Tag Archives: Oskar Morgenstern

Young Researcher Prefers Game Theory to Video Games

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian

The Rubenstein Library’s Economists’ Papers Archive attracts numerous scholars from around the globe. This summer, it has also attracted one very special scholar: rising eighth grader Benjamin Knight. Nearly every day, he has been a quiet presence in our reading room, working his way diligently through boxes of our Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

Although we often welcome even very small children whose families make a pilgrimage to see our first edition Book of Mormon, Benjamin is the youngest serious researcher anyone can remember. Those of us on the Research Services staff found his interest in this important Austrian American economist intriguing. He was kind enough to take time out of his work to grant me an interview.

Photo of Benjamin Knight working with a box from the Oscar Morgenstern papers in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Benjamin Knight in the Rubenstein Library reading room.
Photo by Elizabeth Dunn.

Asked how he became interested in Morgenstern, Benjamin replied that he had read an article about Von Neumann and Morgenstern. (The two economists overlapped at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1938 until 1954. Morgenstern, an economist trained at the University of Vienna and influenced by Carl Menger, was grappling with the challenges of economic prediction. He knew John Von Neumann’s 1928 paper on the theory of games and the two collaborated on their influential 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.1) Benjamin was pleased to discover that we hold the Morgenstern Papers, and is using them to tease out the sources of Morgenstern’s key ideas: the University of Vienna or Princeton. More generally, he is interested in the application of game theory to the analysis of social interactions and political decision-making. Some of the Morgenstern documents are hand-written in German. Asked whether those were challenging, Benjamin replied that the handwriting is a little problematic, but translating the German, which he has never studied, is more difficult.

Benjamin has many other interests besides game theory. He represented Brazil (and, with partner Claire Thananopavarn, won Best Delegation) in the Eighth Annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Middle School Model United Nations Conference in April. He was part of the Smith team at this year’s Middle School National Academic Quiz Championship Tournament and placed among the top twenty-five competitors in the 2017 Wake Technical Community College Regional State Math Contest. When not competing, Benjamin enjoys reading fiction, history, and politics.

Benjamin comes by his interest in social and political analysis naturally. His mother, cultural anthropologist Margaret “Lou” Brown, is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Programs at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. His father Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Political Science and holds a joint appointment in Duke’s School of Law and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Benjamin has not yet decided on a particular career path, but all of us in the Rubenstein are happy that he found us and look forward to following his continued successes.


  1. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

Newly Rediscovered Papers of a Game Theory Pioneer

Oskar Morgenstern, n.d., from the Oskar Morgenstern Papers.
Oskar Morgenstern, n.d., from the Oskar Morgenstern Papers.

A project on the history of Mathematica Policy Research recently unearthed a historical treasure — a cache of personal papers, professional files, and correspondence by celebrated economist and mathematician Oskar Morgenstern, a founder of Mathematica.  They will now join the existing collection of Morgenstern Papers in the Economists’ Papers Project at the Rubenstein Library.

The newly rediscovered papers are linked to Morgenstern’s longstanding connection to Mathematica.  Along with several other Princeton University economists and mathematicians, Morgenstern founded Mathematica and served as chairman of its board.  He maintained an office at the company’s Princeton headquarters until his death in 1977.  “The materials, which we believe are from his Mathematica office, were recently discovered in our archives when we began compiling a history of the firm,” explained Paul Decker, president and CEO of Mathematica.

The additional papers comprise seventeen boxes of Morgenstern’s files and correspondence dating from 1940 through 1970.  The discovery of these new materials serendipitously matched a period of research on Morgenstern’s travels and correspondence conducted by his daughter, Karin Papp, who assisted in transferring the files from Mathematica’s offices to the Rubenstein Library.  The remainder of Morgenstern’s papers were donated to the Rubenstein Library by his widow Dorothy in the late 1980s.  Among his many achievements, Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, co-authored with John von Neumann, is a pioneering work on game theory.

This addition fills an important gap in the Morgenstern Papers, and will be made available for research use after being prepared by our staff.

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections, adapted from a press release prepared by Mathematica Policy Research.