Ransom Center 50th Anniversary Gala
April 27, 2007
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the entire University of Texas family, I welcome you to our campus for this 50th anniversary gala. We are all in extraordinary company tonight. Longtime friends, supporters, and contributors to the HRC collections are with us, and that in itself is cause for celebration. We thank the University Co-op, AT&T, and the Cain Foundation for helping to make this magnificent event possible.
The Ransom Center has become an American Pantheon of literary and artistic luminaries. We are blessed that some of those luminaries could join us this evening. When Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, and James Salter are in your house on the same night, the occasion takes on special significance and will long be remembered as one of the great moments in university history. Thank you, gentlemen, for honoring us with your presence.
Harry Ransom – the man who began this adventure in literary collection and for whom this center is named – wrote an essay in 1958 entitled “The Arts of Uncertainty.” That was what he called the Humanities. He said that the Humanities confront “much that is vague, changeful, unpredictable, immeasurable, unknown, unknowable.” In his essay he makes a number of criticisms about cultural attitudes and the study of the Humanities in his day – what he calls “easy popularity,” “the tyranny of trivia,” and the compromise of teaching mere “appreciation” of the arts.
In the end he concludes: “We must assume that somewhere in our scheme there is a place, not measured and calculated, for the pleasures of the mind, for the instruction of the heart, for the foundation of ideals, for the reformation of manners, for the lifting of human sights, and for the cultivation of understanding among men – all men.”
On this campus, as on every campus in the country, we need to remember that the Humanities are not just niceties for evening or weekend entertainment. They create real knowledge and understanding of what it means to be human. Just because something can't be measured or calculated – as Ransom said – or isn't subject to an algorithm, doesn't mean it's not real knowledge.
What Ransom didn't say was that the special place on our campus has a name. We now call it the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
For 50 years, the HRC has been an intellectual center for all that pleases the mind, instructs the heart, lifts our sights, and cultivates understanding. It has become one of the great research libraries of the world, and The University of Texas is enormously proud of its parentage.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to Tom Staley. Tom, Congratulations! And we are grateful to his staff and to the many people – living and those gone from us – who have helped to make these collections the crown jewels of our university. They enrich the cultural experience, and illuminate the literary record, for students and professors, for visiting researchers, and for the people of Texas and the world at large.
I salute the illustrious authors who have joined us on this occasion. Thank you. The HRC is a great institution because you have shared your minds, your hearts, and your wisdom with us. We will continue to share your rare talents with the world.
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