Process in the Archive
Thank you very much for your excellent paper. As I was listening, I couldn’t help being transported back to my experiences of working through the Eames archive at the Library of Congress (working on their Nehru exhibition). I was rather taken aback by the piles of scraps and notes, including silver slips from cigarette packets, that Ray (?) had scribbled and then preserved in the archive. Having been used to the very formal nature of museum archives, usually based on detailed formal correspondence, it was a revelation and terrifying (!) to see this mass of unfiltered ‘process’. I’m embarrassed to say, that due to time constraints, I left most of it unexamined and stuck to the more familiar, comforting letters that they also wrote and received. I’m now comparing your evocation of the stamina of the designer to my own lack thereof! I was wondering if you’d seen this material, and either way, what approach you would take to analysing it.
I hope you might have chance to listen to Barbara Fahs Charles’ paper (Panel 4) – it is really fascinating, not least because Barbara worked with the Eames in her early career and then adopted/adapted some of their model/photographic techniques in her practice.
Thanks again for the paper – I learnt a lot.
Thanks so much for sharing these images of the Eames' notes about the Nehru exhibition. It is so wonderful to see, in the middle of the photo collage you have made of your research pics, the phrase THE ENDS CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM THE MEANS in Charles Eames' handwriting. I think this is really why it is so important to understand what processes designers deploy, and what technologies they use, and how those technologies are historically situated. I have addressed some of this in my article for History of Science (1:23, 2019) 'Embodied ephemeralities: Methodologies and historiographies for investigating the display and spatialization of science and technology in the twentieth century' (attached)
So, what would I do with this kind of material? I am assuming that these scraps were found in a 'docket' or folder relating specifically to the Nehru exhibition, is that correct? It would require quite a bit of work to approach this material. I would first want to know if there has been any intervention by an archivist (either professional at LOC or perhaps a personal secretary of the Eames post-exhibition (or even family members posthumously). That is to say, does the 'scrap-heap' still retain Eames' original form vis a vis how Charles and Ray would have left it after the project was completed, or has it been reworked or sanitised? This would help to understand precisely how much can be 'understood' from the current structure.
When material is scanned, it is possible to 're-array' these digital surrogates by type, date, etc. — without disturbing the original structure of the actual material. It would be worth either (A) scanning each piece or (B) transcribing each piece. The former has the advantage of affording each piece a file number automatically (metadata). Then with the scans one could use Transkribus ( https://transkribus.eu/Transkribus/ ) to machine-learn Eames' handwriting and this would help with transcription. Capturing dates would be good -- maybe many of those back-of-the-envelope notes have postage stamp date-marks on their fronts. In this way, the physical order (how the materials sit in the archival structure) could be analysed against the chronological order of the materials. There will also be structure in the spatialisation of the notes on the pages, which is more difficult to analyse computationally. It would be worth looking in other 'dockets' to see if the 'heap' structure is similar across the board -- then you might have some grounds to extrapolate a more general process from this material.
Clearly, once this material has been made more analysable (both computationally and in terms of history of design research methods) through digital surrogates such as scans and transcriptions, it would be possible to propose hypotheses about the dynamic developments in the relationship between research, intellectual process, design process, client relations, finances and even travel (I see a list of expenses including a hotel bill in there!).
In passing -- and I must confess that I have not read your work on the Eames and the Nehru exhibition (oops) -- were you aware of the connections between Nehru and Patrick Blackett, the physicist? Very interesting...
all best, and thank you all for a fantastic conference!
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