November 27, 2012
Unexpected tangents in the IET Archives
The IET Archives contain a number of personal archive collections of significant engineers and Presidents of the Institution. These papers naturally contain relevant technical information but researchers can often be surprised to discover unexpected references to areas not normally associated with engineering.
One such example is the collection of Professor John Flavell Coales, President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) from 1971 to 1972, whose papers are held in the manuscript special collections (Ref. SC MSS 168).
John Coales was Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge and the fourth President of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC), with which he was closely associated. His collection therefore contains papers and correspondence relating to control and automation, as well as material on the subject of engineering education and training, a subject dear to his heart. However, it came as a surprise to discover some miscellaneous files within this collection containing correspondence from the 1980s with the high profile media figure Robert Maxwell, and his wife Elizabeth.
The link between Maxwell and Coales is Pergamon Press, the scientific publisher founded by Maxwell, and which had a publishing agreement with IFAC which was negotiated by Coales. The friendly relationship that can be seen between Coales and Maxwell in these letters is a reminder of the unexpected historical references that are often unearthed in archival holdings.
To find out more about Coales, who left Government Service in 1946 to found the research laboratories of Elliot Brothers, an important contributor in the areas of military radar and the emerging field of digital computers and industrial instrumentation in post-war Britain, researchers can consult the J F Coales collection.
IET Assistant Archivist