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 objects, including a Don Quixote that has been annotated by a class-conscious reader and all three of the Center's copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. Other notable volumes among the more than 150 on display are a Bible that purportedly 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 almost exclusively 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of treating early books as historical artifacts, of moving beyond their printed content to evidence of how they were originally made, who owned them, where they’ve traveled, and how they’ve been read, used, abused, and altered over the centuries.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.
Explore Selected Items
Tour the Exhibition
Take learning to another level and drop in for a tour of The Long Lives of Very Old Books. Public exhibition tours are held Tuesday through Friday at noon and Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Meet your docent guide in the south atrium inside the first-floor lobby. Plan your visit today!
Any views, findings, recommendations or conclusions expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Ransom Center appreciates the generosity of our promotional partners: CultureMap, KUT 90.5 & KUTX 98.9, and Society Texas.