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The Mystique of the Archive

September 2, 2008 – January 4, 2009

Archives are the material record of a culture. They provide a vital source into the imaginations of individuals and societies. Archives promise mystery, adventure, and discovery. Interest in archives has strengthened in recent years, garnering international headlines and capturing the attention of writers such as Tom Stoppard, Doris Lessing, and Julian Barnes who have incorporated archives into their plots and chosen the Ransom Center as the home for their own papers. Archives offer scholars a unique and privileged view of the intricacies of the creative process.

Drawing on the Center's extensive holdings of the works of writers and artists, the exhibition demonstrates the rich and complex nature of archives and the many uses made of them. It is organized into thematic sections that:

  • describe what makes up an archive
  • document how an idea evolves into a fully-developed work
  • map an archive's journey from a writer's home to the scholar's desk
  • examine the monetary, cultural, research, and evocative values of archives
  • illustrate how an archive leads to a deeper understanding of the culture that generates it

We all create archives in some form or another. As you view the exhibition, think about what is in your own archive and how you will preserve it.

The Ransom Center's biennial Flair Symposium, Creating a Usable Past: Writers, Archives, and Institutions, scheduled for November 13-15, 2008, will further examine the place of archives in contemporary culture and the role of archives as the vital source for understanding it.