Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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...ISLANDS OF ORDER

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center is central to the scholarly life of The University of Texas at Austin . Its wide-ranging collections, research fellowships, academic symposia, public lectures and publications reflect decisive commitments to the study of the humanities.

The Center's world-renowned collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, film, and art, from the Gutenberg Bible to the world's first photograph, from Shakespeare folios to the manuscript of Tom Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, from Frida Kahlo's self-portrait to the final page proofs of Ulysses, are held here to be enjoyed and studied by scholars and students at the University and from around the world. Careful thought and attention is put into each and every acquisition, for the collecting of these rare and often unique cultural records is a primary purpose of the Ransom Center. Indeed, acquiring these collections, while working closely with the authors, artists, and scholars themselves, is an attempt to create some order among the random remnants of history - the poetic fragment, the unfinished drawing, the unpublished novel, even the masterpiece; it is an attempt to bring the pieces of our human story together.

Photograph

Hands with Crackers. Tammy Cromer-
Campbell,1996. Photography Collection.
©Tammy Cromer-Campbell.

Everything else - preservation, conservation, cataloging, public service - begins with the intelligent acquisition of manuscripts, notebooks, diaries, correspondence, page proofs, corrected typescripts, photographs and art from some of the greatest artists and writers of the age.

Our manuscript collections enable scholars to study literary works at various stages of composition and trace the changes as the authors have made them. In addition, as students examine the evolving drafts of a work, described by the textual scholar Jerome McGann as "texts existing in flux," they can trace the fertile movement of the author's imagination, the creative process. We make acquisitions of such materials our first priority. No responsibility is more central to our mission than to collect and preserve these records.

Acquisitions of the past decade provide abundant evidence of our sustained commitment to collection development and our vigorous pursuit of major archives. 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. We also put a premium on acquiring the materials of new talents whom we believe will be seen in retrospect as important artists 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.

In keeping with the commitment to deepen our strong twentieth century literary holdings, during the 1990s the Ransom Center made significant additions to manuscript collections of major authors such as Robert Lowell, James Joyce, Graham Greene, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Radclyffe Hall, André Malraux, Edith Sitwell, Albert Camus, Ezra Pound, and Tennessee Williams, among others.

Photograph

Isaac Bashevis Singer. Stefan Congrat-Butler, no date. Manuscripts.

Special emphasis during this period was placed upon collecting major Jewish writers such as Nobel Laurate Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud. Leon Uris donated his archive, including the manuscripts of Battle Cry and Exodus. The papers of other American Jewish writers such as Benjamin Appel and Jay Neugeboren have also been added.

This decade has been marked by the arrival of a hundred new literary archives, with the most dramatic growth coming in our British theater collections. The acquisition of archives from playwrights such as David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Arnold Wesker and John Osborne has served to make the Ransom Center a rich resource for the study of the history of the British stage in the twentieth century. Additional collections from James Saunders, Sir Donald Albery, and an extensive archive from the producer/director Frith Banbury increase the scope of our holdings in British theater. The growth of this area exemplifies our determination to deepen and enrich existing holdings.

Photograph

Theater program, Arcadia. Royal National Theatre, April 1993. Manuscripts.

As for the modern American theater, important material has been added in the major collections of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, together with the newly acquired archives of Adrienne Kennedy, Terrence McNally, Lee Blessing, the actress Laurette Taylor, and the famous theatrical agents Audrey Wood and William Liebling.

The Ransom Center's historic concentration in British literature continued this decade with major acquisitions from the versatile Sybille Bedford, the experimental Christine Brook-Rose, the Booker Prize winners Penelope Lively and Penelope Fitzgerald, and the poet Charles Tomlinson. The 1990s also saw the arrival of three major novelists' archives from across the Atlantic: John Fowles, Doris Lessing, and Anthony Burgess.

Photograph

John Fowles. Jacob Sutton, no date. Manuscripts.

This is not to say that we have neglected American literary figures over this period, adding the archives of Elizabeth Hardwick, Peter Matthiessen, Diane Johnson, Shelby Hearon, William Humphrey, poet and critic Stanley Burnshaw, and the experimental writer Ron Sukenick. The archives of two Pulitzer Prize-winning poets have come to the Ransom Center in this decade as well, James Tate and Karl Shapiro.

