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News Release — August 1, 2008

"The Mystique of the Archive" Explores Archives and Culture Surrounding Archives

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center's exhibition "The Mystique of the Archive" takes a comprehensive look at archives themselves, the archival process and the culture surrounding archives.

Drawing on the Center's extensive holdings of the imaginative creations of writers and artists, "The Mystique of the Archive" illustrates the diverse nature of archives and their myriad uses. The exhibition traces the life of an archive in an institution, demonstrating how collections are acquired, cataloged, preserved and how they support the quest for knowledge and endlessly yield new discoveries.

Featuring more than 200 items from the Center's collections, the exhibition runs from Sept. 2-Jan. 4, 2009, in the Ransom Center Galleries at The University of Texas at Austin.

"Archives, in all their disparate forms, are the material record of a culture," said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. "From their earliest incarnations, they have provided a vital source for the exploration of the imaginations of both individuals and societies. There is an aura about archives—a promise of mystery and discovery—and through this exhibition, we hope to convey the aura and the significance of archives to our visitors."

The allure archives have on the imagination of individuals has become increasingly apparent in recent years as more and more writers have used the subject of archives as the central focus of their works. Umberto Eco, Tom Stoppard, A. S. Byatt, Doris Lessing, Penelope Lively, Julian Barnes and Diane Johnson, among others, have written about archives, attracted by their treasures of knowledge and inspired by their promise of adventure. Manuscripts and other archival materials from many of these authors will be displayed in the exhibition.

"This exhibition attempts to embody the mystique of the archive," said Staley. "It uses the lens of the Harry Ransom Center to explore both the archiving of our culture and the culture surrounding archives themselves."

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

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