Page proofs of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Marlon
Brando’s little black book. First editions of Ludwig van Beethoven.
complete cast of marionettes from a 19th-century Sicilian puppet
opera. Norman Bel Geddes’ industrial designs. Photography
by E.O. Goldbeck. Correspondence of beat writers Jack Kerouac,
and William S. Burroughs.
Two of the Ransom Center’s corners are
enclosed by etched glass panels featuring images of the center’s
these and other curiosities housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center augment more authoritative archival materials such
as manuscripts, correspondence and journals to create an outstanding
cultural collection. For nearly half a century, The University
of Texas at Austin’s Ransom Center has been accumulating, collecting,
cataloguing and conserving an enormous number of archives and artifacts.
1957 the late Harry Ransom, then a professor and dean at the university,
began actively pursuing his long-held ambition to create
one of the foremost research libraries in existence. Ransom understood
very well the importance of original material.
“It is to the author’s manuscript,” he wrote, “that
the scholar must turn…for an understanding of the writer’s
began taking libraries in another direction as he led the way in
acquiring contemporary material such as the papers and works
of living authors and artists.
The Ransom Center holds notes, drafts and
rejected pages for 21 poems from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves
“The key to Ransom’s success and vision, and the guiding
principle for the center to the present day, is the premise that
work is not the beginning of the literary study,” said Ransom
Center Director Thomas F. Staley. “Tracing the trajectory
of the creative imagination involves the study of the first notes
and early drafts that began the work of art, the journals, outlines,
false starts, the hundred changes, the cross-outs, the marginal
notes. Ransom’s idea, commonplace now but not so 40 years ago,
is fundamental to understanding the development of the great collections
In 1970, only a few years after Ransom undertook his
goal to create an esteemed humanities library, Anthony Hobson said
Libraries,” “Texas is like an active volcano; it is
impossible to tell in which direction it will erupt next.” The
Ransom Center was one of Hobson’s 32 great libraries of Western
Europe and North America.
A strength of the center’s collections is that they
include not only manuscripts, but also notebooks, diaries, correspondence,
photographs and artworks and ephemera, making possible the study
of a wide range of disciplines within the humanities and a multiplicity
of approaches. The collections are vast and contain manuscripts,
rare books, photographs, works of art and design and extensive
holdings in performing arts and film.
“We give great attention to building upon existing collections,
from strength to strength, and are constantly tracking down caches
of notebooks, sketches and correspondence from those whose work
is already on our shelves,” Staley said.
“We also put a premium on acquiring the materials of new
talents whom we believe will be seen in retrospect as important
of our current era. A humanities research center such as ours must
always be aware of new artistic styles, new modes of discourse,
new forms of expression, new and imaginative ways of seeing the
world through art.”
Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in “Rebecca.”
Selznick International Pictures.
Spanning centuries, continents and all
creative endeavors, the center’s collections include the
the world’s great literary collections of 20th-century
literary materials, including more than one million rare books
and 36 million manuscripts. The collections feature some remarkable
pre-20th-century materials, including a copy of the first book
printed in English, the “Historyes of Troye,” as
well as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
100,000 drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures and works of
design, including modern portraits by American, British and
Mexican masters, fine examples of contemporary prints by pioneering
art presses, award-winning book illustration and early 20th-century
than 10,000 scripts for film, television and radio; more than
15,000 posters, lobby cards and other advertising materials;
one million photographs, including production stills, portraits,
publicity photographs and behind-the-scenes snapshots.
A rare first edition of Charles Baudelaire’s
“Les Fleurs du mal,” 1857. From the Carlton Lake Collection.
one of the finest collections outside of France for its books,
manuscripts, music, photographs, artwork and original
documents devoted primarily to the modern movement in literature
a period of seven centuries, from 1300 to the present, including
early manuscripts, rare books, opera libretti, prints
and drawings, costumes and stage designs, marionettes and manuscripts
of modern authors.
and printed scores, libretti, books on music, musicians’ correspondence,
photographs, artwork, recordings, clippings, programs and costume
and set designs.
the various disciplines of the performing arts, including the
history of costume and scenic design, theater, dance and
opera as well as popular entertainment such as vaudeville,
pantomine, magic, puppetry and minstrel shows.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti. “La Pia.” c. 1870-75.
Pastel on paper.
china, clothing, crystal, decorative arts, furniture, silver
and textiles belonging to various actors, playwrights, photographers,
authors and other notables.
than five million prints and negatives, supplemented by manuscripts,
archives and memorabilia of significant photographers
of the past
two centuries, including such rare items as the first photograph.
The center acquires archives and materials in a variety
of ways, including purchasing materials through the artists themselves
through a third party. The center also receives archives and individual
items as gifts. Knowing that the materials will be accessible and
conserved are critical reasons why many artists want the Ransom
Center to house their work.
“I’d spent years trying to find a future home for
my complete archive,” said famed photojournalist David Douglas
thousand pounds—three tons!—of prints and negatives,
book production records and dummies, first editions of the books
themselves, also my custom-built prismatic camera and custom-built
Leicas with which I silently worked beside Picasso, and other Leica
fitted with a then-unknown Nikon lens that I used during the Korean
War and launched the 1950 camera ‘revolution.’
