On November 25th 1915, Albert Einstein submitted to the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences the last of a series of papers that contained the final and fundamental equation of his theory of gravitation, which he called General Relativity (Einstein 1915, 1916). This equation contains the field-theoretic law according to which the energy-momentum distribution of matter sources acts on and reacts to the gravitational field. It was the final achievement of an “intellectual odyssey,” which lasted more than eight years.
This special issue of EPJ H is dedicated to the centenary anniversary of this momentous scientific achievement through a series of contributions that investigate the historical trajectory of Einstein’s theory of gravitation. In spite of the celebratory character of the issue, we decided not to focus on the early history of General Relativity. Einstein’s own path toward the theory, its reception in different national scientific communities and the further progress until the early 1950s have been discussed in an enormous amount of scholarly work during the past decades. Instead, we prefer to take this opportunity to explore in more detail the post-World War II developments of the theory, which only recently has become the subject of a lively debate among historians of science and physicists actively working on General Relativity and closely related fields.
The articles in this issue aim to give new insights into the historical process through which Einstein’s theory of gravitation came to turn into that fruitful and exciting branch of the physical research we know today. This process looked so splendid to some of the protagonists that physicist Clifford Will dubbed it the “Renaissance of General Relativity”. But what is meant exactly by Renaissance? What kind of complex process does the term try to describe? Was it a mere consequence of the general growth of physics in the post-WWII period? Or did the phenomenon entail deeper epistemic transformations?
All of the articles are available open access at https://epjh.epj.org/component/toc/?task=topic&id=649