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Mandelbrot (Benoit) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Biographical Note
  • Acquisition Information
  • General
  • Publication Rights
  • Scope and Contents
  • Access to Collection
  • Preferred Citation
  • Arrangement
  • Processing Note

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Benoit Mandelbrot papers
    Creator: Mandelbrot, Benoit B.
    Identifier/Call Number: M1857
    Identifier/Call Number: 16669
    Physical Description: 413 Linear Feet (396 manuscript boxes; 4 half boxes; 79 cartons; 48 flat boxes; 1 card box; 10 map folders; 1 map tube)
    Date (inclusive): circa 1932-2010
    Language of Material: Materials in the collection are mainly in English and French.
    Abstract: The papers document the life and work of Benoit B. Mandelbrot, mathematician and pioneer of fractal geometry. The collection contains correspondence, research data, drafts and publications, administrative records, teaching material, photographs, artwork, audiovisual material, and computer media relating to Mandelbrot's education, professional career, and work in several organizations, principally at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center and Yale University.
    Physical Location: Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance. For more information on paging collections, see the department's website: http://library.stanford.edu/spc.

    Biographical Note

    Benoit B. Mandelbrot was born in 1924 to a Lithuanian Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland. In 1936, the family fled the Nazis, moving first to Paris and then to southern France. After the war, Mandelbrot continued his studies at the École Polytechnique in Paris and then in the United States at the California Institute of Technology. He returned to France and completed a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Paris in 1952. Mandelbrot spent most of his professional research career at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, beginning in 1958; with his appointment as an IBM Fellow in 1974, he was free to follow his personal inclination towards interdisciplinary research founded on applied mathematics.
    Mandelbrot had begun to focus his attention on fractal mathematics during the 1960s, beginning with his article, "How Long is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension," published in Science (1967). In this article he introduced fractals as part of the solution to a problem that had occupied his attention for some time: How to measure a curve as complex as a geographic coastline? He discussed two salient characteristics of fractals that applied to this problem: self-similarity and "fractional" dimensionality. Self-similarity referred to the persistence of patterns as an observer zoomed in or out of the visualization of a fractal set. Fractional geometry described the quality these sets had mathematically of being "fuzzier" than a line but never completely filling a plane. A few years later, in 1975, Mandelbrot introduced the term "fractal" to describe such mathematical sets. Over the course of his career, until his death in 2010, Mandelbrot encouraged the application of fractal geometry to fields ranging from engineering and medicine to finance, climate study, and art.
    Mandelbrot first rendered a computer-generated image of the set that would be named after him at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1980. The computer plot produced by a software program revealed the distinctive image of a large vaguely heart-shaped object connected to a smaller spherical object and having a rough, fuzzy border. While this was neither the first mathematical study of this particular mathematical set nor the first visualization of it, Mandelbrot had developed an algorithm that would be the basis of subsequent computer programs used to study and visualize fractals.
    Mandelbrot's work was introduced to a wider readership with the publication of an article about the Mandelbrot Set in Scientific American (1985). Like many other results from applied and recreational mathematics, it appeared in A.K. Dewdney's "Computer Recreations" column. Dewdney opened by describing Mandelbrot's visualization of the set, announcing to his readers that "here is an infinite regress of detail that astonishes us with its variety, its complexity and its strange beauty." He described Mandelbrot's work in fractal geometry and how the boundary of the Mandelbrot Set was a fractal exhibiting fractional dimensionality and the recursive quality of self-similarity. The article went on to describe how a computer program could function essentially as a microscope for this geometrical object, allowing the observer to examine its properties in exquisite detail, "like a tourist in a land of infinite beauty."[A. K. Dewdney, "Computer Recreations: A Computer Microscope Zooms in for a Look at the Most Complex Object in Mathematics," Scientific American, 253, Aug. 1985: 16-24.]
    Mandelbrot wrote and edited a number of significant books describing his research into fractal geometry, including Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension (1977) and The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1983). He was also the author of numerous articles and conference papers and received many awards and honorary degrees for his work.
    After leaving IBM in 1987, he became a professor of Mathematics at Yale University, a position he held until his retirement in 2005.
    His memoir, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, was published in 2012.

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was given by Aliette Mandelbrot to Stanford University, Special Collections in 2011, 2012, and 2013.


    The initials BBM are sometimes used in the guide for Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305-6064. Consent is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/spc/using-collections/permission-publish.
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Scope and Contents

    The papers document the life and work of Benoit B. Mandelbrot, 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 talks focusing on fractals or related topics. Other formats present in the collection include photographs and audiovisual and born-digital material. There is also an extensive amount of fractal and fractal-related artwork and artifacts.

    Access to Collection

    The collection is open for research except materials in Series 28: Restricted Material (boxes 327, 328, 329, 330, 495, 496). Restricted materials are closed until January 1, 2045.
    The majority of audiovisual material in the collection has been digitally reformatted and is available to view in the Special Collections Reading Room.
    Born-digital materials are still being processed and not yet open for research.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], Benoit Mandelbrot papers (M1857). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    The collection has been arranged into 28 series:
    Series 1. Personal/Biographical
    Series 2. Course Work
    Series 3. Personal Correspondence
    Series 4. "Mail Files"
    Series 5. Professional Correspondence
    Series 6. Loose Correspondence
    Series 7. Books
    Series 8. Research Articles and Other Writings
    Series 9. Working files/Research
    Series 10. Professional Activities
    Series 11. Data/Plots/Visualizations
    Series 12. Plots/Graphs – rolls
    Series 13. Interviews and Transcripts
    Series 14. Teaching Material
    Series 15. Certificates, Awards, and Diplomas
    Series 16. Grant/Contract Administration
    Series 17. Administrative Files
    Series 18. Reprints and Subject Files
    Series 19. Reprints by Mandelbrot
    Series 20. Clippings
    Series 21. Works by Others
    Series 22. Publicity Material
    Series 23. Artwork and Artifacts
    Series 24. Photographic Material
    Series 25. Music
    Series 26. Audiovisual Material
    Series 27. Computer Media/Born-digital Material
    Series 28. Restricted Material

    Processing Note

    The collection was processed by Joseph Geller and Laura Wilsey; with Christy Smith and Ivan Josh Henriquez Nunez.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Mathematics -- History -- 20th century.
    Fractals in art
    Julia sets
    Mandelbrot sets
    Computer graphics.
    Thomas J. Watson IBM Research Center
    Mandelbrot, Benoit B.