Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2015 Newsletter

Grant-funded cataloging project creates greater access to J. Frank Dobie collection

Collection materials

Materials from the J. Frank Dobie collection.


Clouds are reflected in this etching of Dobie on the Ransom Center's exterior windows.

With the help of the TexTreasures Grant Program from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Ransom Center is creating an online finding aid to describe a substantial archive of manuscript writings, correspondence, and personal papers of renowned Texas folklorist, writer, and educator J. Frank Dobie (1888–1964). Dobie influenced other Texas writers such as Billy Lee Brammer, Fred Gipson, John Graves, and Bill Wittliff, and his championing of Texas literature and culture augured works such as James Michener's Texas, Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

Dobie, a University of Texas at Austin faculty member, focused his teaching and writing on exposing the richness of Texas and Southwest culture. In 1930, he pioneered his course "Life and Literature of the Southwest," a course that is still taught 84 years later at the University.

Dobie's papers were exhibited at the Center in 1961 soon after their acquisition. His art, books, manuscripts, and photographs have been used continuously in other exhibitions over the years, most recently in these Ransom Center exhibitions: The World at War, 1914–1918 (2014), Literature and Sport (2013), Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive (2013), and ¡Viva! Mexico's Independence (2010).

The Dobie papers currently occupy 353 boxes that are stored on 145 linear feet of shelving. Approximately 75 percent of the papers were cataloged during the 1960s and 1970s in a card catalog. Users can access the cards only in the Reading and Viewing Room, and it can be time-consuming to read through the 17,000 cards that describe the collection.

To improve access, Senior Archivist Joan Sibley and Archives Assistant Daniela Lozano are converting information from the card catalog to create an online archival finding aid. During the one-year project, they will also arrange and describe 90 boxes of undescribed additions to the papers and add them to the finding aid. The completed finding aid will offer a complete description of the Dobie papers online, making the contents discoverable and searchable by the public. This improved and expanded access will reveal research opportunities in many different areas of studies relating to Texas art, culture, folklore, literature, and history.

The bulk of the papers consist of Dobie's self-described "bales of correspondence," with thousands of letters from family members, writers, artists, folklorists, publishers, book dealers, educators, students, and readers.

His papers richly illustrate Texas before cities and suburbs dominated the state and the social history of its people.

Sibley believes that the public will be very interested in this collection. "Expanding access to our collections to as many users as possible is a goal that Dobie would have supported, given his own ambitions to educate and broaden minds. That is why support from grants like this are so important to us," she noted. Through online access, the Dobie papers will be a window to the past.  

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