Noam Chomsky has been a faculty member at MIT since 1955. While at MIT, Chomsky revolutionized the scientific study of language, helped build the linguistics department, lectured and collaborated with students in a range of academic fields, and worked as an activist. These images provide a snapshot of some of the rare published and unpublished materials from Chomsky’s early career at MIT. With your help we can unbox these archival items and make them accessible to everyone!

Elements of Linguistics Structure (1955) is an early unpublished work of Noam Chomsky’s that shows his initial thoughts on language. This manuscript predates some of Chomsky’s seminal pieces, like Syntactic Structures or Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, and his groundbreaking Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory. Our collection includes this manuscript and other unpublished drafts of his early works.

Syntactic Structures (1957) is the first book published by Noam Chomsky on linguistics. The linguistics model outlined in this manuscript became known as transformational grammar and began the scientific study of language.

The archive holds many classroom notes on Noam Chomsky’s early lectures on language. This undated lecture is titled “Inquiry into Meaning and Truth – Russell.” Throughout the collection you can also find Chomsky’s classroom notes on other influential thinkers like Ferdinand de Saussure, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and B.F. Skinner.

In 1967, MIT’s Innisfree named Noam Chomsky their “Man of the Year” for his work in both linguistics and politics. This is one of many examples of Chomsky’s commitment to being both a linguist and a political activist.

Noam Chomsky’s political activism outside of MIT in the 1960s is well noted: he refused to pay half of his taxes, publicly supported men who refused the draft, and was arrested for civil disobedience multiple times, including at a Pentagon protest. Chomsky also led non-violent initiatives on the MIT campus. He supported the March Fourth research stoppage day at MIT, participated in campus teach-ins, and was the faculty advisor to MIT’s Science Action Coordinating Committee (SACC).

Along with his participation in teach-ins, Noam Chomsky worked with his colleague Louis Kampf to teach an undergraduate course titled Intellectuals and Social Change at MIT. The class was first taught in 1965 and the archive contains notes of Chomsky’s that span over twenty years of these lectures; his different syllabi for these classes, in which readings and topics changed frequently; and other rare, unpublished materials that show Chomsky and his students thinking on intellectuals and their role in our society.

In 1976, Noam Chomsky was appointed to the distinguished rank of Institute Professor at MIT. He currently is an Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics Emeritus and continues to work as both a linguist and activist.

Noam Chomsky’s work helped MIT acquire an international reputation as a leading center for research on phonology and morphology and syntax. His work as an activist and his writings on politics continue to challenge the way people think. Watch an interview with Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky earned his PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently joined the faculty at MIT. In 1961 he was appointed full professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (now the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy). Chomsky built the linguistics department at MIT with his long-time friend and collaborator, Morris Halle. The archival images revealed in this slideshow are just a glimpse of the materials that MIT holds.

“Systems of Syntactic Analysis” was a technical paper published in 1953. It appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar!

In 1963, Noam Chomsky gave a talk titled “Linguistic Structure and Cognitive Processes.” In this unpublished paper you can read Chomsky’s early scientific basis for the theory of universal grammar and the language faculty.

In 1965, Noam Chomsky published his often read and seminal work, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. In this book Chomsky addresses inconsistencies, or deficiencies, in the early attempts to establish a theory for transformational generative grammar. He extends and deepens the theory of transformational generative grammar, emphasizing syntax.

In 1968, Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle co-authored The Sound Pattern of English. This book established the theoretical strength of transformational generative grammar and extended it to phonology.

Many of Noam Chomsky’s linguistics notes from classes, speeches, and conferences are housed in the archives. This undated lecture is from MIT class 24.957, Introduction to Linguistic Theory at an Advanced Level.

This slideshow is a very small sample of Noam Chomsky’s archival materials. Chomsky’s linguistics career is well documented in the archive, from when he first came to MIT in 1955 to the present. Help us unbox the Chomsky Archive and make more of his early and later work accessible.

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Noam Chomsky’s political activism began early in life. The sample items unboxed in this slideshow show Chomsky’s long-time commitment to helping disadvantaged people throughout the world. This picture is of Chomsky at a conference in Portugal in 1979 speaking about human rights atrocities in East Timor.

Noam Chomsky has attempted to raise awareness about the 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia from the 1970s until the present. In 1978 and 1979, Chomsky delivered statements to the Fourth Committee of the U.N. General Assembly about the invasion of East Timor and its human rights violations. This undated transcript is from one of these statements. The archive holds many of Chomsky’s notes, drafts, and research on East Timor that will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand Chomsky’s thinking on East Timor and human rights.

Noam Chomsky is one of the founding members of RESIST, which was a “call to resist illegitimate authority in support of draft resistance and in opposition to the Vietnam War.” Since this group’s incarnation until the present, Chomsky has written for its newsletter and helped with fundraising initiatives. Here is one of RESIST’s newsletters from the 1960s that explains some of the group’s core beliefs.

Noam Chomsky has traveled all over the world for talks, research, and to better understand the world in which we live. Here is a picture of him in Thanh Hoa Province of North Vietnam in 1970.

Noam Chomsky’s Occupy (2012) is a pamphlet that studies the Occupy Movement in the United States. In Occupy, Chomsky puts the Occupy Movement in perspective by tracing its historical context and explaining some of the group’s concerns with the United States. This image demonstrates Chomsky’s support of the movement, and its members, when he spoke at Occupy Boston on October 22, 2011.

Noam Chomsky’s work, whether in linguistics or politics, is read and translated all over the world. Here are just three samples of Occupy translated into Bulgarian (2012), French (2012), and Portuguese (2012). The goal of this project is to unBox the Chomsky Archive so that Chomsky’s political and linguistics work can be freely accessible to people worldwide.

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Political Writings

Although Noam Chomsky’s roots in political activism began to take hold in the 1940s, when he was still a teenager, it wasn’t until 1967 that Chomsky became a public figure in debates on United States politics.

In 1967, Noam Chomsky published an influential essay in The New York Review of Books titled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in which he criticized the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the role of intellectuals in supporting the government’s position. The archive holds many speeches (both drafts and notes) and classroom lectures dedicated to this topic from 1967 to the present. This is one example: a speech given at Rutgers in 1969.

American Power and the New Mandarins was published in 1969 and is Noam Chomsky’s first political book. This book launched his career as a political commentator and critic of US foreign policy. The archive holds copies and a draft of this manuscript with his editor’s notes.

In 1988 Noam Chomsky and long-time collaborator Edward Herman published Manufacturing ConsentManufacturing Consent is a critique and an analysis of the United States’ media and is often assigned reading in college courses throughout the US. In 1992 the book inspired a documentary titled Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. The archive holds many versions and drafts of Manufacturing Consent. Here is a talk given on the topic at Rutgers in 1984.

This slideshow represents a tiny fraction of the published and unpublished materials in the Noam Chomsky Archive regarding Chomsky’s political thoughts, travels, and actions. Helping us unBox the Chomsky Archive would enable you to see his thinking on politics in different forms and across the decades.

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