MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a lin­guist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of get­ting around that. There may be rea­sons to dis­agree with Chomsky’s lin­guis­tic the­o­ries but—as Newton’s the­o­ries do in physics—his break­throughs rep­re­sent a par­a­dig­mat­ic shift in the study of lan­guage, an implic­it or explic­it ref­er­ence point for near­ly every lin­guis­tic analy­sis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the polit­i­cal left, you’ve read Chom­sky, or you should. Even if there are sig­nif­i­cant rea­sons to dis­agree with what­ev­er con­tro­ver­sial stance he’s tak­en over the years, few polit­i­cal the­o­rists have approached their sub­ject with the degree of dogged­ness, intel­lec­tu­al integri­ty, and eru­di­tion as he has. Chom­sky began his sec­ond career as a polit­i­cal activist and philoso­pher in the late six­ties, speak­ing out in oppo­si­tion to the Viet­nam war. Since then, he’s writ­ten major­ly influ­en­tial works on mass media pro­pa­gan­da, Cold War pol­i­tics and inter­ven­tion­ist war, eco­nom­ic impe­ri­al­ism, anar­chism, etc.

Now an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor from MIT, where he began teach­ing in 1955, and a lau­re­ate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona, Chom­sky has reached that stage in every pub­lic intellectual’s career when archivists and cura­tors begin con­sol­i­dat­ing a doc­u­men­tary lega­cy. Librar­i­ans at MIT start­ed doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Insti­tute Archives received over 260 box­es of Chomsky’s per­son­al papers. You can hear the man him­self dis­cuss the archive’s impor­tance in the short inter­view at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chom­sky Archive, you’ll find slideshow pre­views of its con­tents.

Those con­tents include the 1953 paper “Sys­tems of Syn­tac­tic Analy­sis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first for­ay in print of what would become trans­for­ma­tion­al gen­er­a­tive gram­mar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent” giv­en at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, out­lin­ing the ideas Chom­sky and Edward S. Her­man would ful­ly explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of the mass media.” And in the cat­e­go­ry of “activism,” we find mate­ri­als like the newslet­ter below, pub­lished by an anti-war orga­ni­za­tion Chom­sky co-found­ed in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “dig­i­tize the hun­dreds of thou­sands of pieces” in the col­lec­tion, “to make it acces­si­ble to the pub­lic.” Such a mas­sive under­tak­ing exceeds the library’s bud­get, so they have asked for finan­cial sup­port. At unBox­ing the Chom­sky Archive, you can make a dona­tion, or just peruse the slideshow pre­views and con­sid­er the lega­cy of one of the U.S.’s most for­mi­da­ble liv­ing sci­en­tif­ic and polit­i­cal thinkers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent and How the Media Cre­ates the Illu­sion of Democ­ra­cy

Noam Chom­sky Explains the Best Way for Ordi­nary Peo­ple to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunt­ing

Read 9 Free Books By Noam Chom­sky Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Hanoch says:

    I have no doubt that Chom­sky is a real tal­ent in his area of exper­tise, i.e., lin­guis­tics. His opin­ions out­side that area, how­ev­er, are gen­er­al­ly seen by schol­ars (e.g., econ­o­mists) as quack­ery.

  • tom says:

    “His opin­ions out­side that area, how­ev­er, are gen­er­al­ly seen by the rul­ing elite (e.g., the rich­est 0.001% of society)as quack­ery.”

    There. Fixed it for you. You’re wel­come

  • Ayman says:

    “His opin­ions out­side that area, how­ev­er, are gen­er­al­ly seen by the rul­ing elite (i.e., the very peo­ple he crit­i­cis­es) as quack­ery.”

    Fixed again.

  • Ernie says:

    Tom and Ayman, you’re noth­ing but sheep…

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