IAS History

Explore the rich history of the Institute for Advanced Study through firsthand accounts from its Faculty and visiting researchers.

“It is fundamental in our purpose, and our express desire, that in the appointments to the staff and faculty as well as in the admission of workers and students, no account shall be taken, directly or indirectly, of race, religion, or sex. We feel strongly that the spirit characteristic of America at its noblest . . .

The Institute for Advanced Study came into being at the most inauspicious of times. Founded in the early years of the Great Depression, it took shape during the buildup to the Second World War and under the growing shadow of authoritarian regimes. Its first Director Abraham Flexner published his manifesto on the “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” in October 1939, barely a month after the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. Surely this was a daunting moment to defend “the fearless and irresponsible thinker” and advocate for the free expression of knowledge and curiosity. 

In 1930, the Institute was created as an academic retreat for the pursuit of daring research, unfettered by material constraints. From the beginning, political turmoil around the world interfered with this dream. This exhibit traces key moments in this history, focusing on questions of displacement and academic freedom in Europe, the United States, and Latin America from the 1930s to the 1970s.