Ransom Center

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Human-sized playing cards cover the walls of the Harry Ransom Center and fully-decorated tea tables with pullout chairs prompt visitors to engage in games of make-believe. For children and adults alike, the “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” exhibit offers a distinctive break from traditionally organized museum exhibits.

The Ransom Center will open its new exhibit, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” on Feb. 10. The exhibit celebrates the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy novel.

Danielle Brune Sigler, the Ransom Center’s associate director for research and programs and the exhibition’s curator, said she faced a major challenge when constructing an exhibit narrative that would address the novel’s complicated story. Although Sigler’s first instinct was to simply follow “Alice in Wonderland”’s plot, she eventually moved in a different direction.

“It’s embedded in our culture,” Sigler said. “People use words that come from Carroll’s story, and they casually reference the characters. Carroll influences other important works … so instead, I decided to move through major theme groupings.”

Sigler said she was lucky to have a wealth of material to choose from. Warren Weaver and Byron and Susan Sewell made extensive donations, including manuscripts, film strips and other “Alice in Wonderland” paraphernalia, to the exhibit.  

The Ransom Center took special measures to display the materials to the public because many were old and fragile, according to Sigler. For example, the exhibit’s paper conservator Heather Hamilton worked on the paper film strips used to project videos of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“These film strips might have been unusable and forgotten,” Hamilton said. “The paper was almost translucent, and it had been taped. I was able to minimize the appearance of damage by using Japanese tissues.”

Other materials in the exhibit presented challenges for the Ransom Center. The exhibit features one particularly old photograph, and though typically, vintage photographs are displayed behind heavy curtains to prevent light damage, the Ransom Center used a different approach.

“We wanted to do something more contemporary, so we put it behind a glass frame,” chief preparator David Aaronoff said. “It’s completely black normally. But in the installation, there’s also a motion sensor, so when someone’s standing in front of it, it turns clear until they leave again.” 

Aaronoff said the Ransom Center made a special effort to ensure that the exhibit is accessible and interesting to children. 

“We varied the heights a bit,” Aaronoff said. “We put more colorful things at a child’s eye level and text-heavy things at an adult’s height.”

The exhibit features several custom-designed installations, such as a rabbit-hole that children can walk through. The exhibit also displays cartoons, children’s books and other kid-friendly features.

Above all, Sigler said she hopes to encourage an active interest in archives through the Alice in Wonderland exhibit by offering the public the opportunity to interact with cultural artifacts.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Award-winning novelist Ian McEwan presented his new novel, “The Children Act,” at the Harry Ransom Center on Wednesday.

McEwan is well known for his short stories and novels for adults and has won various awards for his distinguished works, including “Amsterdam,” “First Love” and “The Child in Time.” 

The Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at the University, became home to McEwan’s archive in May. The archive includes drafts of his already published novels and some unpublished material from his adolescent career. 

McEwan said his newest novel was born from his interest in how one makes judgements.

“As ethical decisions are to be made on a daily basis, I began to take an interest in how judgments are made,” McEwan said. “It is not only judges who have to make verdicts.”

Virginia Reeves, a former member of the University’s Michener Center for Writers, who attended the presentation, said the McEwan archive is a great opportunity to get a closer look at information that only scholars or students writing their dissertations would be able to access.

“You get to see letters and drafts that have not been published, so I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Reeves said.

McEwan said the idea of judgements remains a focal point throughout the novel, first making an appearance in the first chapter. McEwan said his book is based on the idea that making judgments and verdicts often carries grave consequences.

Following the presentation, Ransom Center members and students formed long lines to buy copies of the novel and get an autograph from McEwan. 

Shannon Geison, a finance and government sophomore, said McEwan’s reading gave her a better understanding of his work that she read while she was in high school.

“In high school, I read ‘Atonement,’ which is probably regarded as his most famous book, and I absolutely loved it,” Geison said. “I really enjoyed seeing more of his work because I had only read one and was thus really excited to learn more about it and especially him reading it himself.”

