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Stanford Report, July 28, 1999

Libraries acquire Buckminster Fuller archives

The Stanford University Libraries announced last week that it has acquired the R. Buckminster Fuller Archive ­ one of the most extensive known personal archives in existence. The collection comprises the personal papers and working records of Fuller ­ architect, engineer, inventor, philosopher, author, cartographer, geometrician, futurist, teacher and poet ­ as assembled during his lifetime and maintained since his death in July 1983.

"I regard this archive as one of the most important acquisitions during my career," said Michael Keller, university librarian and director of Academic Information Resources at Stanford, who evaluated the collection while the university considered its acquisition.

He said the archive is particularly important because it is useful for research and teaching across multiple disciplines. These kinds of primary resources, "the personal papers, the early manuscripts and notes, the correspondence and the record of the critical development and reception of ideas, are invaluable documents for research for our programs in the history of science, technology and ideas," Keller said.

Allegra Fuller Snyder, daughter of Buckminster Fuller, said she was gratified the archive was making its permanent home at Stanford, "whose vision and goals are so closely aligned with my father's thinking. He always felt California represented the cresting wave of human evolutionary patterns, and Stanford is right at that interface of cutting-edge thinking and technology.

"I am particularly excited that with the move to Stanford we will be broadening accessibility to the scholarly community, and especially to the students and new thinkers who I feel are so significantly gathered at Stanford."

Throughout his life, in both his personal and scientific explorations, Buckminster Fuller sought to develop global strategies aimed at resolving world problems by thinking of ways to do more with less. Among his most important contributions is his work on synergetics, the discipline behind his more-with-less philosophy. For too long, Fuller argued, humanity's assumption of fundamental scarcity of resources has shaped and controlled social and economic institutions.

In contrast, Fuller conceived of humans as passengers on "Spaceship Earth," whose wealth is defined not by money or other tangible limited resources but by the organized ability of society to apply energy and information to support human life. Fuller maintained that as energy cannot be destroyed and information is cumulative, humanity's true wealth is constantly increasing. Consequently, "Spaceship Earth" is a regenerative system whose energy can be progressively turned to human advantage.

Joshua Arnow, president of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, an information resource championing Fuller's vision of humanity's success, said that after serving as the custodian for the collection for 15 years, "we are thrilled to pass the baton to an institution with such an outstanding array of resources. Because Stanford matches these resources with an abundance of entrepreneurial spirit, I am confident the university will play a significant role in developing the enormous potential of the archive."

Fuller received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the Queen Elizabeth Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, the Gold Medal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. government.

The Buckminster Fuller Archive occupies approximately 2,000 linear feet of archival shelf space, spans almost eight decades and thoroughly records almost every aspect of Fuller's life and works. Included in the archive are 900 published and unpublished manuscripts; a "Chronofile" of more than 200,000 letters; approximately 4,000 hours of film, video and audio tapes; 15,000 photographs documenting projects; original drawings of inventions and mathematical discoveries; 500 boxes of project reports and research; more than 150,000 research news clippings; the Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs; models; and memorabilia.

Fuller meticulously and self-consciously constituted the archive and just as meticulously organized it, making obvious efforts to gather documentation that related to his life and career to supplement the papers that were generated by his own activities. The result is as complete a record of one private individual's life and work as could ever reasonably be found, Keller said.

The Fuller Archive includes the "Dymaxion Index," a detailed cross-reference and index to 20 different sections of the archives including his personal library, office inventory and itinerary. The index was updated approximately every 10 years during his life. The Index now comprises 20 volumes. The "Chronofile" is the "heart" of the archive. It begins in 1895 (the year of Fuller's birth) and is ordered chronologically. It includes items as diverse as original letters to him with enclosures, carbon copies of all outgoing correspondence, personal items, brochures, announcements, project notes and legal documents or meeting reports.

The blueprints, photos patents, and working drawings collection provides full documentation on hundreds of Fuller's design artifacts, inventions, cartographic works and architectural projects, including more than 1,000 original sketches. Fuller's photo and slide documentation on geodesic structures built around the world by others is included.

The manuscript collection is extensive and includes published and unpublished manuscripts, transcripts from lectures and full working files for all of Fuller's books. Each file contains original manuscripts and early versions complete with Fuller's marginalia. Most of the manuscripts date between 1928 and 1961. The media archives include audio and videotape, wire recordings and original film and filmstrips documenting the second half of this century. Fuller was a remarkable public speaker, whose 12-hour marathon lectures were described as "spellbinding" and "dazzling" by professionals, students and lay people alike.

The value of the Fuller Archive must be seen in relation to Fuller's achievements and to his association with other creative figures of importance to modern cultural life and thinking, ranging from Gropius to Einstein to Gandhi, Keller said. The collection is said to include every substantive piece of paper, film photography, or tape that passed across Fuller's desk in his lifetime, resulting in the most complete possible documentation of his activities and associations, his thought and his projects.

Assunta Pisani, associate university librarian for collections and services at Stanford, said the arhive will move to Stanford in August, but that it will take at least a year to complete the processing of it. SR