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First thoughts from the archivist's point of view – Gary Collins

26th April 2017

So what are my impressions so far of being the archivist working on the Lanchester Interactive Project?
The main thing that springs to mind is the amazing range of Frederick Lanchester’s interests, from car manufacture to flight, music, optics, photography, engineering in general, and a variety of other topics. These interests are revealed in the thousands of letters, articles and publications in the collection and this material also shows that he was ahead of his time and that many of his ideas (indicated by hundreds of patents) that did not come to fruition are now common practice.
His notebooks and sketchbooks show the nature of his mind – restless and always thinking, struggling to get the ideas down quickly and often using whatever came to hand (blotting paper for example) to capture his thoughts. One page often has several ideas on it that are frequently unrelated so it’s hard to keep up. The remains of dried eraser on a page also show how he rubbed things out.
The immediate challenges after starting on the project included: getting up to speed with the contents of the collection and the circumstances under which the university held the material (e.g. donation, loan, purchase), editing older descriptions and catalogues of the records into an archival friendly format and ready for an online catalogue; preparing material for digitisation (creating archival reference numbers to match catalogue descriptions with images, taking apart bound volumes of correspondence, checking on the physical condition of items); cataloguing unlisted material; and taking temperature and relative humidity readings in potential archive storage areas. Other challenges included getting potentially flammable silver nitrate film off the premises to suitable safe storage (the British Film Institute).
My favourite items so far include a photo of a Lanchester car making its way up the steps at the former Crystal Palace site in 1904 to show the cars capabilities; and correspondence with the Wright brothers highlighting the difference between the thinker Fred who made all the calculations needed for flight before they performed the first successful manned flight, and the brothers who just got on with it (also perhaps showing the American gung-ho spirit)
And doing all this while under the watchful gaze of Fred as a bust and several portraits of him keep an eye on me.
I also found out the link between Frederick Lanchester and the actor Charles Laughton – Fred’s niece Elsa Lanchester was also an actor and married Laughton.
Gary Collins – Archivist

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