Michener Center Director James Magnuson said McEwen’s presence was welcome at the Ransom Center as he is one of the most distinguished novelists of his generation.

“We are very happy to bring him back to Austin, and certainly any publication of Ian McEwan is reason enough for celebration,” Magnuson said. 

While not all students can say they have seen the work of Frida Kahlo in person, the Harry Ransom Center will have one of her most popular paintings on display during the 2014-2015 school year.

After being loaned to more than 25 museums around the globe, Kahlo’s “Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” which was created in 1940, will be on display in the Ransom Center from Sept. 5 through March 31. “It is one of Kahlo’s most important self-portaits,” said Peter Mears, curator of art at the Ransom Center. “It is a rare painting, and it’s not going to be [at the center] forever.”

The painting has been featured in exhibitions since 1990 and is one of her most frequently borrowed paintings, travelling to countries, such as France, Italy and Australia. 

Kahlo, the Mexican painter famous for her self-portraits, has influenced many artists postmortem. Her self-portraits have been on display in museums in cities, such as Mexico City, Rome and Paris.

Kahlo was born in Mexico City and died there, at her home, known as La Casa Azul. According to the Frida Kahlo Foundation, her career as a painter started because of a tragic bus accident, in which she suffered injuries at 18. During her recovery, she looked to art to pass the time and taught herself how to paint. 

Eventually, Kahlo married the artist Diego Rivera in 1929 and from then on endured a temperamental relationship. Kahlo was involved in several affairs, including an affair with the Hungarian photographer Nickolas Murray. 

According to Mears, Kahlo’s inspiration for the painting from her relationships with both Rivera and Murray. 

“The animals you see are symbolic of both of her lovers,” Mears said. “The monkey represents Diego Rivera, and the black cat represents Nickolas Murray.”

Kahlo is known to have mostly painted self-portraits, symbolizing torment, pain and death. 

“She put herself on the spot,” said Sandra Fernandez, art and art history assistant professor. “She used herself to talk about a lot of things women go through.” 

After its time at the Ransom Center, Kahlo’s self portrait will move to New York for the “Frida Kahlo’s Botanical Garden” exhibition. 

Stephen Enniss, the director of the Harry Ransom Center speaks in a meeting Friday about the museum’s history and his goals for the center’s future. His presentation included going through some of the museum’s recent acquisitions including letters of JD Salinger and papers of British novelist Ian McEwan.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Stephen Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center, discussed the future of the on-campus museum and archive center Friday.

Enniss, who previously worked as the head librarian of the Folger Shakespeare Library located in Washington D.C., said he has three objectives to further the mission of the Ransom Center: to continue to augment its already extensive research collection, to lead into the future through digital innovation and to attract and invest in the professional development of its staff.

Outlining his vision for the center’s future, Enniss believes all students would enjoy viewing the collections. 

“I want the Ransom Center to become the archive of choice for the most coveted research collections,” Enniss said. “The Ransom Center’s best days are ahead of it.”

Enniss said the Ransom Center needs to catalog its backlog of acquisitions, transition its collection to digital archives and integrate digital content into reading rooms. Enniss stated that more space is needed to accommodate the growth of the center’s collections.

“We have acute space needs, but we also have space that is not being used efficiently,” Enniss said.

According to Enniss, the backlog was large in scope, but he was unsure of its exact size. 

Emphasizing the existing strength of its research collections, Enniss spoke about some of the recent acquisitions the Ransom Center has made, including the original papers of British novelist Ian McEwan and a collection of Magnum photographs. 

“[McEwan] wanted us to take good care of his work,” Enniss said. “I believe we will be good stewards of his papers.”

Enniss also spoke briefly about the ongoing need for competitive research institute staff. 

“Research colleagues provide an efficient and productive working environment,” Enniss said. “To attract and retain staff, we have to support their professional development.”

History graduate student Joe Parrett found the lecture helpful for understanding the Ransom Center’s future and was excited about the digital expansion of the center. 

“I never knew the vision of the previous director, Thomas Staley,” Parrett said. “I thought [Enniss] did a great job of setting the agenda for the research center.”

