Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup Blog Video Facebook Twitter Instagram
Spring 2007 Newsletter

Ransom Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The Harry Ransom Center will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its inception in 2007 with a year dedicated to "Celebrating the Imagination." In its fifty-year history, the Ransom Center has become renowned for its collections of literary manuscripts, rare books, photographs and art, and its holdings in the performing arts and film. The Center houses more than 36 million manuscripts, 1 million rare books, 5 million photographs and 100,000 works of art and design.

"Fifty years is a short time on history's clock, especially when measuring the legacies of libraries and museums," said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. "One of the most remarkable things about the Ransom Center is that so much has been achieved in such a short time. With that thought in mind, we see this anniversary as not only a time of celebration but also an opportunity to look forward to the next fifty years of advancing the world of ideas and the imagination."

Events are planned throughout 2007 to celebrate the anniversary, including the exhibition "The American Twenties," a symposium on Watergate, a Robert De Niro film series, an American twenties music series and other public programs.

Book Cover

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

In celebration of its 50th 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.

Book Excerpt: Why Texas?

Why did Alfred and Blanche Knopf donate their personal library and their publishing firm's archive to The University of Texas at Austin? Their business was based in New York City. Alfred was a graduate of Columbia University, and some of the firm's records had already been given to the New York Public Library when Knopf was first approached by Ransom. Why did they choose Texas?

While the immediate answer does not emerge until the late 1950s, one can trace the Knopfs' association with Texas back to 1941 when, on a trip through Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso, they met the Stanley Marcuses, J. Frank Dobie, John Henry Faulk, Walter Prescott Webb, Maury Maverick, and other prominent Texans with whom they maintained personal friendships and business contacts.

Ransom and Alfred Knopf were introduced to one another over lunch at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City on June 22, 1959. Ransom described the program he was building at the University and expressed interest in making Knopf's personal library a part of this enterprise. Knopf was so impressed by Ransom's activities that he committed both his library and the firm's papers to The University of Texas.

Contemporaneous with the Knopf gift was the 1960 donation by Erle Stanley Gardner of his papers and library, one of the most complete records of a writing career ever made. When asked about his choice of repository, Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason series, acknowledged that he had been approached by several other universities but "had selected The University of Texas because of his friendship with Dr. [Merton] Minter [then chairman of the Board of Regents] and Park Street, a San Antonio lawyer with whom he [had] been intimately associated in the Court of Last Resort for nearly 12 years."

"My friendship with these men, plus the fact that I am an honorary captain in the Texas Rangers is an association with Texas that makes me feel I am virtually a citizen of the state."

Perhaps it helped that in consideration of the gift, Ransom agreed to recreate and maintain on permanent exhibition Gardner's study, which was moved from his Rancho del Paisano near Temecula, California, and now resides on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center on the University's campus.

Book Excerpt: Oil and the Permanent University Fund

The Ransom Center is known by some for aggressive collecting and a deep wallet. Although this reputation is exaggerated, the Center has had occasional periods of big spending. The expenditures were often made possible by money derived from the Permanent University Fund (PUF).

The Permanent University Fund is a public endowment created from the income generated by various uses of the two million acres of West Texas land granted to The University by the Texas Legislature. The income was paltry for several decades—probably derived primarily from grazing rights. On May 28, 1923, however, oil was discovered beneath the land when Santa Rita rig number 1 came in as a gusher. The oil is still flowing, and the revenue it generates has augmented the PUF ever since.

The principal of the PUF, which includes proceeds from oil, gas, sulfur, and water royalties and gains on investments, may not be spent. The income generated by grazing leases and interest and dividends from the PUF is known collectively as the Available University Fund (AUF) and is used to supplement the University's budget.

Of course, the Harry Ransom Center receives only a small portion (if anything at all) of the AUF in any given year. In 1931, the Legislature voted to split the net income from PUF investments between The University of Texas (two-thirds share) and Texas A&M University (one-third share). The list of schools benefiting from the PUF has since grown to include all schools in both university systems. And the Texas Legislature may lower appropriations for the University to some degree in relation to the size of the AUF (although the AUF is meant to be supplementary to all state appropriations). Nevertheless, the AUF has occasionally enabled the Center—particularly under Harry Ransom's direction—to spend abundantly on collection materials.

Scholars working in the Reading Room

Book Excerpt: Scholars at Work

Beginning with Reginald Griffith's Alexander Pope: A Bibliography, published in 1922 by The University of Texas, there is a long history of celebrated works that resulted from research conducted in the Ransom Center's collections. Among the most notable are:

Collected Letters of George Bernard Shaw, edited by Dan H. Laurence (London: Max Reinhardt, 1965-1988; New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965-1988)
Internationally recognized Shavian scholar Dan H. Laurence consulted the 4,000 letters in the Ransom Center's George Bernard Shaw collection for this four-volume work.

The Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence (Cambridge, 1979- )
This massive series—including eight volumes of letters and more than thirty volumes of novels, essays, and other works—provides authoritative texts of the writings of this important British writer. The Ransom Center's extensive collection of Lawrence's manuscripts and letters was consulted for many of the books in this series.

Bernard Shaw by Michael Holroyd (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988-1992; New York: Random House, 1988-1992)
Also drawing heavily on the Ransom Center's collection of Shaw materials—which includes manuscripts of 419 works, books from Shaw's personal library, sketches, photographs, financial records, and other items—is Holroyd's monumental six-volume biography.

Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991)
Middlebrook's controversial and revealing biography, which took a decade to complete and was nominated for the National Book Award, drew extensively on the complete archive of Anne Sexton—comprising hundreds of pages of unpublished poems, as well as manuscripts of her published works, travel notebooks and journals, letters, photographs, and other items—housed at the Ransom Center.

Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams by Lyle Leverich (New York: Crown, 1995)
Leverich's biography provides the authoritative account of the early life of Tennessee Williams. Leverich consulted the Ransom Center's voluminous Tennessee Williams archive, which houses manuscripts of more than 1,000 works, including his early plays, essays, screenplays, stories, and poems, as well as his correspondence and photos of his apprentice years.

The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler (New York: New Directions, 2000-)
This multi-volume edition of the correspondence of one of America's finest playwrights was based, in part, on the sizable collection of letters in the Ransom Center's Tennessee Williams archive. They reveal Williams to be one of the best and most entertaining American letter writers of the century.

Accomplished biographer and literary historian Stanley Weintraub, one of the most prolific scholars to use the collections, has published more than 15 books that were based on research he conducted at the Ransom Center. He wrote about the Center in an article for The Texas Humanist:

To work at the HRC as a scholar is (to put the experience in food terms) like going to a luxury-class restaurant. The service is personal and superior, the menu enormous and sumptuous. The problem can be a severe case of writer's indigestion if not enough time is allowed to consume the full plate. After all, the HRC has thousands of letters by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, D. H. Lawrence, Lytton Strachey, Evelyn Waugh, and Bernard Shaw; the manuscripts or corrected typescripts of William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom!, E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, T. H. White's The Once and Future King..., Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence. It is hardly possible to write a book on a modern master, English or American (or even French) without touching down at the HRC.

Table of Contents