This year we celebrate the first half-century of the Harry Ransom Center. As we reflect on our past it is clear that the Center still owes much of its character to what Harry Ransom called in his 1956 speech to the Philosophical Society of Texas a vision at once "historic and prophetic." In the speech, Ransom praised the early Texans who looked back to the great libraries of the past and forward to the future cultural needs of their citizens. Although such a historical formulation was hardly unique, it was a theme that Ransom seized upon when in 1957 he began to transform the University's relatively small collection of rare books and manuscripts into the research center that would eventually bear his name. This janus-like vision was an ideal one for building a great library. It valued and celebrated the past while simultaneously looking with a vigorous and enthusiastic eye to the future. We hope to continue this "historic and prophetic" vision as we celebrate this important milestone.
At this moment in our history, it seems appropriate to recognize that much of the Ransom Center's success is owed to The University of Texas at Austin. The Center has benefited greatly from the esteem in which it has been held by University leaders and from their critical support of major acquisitions. During Lorene Rogers's presidency, the Gutenberg Bible was acquired. Peter Flawn helped support the acquisition of Henri Matisse's Jazz, one of the finest artist's books of the twentieth century. During William Cunningham's tenure, the Pforzheimer collection came to Texas. Larry Faulkner led the purchase of the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers.
These important materials and others make up what one observer has described as the Center's "awesome holdings, which for some time have exerted something like a gravitational pull on other contemporary authors." For all its magnetic "pull" in the world of libraries, the Center has remained deeply committed to its vital role in the intellectual and cultural life of the University, and—like the University—its mission serves a world beyond its doors. Jorge Luis Borges once called a library a door in time. The Ransom Center has indeed been a door leading to knowledge and discovery, not only in Texas but throughout the world.
The Ransom Center is a wonderful place. As we reflect on our past this year, we are eager to ponder and engage the future. And we invite all of you to join us in a year-long celebration.
—Thomas F. Staley