Find the treasure in the Harry Ransom Center

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Photo Credit: Priyanka Kar | Daily Texan Staff

On Oct. 5, Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The mass of papers that tell the backstory of his award-winning works are housed in the ample archives of the Harry Ransom Center to be studied for posterity.

The Ransom Center is a great treasure chest on UT’s campus, stuffed full with the journals of the world’s most brilliant literary minds, costumes and screenplays from seminal works of cinema and prestige television, original prints from the most famed photographers and much, much more. 

But it is underused. Most of the Ransom Center’s archive is available to undergrads for hands-on research, and holding these documents is a feeling of magic that many more UT students need
to experience. 

In my time at UT, I have had only one class take me to the Ransom Center, and most students I know have never even been inside. Last year, 414 teachers took their classes (about 8,000 students total) to the Ransom Center’s classrooms and about 485 undergraduates conducted independent research in the Reading and Viewing Room. While many students visit the Ransom Center, the number of students conducting independent research should be larger.

If you are a student who values primary sources, then research at the Ransom Center is crucial. Engaging with primary sources is a formative intellectual experience, one that makes you a more independent thinker. Instead of reading secondary summaries, you draw your own conclusions and inject new thought into larger academic conversations. 

Instructional services coordinator Andi Gustavson said that when students pull from the Ransom Center archive, “they have the opportunity to learn about the creative processes of artists and authors.” Students get intimately close to the creative minds they geek out over. They learn to become
better artists from the working drafts of the masters themselves.

My freshman year at UT, I took a class called Unarchiving the Arts and was able to pull Jack Kerouac’s journal from the Ransom Center’s collection box. In his own scrawled print, I saw his preliminary sketches of “On the Road” and read his unguarded thoughts about his aspirations as a writer and his romantic hopes for his own life. I felt connected to one of my favorite writers, and that close proximity with artistic genius is something I wish for my fellow students.

And if you want to do research, it is so easy to get started. It only takes 20 minutes to make a research account, get oriented and become a Ransom Center researcher.

If you are a professor who is thinking about taking their students to the Ransom Center, the process is simple and the rewards are ample. One artifact at the Ransom Center can be studied in more than 10 different subject areas. The Ransom Center acquired the “Mad Men” collection only last year and the same boxes of material have been shown by the Ransom Center to English, history, advertising, journalism and radio-television-film classes. Associate professor of musicology Luisa Nardini, the professor who introduced me to the Ransom Center two years ago, explained that the process for booking a classroom is straightforward and requires only a few forms. 

At the Ransom Center, students can see museum-worthy materials right out from behind velvet ropes and plexiglass. For independent thought, creative inspiration, or art in context, the Harry Ransom Center is unparalleled. And as Gustavson said, “People travel from around the world to visit the Ransom Center.” 

While academics book flights to get their hands on the Ransom Center’s resources, UT students only have to take a few steps off the Drag. So do it. Explore the treasures that are not buried or locked, but are open and waiting to be seen.

Doan is a Plan II and English junior from Fort Worth. Follow her on Twitter @ledoan17.