Ted Nelson email archive now available

Stanford Libraries’ Department of Special Collections is excited to announce that the email archive of Ted Nelson is now available to researchers. Theodor Holm "Ted" Nelson is an information technology pioneer and systems humanist who began his work in these areas in the 1960s. Nelson founded Project Xanadu, a global hypertext system designed to permanently connect different types of documents. He also coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia. The Ted Nelson email archive contains 236,779 messages related to Nelson’s life and work between 2001-2019, covering his more recent work.

 

                            Xanadu Interface

 

Correspondence related to many of Ted Nelson’s projects can be found in the collection, with emails and mailing lists discussing the ongoing work on Project Xanadu and ZigZag. The collection also contains correspondence with many other notable figures in the field of computer science including Douglas Engelbart, Steve Wozniak, Harry Mendell, and Laurie Spiegel, to name a few. 

One common thread found throughout Ted Nelson’s work seems to be a deep interest in how information is organized, related to other pieces of information, and presented to people who need to make sense of it. As an inventive thinker on matters related to information and technology, it should come as no surprise that Nelson wouldn’t be content to simply use his email account in the conventional way. His email account served many functions beyond communication:  a note keeper, a log of daily activities (or “drungs,” a portmanteau of “daily” and “running” coined by Nelson), and a repository for important reference documents (search for “refx” to find these).

Another interesting find in the collection are Nelson’s lists of abbreviations, which he also sent to himself for safe keeping. As an archivist, I often come across abbreviations when working with collections that I am not familiar with, especially if they are related to a very specific field or profession. However, none have been as unique as the abbreviations that I found in this collection. These are not the run of the mill abbreviations, rather they were created by Nelson and are highly specific to his experiences and activities. He would often include these abbreviations in his email subject headings as a means of classification and for terms that he wanted to be able to find easily in his email, he cleverly added an “x” to the end to avoid false positives in his search results.

 

                          Example of Abbreviations from the Nelson Email Archive

 

The Ted Nelson Email Archive is part of the larger Ted Nelson papers, which contains extensive physical and digital material related to Nelson’s life and work. A preview of the email collection is accessible on the ePADD Discovery website, and the full text is available in the Field Reading Room at Green Library.

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