of establishing a third chair in philosophy to be added to the two that already occupied by himself and Cairns. Schutz wanted to assign this third chair to Aron Gurwitsch, who had declined an offer from Berlin hoping to be hired by the New School and to occupy, even if only partially, the chair vacated by Kurt Goldstein in psychology. This plan of Schutz was never realized: he suddenly died in 1959, and Gurwitsch took his place.

Because of his premature death, Schutz did not complete a project he had conceived: the creation of the first Husserl-Archives in the United States. The reconstruction of this story can be pieced together from documentation in Leuven, Belgium, which holds the bulk of the archival material on Husserl, and reveals the presence of a close working relationship between Father Hermann Leo van Breda and Schutz, and more generally between the study group in Leuven and the one created in New York City. In October of 1958, Schutz first requested from Father van Breda the installation of a series of plays, “micro-karten,” transcriptions of Husserl’s manuscripts. This installation was, in fact, the project Schutz designed to support the study of Husserl’s phenomenology at the New School for Social Research. The correspondence between the two men reveals that Father van Breda immediately gave his consent for the implementation of this initiative, which then stopped for a certain period of time due to the death of Schutz.

Aron Gurwitsch and Dorion Cairns recovered and completed the project. In the early sixties, they started a correspondence with Father van Breda for the creation of a library and of a center for phenomenological studies, which they wanted to call “The Husserl-Archives Established in Memory of Alfred Schutz.” In February of 1967, the requested material was sent from the Husserl-Archives in Leuven to the United States, to which other material was added during this time (copies of the manuscripts of Husserl). The presence of this material in New York gave rise to intensified interest in Husserl’s thought, which emerged especially in New School students at that time (Fred Kersten, Richard Zaner, Lester Embree, and others). Phenomenology was also advanced in the 1960s by publications of Dorion Cairns, especially his translation of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations in 1960 and, in 1969, his translation of Husserl’s Formal and Transcendental Logic.

The establishment of the University in Exile at the New School for Social Research accounted for its importance in European thought. But it is actions by Schutz, Cairns, and Gurwitsch that made it an unique American center for teaching Husserlian thought. After the death of the founding generation of phenomenologists, their students at the New School continued to promote this branch of philosophy, securing its teaching and research outside European borders.