Ian McEwan

Photo Credit: Annalena McAfee | Daily Texan Staff

The Harry Ransom Center acquired the archives of English author Ian McEwan, and visitors to the center will be able to interact with them after they are processed.

Because of the Ransom Center’s interest in contemporary literature, center director Stephen Enniss said he believes McEwan’s archive will be a long-lasting resource to the community.

“Scholars engaged in original research will work with the archive in our reading room, and students who may be studying McEwan’s writing can work with the archive in one of the Ransom Center’s classrooms,” Enniss said. “In time, selected materials will be incorporated in future exhibitions that are open to all.”

Before the University announced the acquisition in May, the center had been in talks with McEwan to acquire the archive for over a year, according to Enniss. McEwan’s archives include journals, manuscript drafts, letters and other personal papers, which Enniss said would serve as the primary resource for future studies of McEwan’s work.

While McEwan’s work does contain handwritten materials, his collection also contains a large amount of digital content.

“McEwan himself embraced technology from an early date, and we’re delighted that he has systematically saved his extensive email correspondence with fellow writers and others,” Enniss said.

McEwan, whose works include "Atonement," a novel adapted into an Oscar-winning film, will speak on campus Sept. 10 to read from his most recent novel, "The Children Act."

“I’ve admired Ian McEwan’s writing for a long time,” Enniss said. “And when I saw the notebooks in which he worked out the plots of his novels, I knew this would be an extraordinarily rich resource for students and scholars for years to come.”

Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins didn’t start publishing poetry until he was already in his 40s — but now, even writings from his early childhood will be available at the Harry Ransom Center. 

Collins, now 72 years old, is one of the most widely read poets in America. Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, said Collins’ agent offered to add the expansive archive to its collection. The archive contains photos and compositions from Collins’ childhood, as well as diaries, datebooks, recordings and drafts of poems. 

Enniss said the Collins archive will be a worthy addition to the center’s poetry holdings.

“Billy Collins is a rare poet whose work has attracted a wide popular audience, and, at the same time, he has been recognized with some of the highest honors a poet in this country can earn,” Enniss said. 

Collins’ popularity has not made him immune to criticism. English professor William Scheick, who disagrees with Collins’ approach to poetry, said he still finds his work engaging.

“Collins is simply wrong about the nature of language, especially in narrative forms,” Scheick said. “Even so, Collins is clever, invitingly readable and, so, a delight to accompany into the experiences he celebrates.” 

English professor Kurt Heinzelman said he believes Collins’ work is important to the world of poetry.

“Billy Collins has given poetry a popularity and a performative stature that has been lacking since the time of Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost,” Heinzelman said.

Enniss said Collins’ collection of notebooks would be one of the more engaging features of the archive once it were to become available to patrons of the center.

“Certainly Collins’ manuscript notebooks, in which he works out the shape of a new poem, are some of the most fascinating things in the archive,” Enniss said.

The archive will be available at the Ransom Center once all the documents have been processed and catalogued.

Twenty one personal letters written by J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” have been added to the Salinger collection at the Harry Ransom Center. In the letters, Salinger, who was known for keeping out of the public eye, directly addresses his reservations about the publishing process.

The letters, which were sent over a 40-year period, were nearly all addressed to Ruth Maier, a classmate of Salinger at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania until Salinger dropped out in 1938. After purchasing the letters from Maier’s family for $25,000, the Ransom Center added them to their already large Salinger collection, which also includes short stories, galley proofs, typescripts, and other writings — both published and unpublished. 

In November, an unknown source pirated two unpublished works from the Ransom Center and sold them for publication online.

According to Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, the letters will provide researchers with a candid insight into the life of the famous author.

“[The letters] will amplify what we know about Salinger and provide a fuller picture of his life. The correspondence is remarkable for its duration — 40 years — and for the open and unguarded way Salinger confided his thoughts to his friend,” Enniss said.

Enniss said the letters also reveal the rigor with which Salinger approached his work.

