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The Long Lives of Very Old Books

August 19 – December 30, 2023

Explore the stories behind books published by Europeans between the mid-fifteenth and late-seventeenth centuries, tracing them from printing houses into the hands of generations of collectors and bookbinders and, ultimately, modern research libraries like the Ransom Center. Visitors will encounter a number of exceptional volumes, from pocket-size devotional works and Bibles in luxury bindings to all three of the Center's copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, which has its 400th anniversary this year. Other notable books among the more than 100 on display are a Bible that purports to have traveled to New England on the Mayflower, a geographical encyclopedia in Greek that made its way from the press of Aldus Manutius in Venice into the Islamic world, a group of playbooks implicated in a series of high-profile thefts, and a sixteenth-century book that a Harvard undergraduate started to use as his personal diary in the late 1960s.

Drawn primarily from the Center's own collections, objects in the exhibition testify to the value of treating early books as historical artifacts, of moving beyond their printed content to evidence of how they were originally made, who owned them, where they’ve traveled, and how they’ve been read, used, abused, and altered over the centuries. Looking carefully at particular copies of the books that survive offers glimpses into the lives of people who have come before us, glimpses that can help us develop new narratives about the past and better understand our own values today.

The Ransom Center appreciates the generosity of our promotional partners: CultureMap, KUT 90.5 & KUTX 98.9, and Society Texas.

National Endowment for the Humanities
Any views, findings, recommendations or conclusions expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Public Tour Schedule

Monday Closed  
Tuesday Noon  
Wednesday Noon  
Thursday Noon  
Friday Noon  
Saturday 1pm 2pm
Sunday 1pm 2pm