The Harry Ransom Center fellowship program was established in 1989 under the directorship of Thomas F. Staley to encourage and facilitate use of the Center's collections for scholarly inquiry. Through fellowship stipends, the program enables scholars from around the world to visit the Center to conduct on-site research in its collections, supporting scholarship in all areas of the humanities, including literature, photography, film, art, the performing arts, music, and cultural history.
The first fellowships were offered in 1990–1991 to eight scholars, five of whom visited from abroad. Support for these fellowships was provided by the Henriette F. and Clarence L. Cline Endowment, the South Central Modern Language Association, and general operating funds of the Ransom Center. In the following years, the Center worked to grow the program through the creation of additional endowments. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other donors, the Center established a $1.5 million endowment to ensure the continuation of the fellowship program in perpetuity; with support from The University of Texas at Austin Office of Graduate Studies, dissertation fellowships were introduced to the program to encourage archival research among a new generation of scholars.
Today the program hosts more than 50 fellows each year, sustained by the generous support of several entities including the Dorot Foundation, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the Fleur Cowles Endowment Fund, the Limited Editions Club Endowment, the Alfred A. and Blanche W. Knopf Fellowship, the David Douglas Duncan Endowment for Photojournalism, and the Robert De Niro Endowed Fund.
The fellows' wide-ranging and interdisciplinary research topics reflect the breadth of the Center's holdings. Recent publications based on fellowship research include Understanding Diane Johnson (University of South Carolina Press, 2012) by Carloyn A. Durham, who held a 2010–2011 fellowship funded by the Filmscript Acquisitions Endowment; Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents (University of California Press, 2009) by Tom Kemper, who held a 2007–2008 fellowship funded by the Warren Skaaren Film Research Endowment; and The Two Cultures Controversy: Science, Literature, and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) by Guy Ortolano, who held a 2006–2007 fellowship funded by the British Studies program at The University of Texas at Austin. Anne Wilkes Tucker's 2007–2008 fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship Endowment helped shape her landmark 2012–2013 exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
During their residencies at the Ransom Center, fellows help foster an environment of intellectual exchange. Throughout the year, the Center hosts lunches and weekly coffee gatherings that create opportunities for fellows, independent research visitors, Ransom Center staff, and other members of the University community to discuss the work taking place within the Center's collections. Fellows have also presented talks to the Ransom Center's members and to University and community groups during their visits, and have participated in video interviews and contributed articles for the Center's website, newsletter, and blog. These presentations highlight the significance of the Ransom Center's holdings to a broad audience.
Since the program's inauguration in 1990, the Center has awarded fellowships to more than 1,200 scholars.