“I was most taken with what the correspondence reveals about Salinger’s high and exacting standards: He was unable to release new work into the world until he felt it was perfect in every way,” Enniss said.

Enniss said the new letters, and the Salinger collection overall, are important because they make famous authors accessible to today’s readers.

“This certainly opens up Salinger’s work to a new generation of students and scholars and [is] an important way the University fulfills its service to a research community,” Enniss said.

Salinger wrote candidly in many of the 40 letters, discussing Maier’s love life and marital status. In a letter from 1941, he wrote, “I hope you’re happy, Ruthie. You’re probably in love with the big handsome boy who kicks you in the stomach three times daily.”

In a 1978 letter to Maier, Salinger used a more jovial tone: “Ruth Smith Maier Pendergast Walker Snapperstein Combs (you do have a lot of names), Author of “Sheila’s Kid,” cabaret singer, mother of eighteen, Channel swimmer, etc.”

With the letters now available for viewing at the Ransom Center, psychology freshman Logan Hailey said she thinks the letters allow a rare look into Salinger’s personal life.

“Considering the profound literary influence of Salinger, releasing recently discovered letters, though personal, would be incredibly beneficial to both readers and scholars in understanding Salinger’s life and works,” Hailey said.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly named J.D. Salinger's collection of work. Additionally, the story misstated the research restrictions placed upon the new letters. They are available through the Ransom Center's standard patron application.

Three previously unpublished short stories by author J.D. Salinger surfaced on the Internet Thanksgiving day after an unauthorized duplication of the works were uploaded to file-sharing sites including Imgur and MediaFire.

Someone — who has not yet been identified — duplicated Salinger’s short stories “Birthday Boy” and “Paula,” which were accessed from the Harry Ransom Center’s reading room, and “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which resides at Princeton University. 

The mysterious uploader violated copyright laws, as well as the wishes of the now-deceased author when bounding the duplicated works together and selling them on eBay.

Links to file-sharing websites hosting the three unauthorized works appeared on numerous threads on Reddit, a social content gathering site. The files have since been removed. 

Salinger, the notoriously reclusive author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” had wished the short stories remain unpublished up until 2060.

Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, said it is important not to confuse privacy with copyright. 

“While we go to great lengths to protect the privacy of living figures, it is difficult to know the wishes of the dead,” Enniss said. “As a research institution, it is important that we be attentive as well to the needs of students and scholars engaged in academic study and in the production of new scholarship.”

Manuscripts of both “Birthday Boy” and “Paula,” remain available in the Ransom Center both to view and copy for research purposes.  

“Our research libraries are filled with unpublished materials that remain in copyright, and researchers visit our reading rooms daily to consult primary source materials that are not yet available in print,” Enniss said.

Law professor Oren Bracha said the center did not violate any laws regarding intellectual property because there was no outright encouragement to duplicate the works. 

“If you go to a public library and there’s a photocopier on the premises, and you photocopy a whole book, the library, specifically under the Copyright Act, is not liable for that,” Bracha said. “Now if they encourage people to make copies and help them specifically to engage in infringing activities, that’s something else. But just by virtue of not monitoring people who use their equipment on the site to make copies, even infringing copies, that doesn’t make the library liable.” 

Enniss said the Ransom Center has a responsibility to inform researchers of the copyright status of collections of authors’ work.  

“The Ransom Center’s responsibility is to inform researchers of the copyright status of works in the collection — as we do through our policies and through the database we maintain of writers, artists and their copyright holders — and to make sure we have assurances that any copies are being supplied for research only,” Enniss said. “We have done so.”

Melody Valadez, physics junior and author of young adult suspense novel, “Those Who Trespass,” said unpublished works being available for research purposes are helpful to other writers. 

“As another writer, you can go and see their entire process and how much work they’ve put into it before the final product that you [see],” Valadez said. “And that’s helpful.” 

Valadez said she can fathom Salinger’s hesitation toward allowing the public to view his earlier work. 

