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Now Available: The Benoit Mandelbrot Papers

Portrait of Mandelbrot


The Manuscripts Division is thrilled to announce that the Benoit Mandelbrot Papers are now open for research. A finding aid to the collection is available on the Online Archive of California and materials are pageable through the catalog record in Searchworks.

The papers document the life and work of Benoit Mandelbrot, maverick mathematician and pioneer of fractal geometry. The collection contains biographical material, personal and professional correspondence, drafts and typescripts for books and articles, subject files, and reprints. The collection also contains a significant amount of research data, including notes, plots, graphs, and computer-generated visualizations of fractals. Also included are teaching materials, administrative records, awards, and materials related to publicity events, such as posters and flyers announcing conferences and lectures focusing on fractals or related topics. Other formats present in the collection include photographs, audiovisual material, and computer media, as well as an extensive amount of fractal and fractal-related artwork.

Fractal visualization
Fractal visualization, “Slices of Domains of Attraction” (computer print on thermal paper); M1857, flat box 510, folder 2

The collection was a particular challenge to process as it contained such a variety of unusual formats, including graphs, plots, and visualizations printed on thermal paper and fragile paper rolls, many over ten feet long. Our work on this collection inspired us to think creatively about housing solutions for these materials, which we hope will establish some helpful precedents as we continue to acquire collections by mid-to-late twentieth-century artists and scientists working with similar media types.

Computer rolls
Computer-printed rolls housed in artifact trays

We are particularly grateful for the assistance from our Conservation Department, which created custom housing for a variety of objects, ranging from paintings on glass to early computer hardware. We would also like to thank the Stanford Media Preservation Lab for digitizing a large selection of the audiovisual material, which will now be available to researchers on the Media Cart in the Special Collections Reading Room.

These papers will be relevant to a wide a range of researchers, particularly those interested in the history of mathematics, the development of computer graphics, and the intersection between art and science, an area in which Stanford University Libraries is actively developing its collections, and also the subject of a recent exhibit at Green Library—Art meets Technology—which featured materials from the Mandelbrot Papers and a number of other collections.