Impressive Progress at the Revs Program at Stanford University
By Michael T. Lynch
Last week we spoke of the issue of disposing of one’s automotive ephemera, or at least the portion that has been unused for some time. The solution offered was Steve Fields Automobilia, which provides a service to do so through eBay.
This week we will discuss the question of donations of serious collections. I get at least two calls a week on this subject. The horror stories I have heard include going back to the donee later and finding that most of the donation has vanished or seeing the donated material ten years later in the same boxes in which it was delivered. While there are repositories that properly sort and index what they get, budgets, volunteer help and other issues do not usually provide a process that takes the gift from the box to a medium that can be distance accessed by researchers, let along the public. There is now such an institution.
In the August 10, 2011 edition of VeloceToday we filed a story on the launch of the Revs Program at Stanford, which brought together academics and other field experts from many disciplines at a symposium to discuss the past, present and future of the automobile. (Read the article.)
I should point out that the Revs in Revs Program is not an acronym for anything, despite what has been published elsewhere. Since our launch story, the program has made substantial progress, successfully introducing several initiatives in its attempt to broaden academia’s interpretation of the automobile’s place in society and encourage its study beyond engineering and design. Under Executive Director Reilly Brennan, who came aboard in February 2012, the number of automotive-related courses offered at Stanford doubled from the preceding to the present school year, with this year’s total at ten. Brennan says, “Our goal really is to bring the automobile to the center of Stanford and to fund and support smart people doing interesting and new projects with and about the automobile.”
An example of the innovative nature of some of the instruction is a course last fall that involved the restoration of a 1962 Cadillac Deville. The course description and a film about it can be seen below.
For something more traditional, the Anthropology Department is offering Car Culture this semester. It covers everything from how early automobile production processes ushered in mass production of other products to how cars influenced American courting practices.
Another ongoing project, Exploring Driver Psychophysiology measures areas of driver reaction through EEG terminals on the body. The measured aspects of driver cognition are then overlaid with the car’s concurrent mechanical data as measured via telemetry. These data, taken from normal drivers on the street as well as from professionals on the race track, are intended to both define what makes some cars special, but also to gather information on how the driving experience can be made both safer and more fun. Professor Chris Gerdes oversees these efforts assisted by Researchers Lene Harbott and John Kegelman. Of interest to VeloceToday readers is the fact that several of the Collier Collection’s race cars have been put through this process at vintage races driven by such luminaries as John Morton and Brian Redman.
The Open Garage Talks brought personalities associated with cars to the Stanford campus. The remarks of Chris Bangle, former Chief of Design for the BMW Group can be seen here:
The series hosted Stefan Bradl, a German rider for the LCR Honda MotoGP Team who finished 8th in the 2012 World Championship on his RC213V. Also participating was Lucio Cecchinello, owner of the team.
Bringing intellectual heft to the series was Pulitzer Prize Winner, Paul Ingrassia, who discussed his book, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars. The book describes how each of the fifteen cars defined, and in some cases engendered, changes in American social habits. Thanks to the Stanford Libraries, Ingrassia’s presentation is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WmfoiOfiGtU
Few communications media are as universal as the movies, and Revs also hosted Driven: A Car Culture Film Series. It included everything from Film Noir (Armored Car Robbery) to the usual tales of wayward drag racing youth (Two-Lane Blacktop — James Taylor was wonderful – and American Graffiti). Art Film was represented by Trafic, the last in a comic series that featured Monsieur Hulot, the fabulous character played by gifted French mime, Jacques Tati, who also directed. The title itself is a joke in Franglais, the amalgam of English and French that French social commentators so despise. There were other movies, equally interesting.
The Revs Program saved the best for last and made its most impressive announcement to date on December 11 at a reception at Stanford’s Green Library — the acquisition of the Road & Track archive.
Since its inception in 1947, Road & Track has been the magazine of record of American automobile enthusiasm. Like the finest special interest magazines of the 20th Century, R&T used writers, artists and photographers whose influence went well beyond the subject of the magazine. It championed foreign cars and railed against the excesses of U.S. automobile design when such ideas were considered un-American. Travel articles often covered European trips, many to the factories that built the automobiles the writers owned.
One legendary article was An Incompleat (sic) Guide to the Île du Levant by a much-loved writer, Henry Manney III. 90% of the French island in the Gulf of Lyon is devoted to off-limits military use and the remainder consists of a naturalist village complete with city hall and a government. Clothes are not welcomed. The images in the piece were limited to illustrations, for decorum; no photographs were used.
The Stanford Libraries are already considered to be the repository of some of the finest history of technology collections in the world. These date from Stanford founder Leland Stanford’s contribution of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s business and technical records. The Road & Track material will both provide a foundation for an automotive archive and a magnet for other auto-centric collections to be added over the years.
Henry Lowood is the Curator for the History of Science and Technology Collections in Stanford Libraries. He says, “An important part of our mission is to provide long-term access to archives and unique collections, whether they originate with individuals or organizations, The Road & Track archive will find a place among our collections that document the history of companies ranging from the Southern Pacific Railroad to Apple Computer.” This is fitting because most top ten lists of 20th Century inventions list the automobile in the lower half. Perhaps Stanford can move us up a few notches.
All this will enhance the Revs Program’s ability to lead all academic institutions in integrating the study of the automobile into areas of intellectual inquiry where cars have been previously been given short shrift, if not ignored.
Road & Track was moving their office to Michigan and their new premises did not have room for the archive, which was stored in a garage. Stanford engaged the magazine and discussions began. Henry Lowood visited the magazine with Mark Patrick, the Managing Librarian and Archivist from the Revs Institute in Florida. They were amazed by what they found. The treasure trove was hardly limited to back issues but included photography, illustrations, reporter’s notes, engineering test data, and correspondence. Examples included folders with specific road test information along with testers’ notes and gas receipts.
Lowood and Patrick, who could hardly contain their enthusiasm, called Reilly Brennan who began building faculty and administrative support to get the collection to Stanford. A group came together including Revs Director Clifford Nass, Revs Co-Director Michael Shanks, Art & Art History Chair Nancy Troy, STS Director Fred Turner, Professor and design firm IDEO founder David Kelley and Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections Zachary Baker and University Librarian Mike Keller. Wendy Israel and Larry Webster provided support and guidance from the Hearst and Road & Track side of things. When the collection left Newport Beach, there were 527 boxes weighing five tons and required two moving vans.The work has begun on getting the archive into a usable form. First it has to be inventoried and stored to archival standards. Acid free folders for the documents, stabilization and proper storage for the photo transparencies, film and prints, sorting, classifying and creating a find list, these are some of the tools that will be applied over the next few months.
Even Stanford can only do so much. The digitization of the Road & Track collection and posting it on the Stanford site is in the future. That future can arrive sooner with the support of the automobile industry as well as interested individuals. If you want to tell your grandkids that you, “helped save the Road & Track archive”, here’s your chance.