Students' visit to galleries inspires multiple upcoming projects
By Larry Carver
Larry Carver, director of the Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin, brought a group of students to visit the Ransom Center this spring and writes about that experience.
On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, the Harry Ransom Center opened its doors—after hours—to host the Dedman Distinguished Scholars and the Junior Fellows Honors Students for a tour of the Center's smashing exhibitions, Becoming Tennessee Williams and Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century. The Center's Associate Director, Cathy Henderson, and Megan Barnard, the Assistant Director for Acquisitions and Administration, served as guides, their talks being at once informative and captivating. It is clear that they love what they do and love sharing what they know.
At a dinner that followed, the students were buzzing about what they had seen. That Tim O'Brien should show up in a byline in a story by Woodward and Bernstein on Watergate gave the students one vivid insight into how the archives at the Ransom Center inform one another. One student could not get Marlon Brando's address book out of her mind; another wants to come back for a fifth year to work on the relationship between Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace. As it turns out, one of the other students will be writing his senior thesis on exactly that topic. For another it was Hemingway's letter to Norman Mailer, and yet another mentioned David Mamet's list of things to do after his death. I left wanting to reread Tennessee Williams's plays and wondering why I don't spend my days at the Center. Just a wonderful evening, full of intellectual delight, laughter, and wonder, an evening the students will long remember.
For 20 years, the Ransom Center has been instrumental in helping to recruit gifted students to our campus, every year providing stunning introductions to the Center's treasures to candidates for the Dedman Distinguished Scholarship. We bring these high school seniors to the campus in March to attend classes, meet students and faculty, and undergo an interview. Year after year the students tell me that what they remember, what really astonishes them, is their time at the Ransom Center. To behold and learn about Shakespeare's First Folio, Keats's 1817 volume of poetry, Grace Hemingway's 1920 letter admonishing her wayward son Ernest, an autograph manuscript of Einstein's relativity studies, Charles Moore's photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being arrested in 1958, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre mask, or a letter of J. D. Salinger proves to be magical. In the interviews we often ask the students what one item would they save were the Ransom Center—heaven forbid—burning and why? For some it is the Gutenberg Bible. Others would rescue the fifteenth-century Book of Hours or Salvador Dali's illustrations of Alice in Wonderland. These students return again and again to the Center, some drawing upon the collections for seminar papers or senior theses, others applying for one of the six, much-coveted Ransom Center undergraduate internships. My gratitude to the staff of the Ransom Center knows no bounds.