When first faced with preparing around 300 boxes of Francis Crick’s personal papers for digitisation, I have to confess my heart sank. A far cry from the last very visual digitisation project of 3000 AIDS posters, I was daunted, not only by the very different content of this collection, but the sheer size of it – an estimated half a million items this time. How wrong I was. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to delve into one of the most incredible minds of our lifetime.
Although we tend to associate him only with his (and Jim Watson’s) discovery of the double-helix sequence of DNA – and there is plenty of fascinating correspondence within the archive related to this - it is his research on the mind and consciousness in his latter years that is truly ‘astonishing’ as he would put it. Through his endless correspondence with both fellow scientists and the general public, we get a real sense of his probing analysis of what makes our brains tick.
It is very easy to get side-tracked from such a collection but I have to remember that my main task is to ensure the papers are in a suitable condition for the photographers to shoot: a daily scour of the collection is required to remove existing staples and flatten pages but occasionally a conservator is required. For example, Crick’s heavily folded (since 1955) tracing sketches and calculations of Collagen Long Spacings required specialist equipment to flatten out.
Once a particular batch has been checked, data spreadsheets are then produced for the photographers so that they know what to expect in each box – included in this data is an estimate of the percentage of OCR’able (Optical Character Recognition) text, a record of the current location of a particular batch and notes for the archivists’ attention. While doing this I cannot help but siphon off particularly interesting information which has and will continue to be used for publicity about the project – see the recent BBC Audio Slideshow.
Further blogs providing updates on the digitisation project will follow in due course.
Top image: Crick's sketch of genetic code, 1965 (PP/CRI/E/1/13/10)
Bottom image: Francis Crick lecturing at Cambridge University (PP/CRI/A/1/2/9)