The Charles Fort Institute
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Towards a Fortean Institute

Bob Rickard believes the time has come to lay the foundations of an international information resource that will benefit society by providing better tools for understanding personal and social attitudes towards the 'paranormal'.

This first appeared in FT100.
Copyright: Bob Rickard 1997.

    Not many people remember Arthur Constance. A Canadian, he came to England in the 1920s to run his father's business in Cheltenham and stayed on to make a second career as a journalist. His best known book is The Inexplicable Sky (Citadel, 1957), a well-researched, well-written exploration of astronomy, strange objects falling from the sky and UFOs.

    Constance was a fine Fortean: apart from his drive to learn, he emulated and out did Charles Fort in collecting news clippings. At the time of his death, Constance had amassed over three million, two million of them bound into 16,000 volumes ... and, dear reader, I came this close to getting them.

    I first learned of Constance's legendary collection in the mid-1980s and he had died by the time I traced him. The greater blow was learning that his Fortean clippings and books had, just a couple of weeks previously, been dissipated as his family wanted to emigrate and could not store them. The books were sold off in lots to dealers - the clippings were (gulp!) burned.

    This tragedy need not have happened if we had a national or international reference collection of Forteana and it strengthened my resolve to work towards the foundation of such a collection. For 25 years, the idea has found approval in discussions with other Forteans, usually with the advice that it should be properly thought out, well funded, and professionally run - let's call it the Charles Fort Institute (CFI) to honour the man. Along the way, Steve Moore, Ian Simmons, Paul Sieveking and Andrew Dennis have joined me to form the initial group that is launching this initiative.

    Here are a few reasons why we need a reference collection ...

    * Information tends to be volatile unless recorded. Personal narratives and observations are gathered by individual researchers almost by chance. A well-publicised central clearing-house could begin the work of collection, preservation and redirection to interested researchers.

    * Many newspapers do not maintain their back-issue files beyond a few years. Large modern newspapers are converting to electronic and optical archiving, but only data that they deem to be of interest is stored. Archives of older newspapers are few, incomplete and difficult to access.

    * The archiving of periodicals is even more patchy, apart from scientific periodicals and those titles mandated for deposit to the five national libraries. Outside of private collections, most of the small, privately published amateur or enthusiast publications are not archived at all. The Internet has added a digital torrent of electronic publications and homepages to this category too. Consequently, there is nowhere, at present, where anyone can consult runs of FATE, MUFON Journal, Pursuit, or the Res Bureaux Bulletin, to name some examples.

    * The personal libraries and case files of individual researchers and small organisations are often lost, destroyed or dissipated. A simple act of bequest to the CFI would save their efforts for posterity.

    * Specialist libraries in the care of larger institutions are often in peril as these institutions often owe no allegiance to the aims of the original collectors. Relocation, withdrawal from public access, storage, damaged by damp, and disposal are among the fates that have faced such unique collections as those of the Society for Psychical Research, the Harry Price Library, the British Science Fiction Foundation, the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained, the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, the British UFO Research Association ... and many others that we don't yet know about.

    Essentially, we see the core of the CFI as a working reference library, archive and museum. On this backbone there would be additional departments or services concerned with publications, lectures, exhibitions, educative programmes for schools and encouraging research and discussion.

    While a physical location will be needed for some functions, we see the project as being fully integrated into the Internet, providing electronic access to the CFI's collections, exhibitions, publications and even lecture programmes from anywhere in the world by developing and using state of the art information technology (IT). Because of this, an IT department is an essential part of our vision.

    The CFI will grow through the acquisition of private libraries, archives and collections as they become available and by receiving gifts, donations and bequests. The founding collection will be much of the material accumulated by the editors of FT. Other Forteans have told me that they would gladly write similar gifts into their wills, so that their beloved collections will continue to be used by appreciative Forteans in the future.

    The CFI will be formed as a charitable company, independent of any political, religious or ideological organisation or belief and dedicated to the highest standards of scholarship. Its principal object will be to provide existing organisations and researchers with highly organised archive and related IT resources, and to act as a focus for otherwise uncoordinated research efforts, much as Jenny Randles called for at UnConvention 97. With that in place, it is hoped that it will be able to fund or promote new research initiatives of its own.

    An ambitious project like this will need a lot of money ... and we will be very pleased to receive pledges which can be confirmed later. Eventually we'll have some informative literature and you'll be able to follow our progress on this Internet site:

    With your help, we might even accomplish wonders in time for the Millennium.

    Bob Rickard founded FT in 1973 and, despite editing it for 24 years, reckons Forteana still excites him. You can write to him via FT or email him.

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