The archivist gathers and puts in order what others have abandoned, lost, discarded. To these remnants of the creative life, the archivist attempts to bring order, completeness, and objectivity—the principle of archival work. Literary scholars rigorously search for the eccentric design, the connecting ideas between initial ideas and first drafts, through the entire creative process, bringing a compass to the trajectory of the creator's imagination. The study of a writer's archive gives us the opportunity to explore how the various parts adhere, how a work of literature is composed.
Archives also lead us to a greater understanding of our cultural history. Searching through an archive is akin to an archeological excavation. Just as clusters of earth adhere to an archeological treasure, the culture in which a work of literature is created becomes embedded in the manuscripts and papers of a writer's archive. And as with an archeological excavation, the explorer of the archive is often surrounded by its aura, that swirl of words and thoughts and mystery and wonder that great archives embody.
This fall, the Ransom Center is taking a deeper look into archives. Our seventh biennial Fleur Cowles Flair Symposium, titled Creating a Usable Past: Writers, Archives, and Institutions, will bring together authors, rare book and manuscript dealers, archivists, and institutional directors to explore the questions they confront as they create, place, protect, and make archives accessible. Our concurrent exhibition The Mystique of the Archive will use the Center's collections to demonstrate the intellectual importance of archives, how they contribute to our growing understanding of culture, and how we make these invaluable resources available for study. More information about archives, the symposium, and the exhibition can be found within the pages of this newsletter, and I hope many of you will join us this fall as we celebrate and explore the remarkable archive.
—Thomas F. Staley