“Dell’ Arte di fabbricare I fuochi
artificial.” Late 1500s. Manuscript with pen-and-ink drawings
“My gift offer has found its home. I had never been in Austin,
Texas. Now, most of my life’s work is at the Ransom Center—fastidiously
catalogued and conserved and available to the public.”
As holder of millions of sensitive and fragile materials,
the Ransom Center established its own conservation department
in 1980 to oversee
the care and preservation of its valuable collections. With in-house
expertise, the center’s conservation staff ensures that the center’s
collections will remain available for the enjoyment and study
by future generations of visitors and scholars.
Book, paper and
photo conservation tackle problems such as insect infestation,
deterioration as well as replacing book bindings.
Highly respected for its conservation and preservation efforts,
the center is often asked to consult on outside projects as well
as work with other institutions, such as the Getty Conservation
Pascal Colasse. Title page of “Thétis
et Pelée” Basse Continue part, manuscript. Late
For the thousands of students on campus as well as
visitors, the Ransom Center constitutes a focus for intellectual
life and scholarly
pursuit. For the center, accessibility is the keynote: anyone who
is interested can ask to view almost any part of the collection
in the reading room, whether it be first editions of Galileo and
Copernicus, story boards from “Gone with the Wind,” or
the forthcoming archive of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate
The Ransom Center, known worldwide, attracts not only curious
visitors, but scholars from around the world. For more than two
Bethel has visited the center while working on his Ph.D. as a graduate
student at the University of California San Diego. With Bethel’s
dissertation focusing on First Amendment history, specifically
book and film censorship in the 1930s through the 1960s, the Ransom
Center’s archive of Morris L. Ernst archive has been invaluable.
Ernst, a well-known First Amendment advocate and general counsel
to the American Civil Liberties Union, famously fought for the
importation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” a book
that had been dubbed obscene. Ernst’s legal defense of “Ulysses” forced
the Customs Service to allow the book into the U.S.
Léon Bakst. Costume design for “Narcisse,”
1911. From a 1916 souvenir program for Serge Diaghilev’s
“The correspondence and legal papers in the comprehensive
Ernst archive are central to my research,” said Bethel. “Not
only is the archive well organized, the staff is welcoming and
helpful, and the facility is beautiful, well-lit and easy to work
in. It’s a pleasure to research materials here.”
center awards about 40 fellowships annually to scholars for research
projects that require substantial on-site use of the center’s
collections. This year’s recipients
hail from throughout the United States, England, Germany, Canada,
France and India.
New public spaces
With its recent $14.5 million renovation, the
Ransom Center offers more than 40,000 square feet of newly constructed
including the Ransom Center Galleries, the Charles Nelson Prothro
Theater and the Hazel Ransom Reading Room.
“By opening the first two stories to the abundant Texas
light, the renovation architects reflected architecturally the
vision of the Ransom Center: to provide spaces worthy of the collections
and to make those spaces easily accessible to a growing public,”
said former Associate Director Sally Leach.
The new Ransom Center Galleries.
to the first floor galleries have the opportunity to see free exhibitions
as well as the permanent display of a copy of
the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1454-55) and the first photograph, “View
from the Window at Gras” (1826). The Ransom Center Galleries
will host various exhibitions that spotlight the center’s
Sept. 14, the center’s inaugural exhibition “In A
New Light” features more than 300 familiar and not-so-familiar
masterpieces from its collections. On view is original art by Man
Ray, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol; manuscripts of Sinclair Lewis and
Isaac Bashevis Singer; photography by Alfred Stieglitz and Walker
Evans; production materials from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?” and “West Side Story;” and materials
from the center’s expansive performing arts collections.
new space, the center expands its offering of public programs
that complement exhibitions
as well as holdings of the Ransom Center.
From film screenings to monthly Poetry on the
Plaza readings, the center seeks to share its collections through
The Hazel Ransom Reading Room.
“It’s our mission to preserve these cultural treasures
while providing access to the collections,” Staley said. “Visitors
now have the opportunity to tour exhibitions, hear lectures, enjoy
poetry readings and view some of the world’s renowned treasures
in a space that embraces all of these activities.”
on the second floor the new reading room allows visitors to place
requests to view materials. With valid photo identification,
new patrons can watch a short welcoming video on how to use materials
in the reading room. The center’s Web site provides a thorough
list of the collection holdings with finding aids. Patrons are
encouraged to visit the center with knowledge about material
that they would like to research or view.
“From the largest cultural movements to the tiniest fragments
of revision,” Staley said, “the center’s collections
reveal the history of inspired choices in humanities, in brush
in ink, in image and in writing. The fact that all these works
are housed on the university’s campus, in the heart of Austin,
Texas, is phenomenal. Students, scholars and the public have access
to see some of the world’s most treasured and remarkable works.”
[To receive e-mail updates from the Ransom Center, visit eUpdates on
the Ransom Center’s Web site.]
Photos of Ransom Center: Pete
Images courtesy Harry