The 1990s have also seen the Center expand its scope in the area of African and Indian literatures in English. We have added to our collections the work of Amos Tutuola, Raja Rao, Anita Desai, Wilson Harris, and Dan Jacobson. Additionally, the Center acquired the papers of the Transcription Center Archive in London as well as the archives of the journal, Research in African Literatures, representing a wide range of correspondence with African writers in English. A rich book, periodical, and manuscript collection of the works of the major Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges adds a new, even broader dimension to our strength in Modernism.

The papers and archives of publishers, literary journals, and agents are immensely valuable for the study of literary history, and the Center has continued its work in this area with the acquisition of the archives of the Fiction Collective, Anvil Press, Littack, The Little Magazine, the London Review of Books, American Short Fiction, and the American Book Review. The study of publishing - particularly as regards literary agents and presses, large and small - is a rapidly expanding field in literary and cultural studies,and these archives reflect the Center's sustained commitment to this widening field of study as well as its deep interest in various aspects of literary history.

Photograph

Portrait of George Gershwin
in a Concert Hall, 1932.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1936.
Art Collection.

The David Higham literary agency is an example of the richness of such an archive. We recently extended our holdings in the Higham files by another twenty-four years, adding valuable correspondence from John Osborne, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Lehmann, Richard Hughes and Paul Scott among dozens of others.

Film, art, music,and especially photography have grown in interest at the Center, and acquisitions reflect this growth. From actor/director Steve Martin to Mexican artist David Siqueiros to Texas composer Kent Kennan, from one of the century's great photojournalists, David Douglas Duncan, to one of its most intriguing photo-graphic artists, Eliot Elisofon,the diversity of the Ransom Center's collections reflects the broad net which we cast across the spectrum of our cultural heritage, searching always for the artists and occasionally the organizations which we feel have defined their times with startling and inspiring creativity.

Photograph

Nancy Cunard in her
Father's Riding Habit.
Eugene MacCown, 1923.
Art Collection.

We continue to acquire portraits of writers whose works we collect, such as Eugene MacCown's oil painting of Nancy Cunard, Peter Evershed's drawing of Dylan Thomas while they chatted on bar stools at the White Horse Bar, as well as images like John Bromfield Gay Rees' pen and ink of James Joyce surrounded by "friends" inspired by characters from the author's stories.

We are committed to acquiring the entire production of the Limited Editions Club, which gives us an important taste of so many of the finest artists of the twentieth century. Artists like Jacob Lawrence, Ellsworth Kelly, Sean Scully, Willem de Kooning, Balthus, Betty Saar and many more, paired with literary masters like Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, and Stéphane Mallarmé. In the last ten years we've acquired twenty suites of original prints and the artists' books they illustrated.

As for predicting what directions research and scholarship will take, we find ourselves in a Janus-like position, looking to the past for its cultural riches, while we peer into the future to study trends and currents in literature and the arts. Distinguishing the permanent from the ephemeral in the arts and the humanities is not an exact science; it involves informed judgment, keen intelligence, and not a little luck. All that can be said for sure is that research and scholarship will change, and as they do, the Ransom Center will evolve to meet the needs of new generations of scholars, students, and visitors.

Photograph

Dancing Feet. James H. Evans, 1993.
Photography Collection. ©James H. Evans.

Photograph

Dylan Thomas at the
White Horse
, New York.
Peter Evershed, 1953.
Art Collection.

In thinking about our collections in this way I am reminded of what James Salter wrote concerning the reputation of Irwin Shaw: "Somewhere the ancient clerks, amid stacks of faint interest to them, are sorting literary reputations. The work goes on eternally and without haste. There are names passed over and names revered, names of heroes and of those long thought to be, names of every sort and level of importance." (Forgotten Kings, 1998) Many of the authors whose papers are here are among the "revered," the "heroes," and "those long thought to be."

Islands of Order: A Decade of Collecting brings together the best of our collecting efforts at the Ransom Center over the past decade. We hope that you share with us the wonder at these treasures of our culture,and come to understand why we are so committed to their preservation, as we enter a new century ripe with artistic promise.

Thomas F. Staley
February 2, 2000




Islands of Order Main Page | Introductory Essay

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