Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2006 Newsletter

The First Fifty Years of the Ransom Center


The first page of an early manuscript of T. E.
Lawrence's Arab Revolt, written as an
abridgment of his The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,
1921. This manuscript is part of the T. E. Hanley
collection, acquired in 1958. Copyright Trustees
of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust.

In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, the Ransom Center is publishing a richly illustrated chronicle of its history. This work traces the Center's growth from the founding of the University, when the administration began to collect library materials to support the research of its students and faculty, to the birth of Harry Ransom's idea to establish a research center in the humanities that would be for the state of Texas what the Bibliothéque Nationale is for France. This history follows the execution of Ransom's idea and the explosive growth of the collections under his leadership. It describes the evolution of the Center under a succession of directors, librarians, and curators over the past fifty years, and the rise of its reputation. Perhaps most important, this work tells the story of the Center's collections, not only how they came from disparate corners of the world to reside in the heart of Texas, but also the philosophy behind their acquisition and the Center's commitment to share its holdings—from the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph to the manuscripts of James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams, and Norman Mailer—with the public.

A collaboration of several staff members, Collecting the Imagination: The First Fifty Years of the Ransom Center will be available in April 2007 as the newest book in the Ransom Center's Imprint Series, published by The University of Texas Press.  

Excerpt from Collecting the Imagination: The First Fifty Years of the Ransom Center

The T. E. Hanley Library

Seldom have institutional and private collecting goals coalesced as fortuitously as those of the Ransom Center and T. Edward Hanley, industrialist and philanthropist of Bradford, Pennsylvania. In the mid-1950s, Harry Ransom was deeply involved in defining and shaping the research collections at the University with a keen eye on twentieth-century materials. Ed Hanley, on the other hand, had been buying books and manuscripts by James Joyce, Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and others, as well as contemporary art, since his schooldays at Harvard in 1915.

Thus it was with great excitement and expectation that Ransom first wrote to Hanley in September 1954: "Dear Sir: By an almost uncanny coincidence I have been brought acquainted with your great modern collections twice within the past few weeks? Our concern at Texas is to supplement the very great libraries (John Henry Wrenn, George Aitken, Miriam Lutcher Stark, and Everett DeGolyer) which cover earlier periods of English and American literature. With this purpose in mind—and with a resolution to make here a live center for research and writing, not merely a museum of books—we have begun collections of twentieth-century literature."

Correspondence between Ransom and Hanley continued, centering first on Hanley's Lawrence materials but later on his entire library. With the assistance of James F. Drake, the New York bookseller who also helped shepherd to Texas the Alfred A. and Blanche W. Knopf Library, negotiations were concluded, and the bulk of Hanley's library was purchased in July 1958. A second portion, consisting mainly of manuscript collections, was purchased in 1964. The manuscripts in the Hanley Library form the cornerstone of the Ransom Center's twentieth-century literary holdings.

In 1969, Hanley's books and manuscripts were supplemented by a bequest of fifty works of literary art, including a bust of Louis MacNeice by Hugh Oloff de Wet; a charcoal drawing of T. S. Eliot by Wyndham Lewis; oil portraits of James Joyce by Frank Budgen and G. B. Shaw by William Rothenstein; and Eric Gill's stone sculpture, "The Fifth Station of the Cross."

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