Emory University

Editor's note: Kelsey McKinney worked as an intern in the Department of Public Affairs during the 2011-2012 academic year.

After 25 years as the Director of the Harry Ransom Center, Thomas Staley will hand over the responsibility of leading the staff and acquiring collections to Stephen Enniss. 

While at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., Enniss was responsible for the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and the largest collection of early English printed books in North America. Enniss worked as curator and director of Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library before joining the staff at the Folger. Enniss will start at the Ransom Center on August 1 and assume all responsibilities upon Staley’s retirement August 31. The Daily Texan interviewed Enniss about his expectations and motivations for his future tenure at the Ransom Center. 

The Daily Texan: How do you expect your new job as Director of the Ransom Center to differ from your current position?

Stephen Enniss: Well, I think that the Folger and my previous experience at Emory University have been perfect preparation for the Ransom Center’s very broad and deep collections, spanning from the Renaissance to the most contemporary writers and artists. Really, the past experience I’ve had touches on each period of history that the Ransom Center has documented. Coming to the Folger, I was at Emory University for 16 years, and it was while at Emory that I was very active in acquiring major literary archives, which of course is a special strength of the Ransom Center. 

To elaborate, I was always aware when I was building collections at Emory how I was engaged in an activity that paralleled the works that Tom Staley and the staff at the Ransom Center were doing. So, in that way, I think the transition should be an easy one.

DT: What led you to want to lead these large literary institutions? 

Enniss: I certainly have been a literary creature from a very young age and a consumer of poems, and novels, and short stories and plays. So that’s primary. But I also respond very much to the artifact, the object itself and what these objects say about the past and what they contain about the past. So working in research libraries that are known from their acquisitiveness has been a perfect fit for me. I’ve always had an acquisitive streak myself, whether it was natural history artifacts that I would pick up as a child or later books that I would collect. In some ways, I feel like the act of collecting is really the first act of scholarship and certainly a foundation of what the Ransom Center is engaged in. 

DT: Do you have a favorite author, or an area you’ve studied extensively?

Enniss: That’s something like asking someone to pick your favorite child. I presume that [Staley] can say that he prefers “Ulysses” because Joyce is safely dead. But I’m involved in collecting so many contemporary and living authors at this point that I wouldn’t want to pick among them. My own research interest is focused on contemporary Irish poetry, but my own graduate work was in the American novel. I should be equally at home in developing the collections of major novelists and short story writers as well. 

DT: Looking forward to your time as director of the Ransom Center, do you have any personal goals? 

Enniss: I think the first task is really to sustain the program of excellence that’s been achieved there and that’s not necessarily a new initiative. In terms of things that might be purely new, I think all of us in the research library community that collect major archives know that the nature of modern archives changed in the mid 1980s. We have to plot a smart path forward for managing and making digital archives available for research. 

DT:  Do you have any coveted collections you dream of acquiring?

Enniss: The most important acquisition is always the next one. What often focuses one’s attention is the next opportunity. I can’t tell you at this point what that will be, but we have to be oriented very much to the future. Certainly, literature is a personal research interest and a personal passion of mine, but the Ransom Center collections extend far beyond modern literary figures. Things that have been acquired over the years create a kind of DNA record. When you look at the collection strengths that are there and map that DNA, you find that those strands lead you to other collections that are complemented by the existing holdings. I will very much be using my sense of that genetic map to further the Ransom Center’s collection activities. 

Related Headlines

Thomas Staley, director of Harry Ransom Center, to retire

Breaking: Stephen Enniss appointed head of Ransom Center

More than six years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, UT is joining with Emory University to make stories of the storm’s human impact easily accessible to the general public.

Southern Spaces, an online journal on Southern culture at Emory University, is teaming up with UT Press to compile stories and information about Hurricane Katrina. The organizations will use the data to create a free online publication for the public. The team is collecting and rewriting articles, essays and audio recordings that will then be made available on UT Press’ online archives. UT Press already maintains the Katrina Bookshelf Series, a collection of digitized documents about Hurricane Katrina. This collection will serve as a starting point for the new project.

Allen Tullos, editor of Southern Spaces and head of Emory’s involvement in the project, said the team plans to continue archiving as long as they have unrecorded documents. He said that until UT and Emory began digitizing their collections of literature about the storm, none of it was presented in an accessible, easy-to-read format.

“All of the information about Hurricane Katrina was interesting, but it was presented entirely in print,” Tullos said. “What we are publishing contains images and multimedia pieces so that everyone can understand.”

The project will feature maps, charts and interactive multimedia components that could not be portrayed in a print-only journal.

Although Hurricane Katrina hit six years ago, the effects of its destruction are still present, Lynn Weber, psychology professor at the University of Southern Carolina, said. Weber, who co-authored essays and novels in UT’s Katrina Bookshelf Series, said close to 1,000 families are still displaced from the storm. Weber travels to New Orleans with a team of six colleagues three times a year to research Katrina’s continued impact on the city.

“One of the great things in working on documenting this momentous storm was talking to the people who lost their homes and knowing we could help them if this ever happened again,” Weber said.

Monica Johnson, an electrical engineering sophomore from New Orleans, said that this archive will help prepare people for the next hurricane because computers are capable of so much more than printed material.

“Just knowing that if we ever needed to know something about that storm it would be there, that definitely makes the whole thing more real,” Johnson said.