Scope and Contents
Access to Collection
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: Benoit Mandelbrot papers
Mandelbrot, Benoit B.
Identifier/Call Number: M1857
Identifier/Call Number: 16669
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.
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
After leaving IBM in 1987, he became a professor of Mathematics at Yale University, a position he held until his retirement
The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, was published in 2012.
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.
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.
[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
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
Thomas J. Watson IBM Research Center
Mandelbrot, Benoit B.