“I can understand not wanting anyone to ever see early drafts because they’re usually pretty terrible,” Valadez said. “I think authors are usually scared of being judged by their drafts when they’re very aware of the problems they already have.”

Valadez said she believes the manuscripts help the reader better understand the author.

“To me, it’s the same as being able to read letters of famous authors or famous mathematicians or famous historians because you get to look at the things going on around why they did what they did,” Valadez said. “You get a broader perspective on the final product.”

English professor Janine Barchas said she believes material an author may deem private has the potential to expand public knowledge about the author’s history, comparing the Salinger manuscripts to the hundreds of Jane Austen letters burned by her sister Cassandra.

“Thanks to Cassandra’s censorship, we will never know what Jane wrote that was so ‘scandalous’ that it deserved the flame,” Barchas said. “Times and opinions change. Together, scholars and caretakers should always try to take the long view. Content that may seem “inappropriate” or “too private” today may prove benign — or even central — with a little time.” 

Enniss said he was unaware of the Ransom Center dealing with similar incidents of copyright infringement in the past, but said the center follows standard professional practices of similar research libraries around the country.

“As the center’s materials use policy expresses it, the aim of these policies is to balance the needs of patrons, the exclusive right of the copyright holder and the center’s own rights and responsibilities toward its collections,” Enniss said.

Bracha said copyright infringement is a little more complicated in the case of companies such as Imgur or MediaFire. 

“The moment they either get a notice from the copyright owner or otherwise acquire specific knowledge that there’s some infringing activity going on and that they facilitated it, they have to do something about it or at which point they do risk legal liability,” Bracha said.

Enniss said the copyright infringement occurring in the Salinger case is currently a matter between the Salinger Estate and the individual responsible for uploading the unauthorized duplications to file-sharing sites.

Co-curators Elizabeth Garver and Jean Cannon have curated a collection of World War I posters, photographs and letters that will be on display at the Harry Ransom Center’s upcoming World War I exhibit next February.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

As fall approaches, students and curators at the Harry Ransom Center are wrapping up work on an upcoming World
War I exhibition.

The exhibit is titled “The World at War, 1914-1918” and highlights the lives, loves and literature of those who lived during the “war to end war.” Drawing on the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive in-house collection, the exhibit brings together a collage of various genres of literature and photography to portray the war from the perspective of civilians and soldiers.

Plan II senior Elizabeth Barnes spent her summer as an undergraduate summer intern at the center preparing an audio tour and accompanying booklet for the World at
War exhibition.

She said her experience at the Ransom Center was enriching and eye-opening; The
internship allowed her to comb through archives of photography and literature, selecting and compiling pieces to create the Harry Ransom Center’s first audio-visual tour.

“The Harry Ransom Center hadn’t done an audio tour, so I had a lot of latitude to develop a new experience,” Barnes said.

The tour features voice work of actors from the London Stage,
Barnes said.

Jean Cannon, a literary collections research associate, said the center has a great collection of propaganda from the British, German and Russian governments during that
time period.

“I don’t think we show all the German propaganda, especially the music, because … it’s in German,” Barnes said. “But, it’s fascinating to see the connections between it and a lot of our own music today. Those are the kinds of things that you really only see behind the scenes working at the
Ransom Center.” 

There’s a certain
sobriety about working on an exhibit like this, Elizabeth Garver, a historian and research associate at the Harry Ransom
Center, said. 

“World War I was the first war that was industrialized and mechanized,” Garver said. “The romance and glory of hand-to-hand combat is gone, and what’s left is a lot of the sadness and horror.” 

Cannon said there are points of light, even humor, in the literature. Letters from soldier-poets could be grittily sarcastic, a tone they sought to keep while working with minimal space on postcards and censorship from military officials.

“The soldiers would circulate parody newspapers making fun of the goings-on and some of those can be terribly sarcastic and funny,” Cannon said.

UT classical archaeology professor Joseph Carter returned to Chersonesos, Ukraine, on Friday to celebrate the site’s World Heritage status designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

Carter, the director of UT’s Institute of Classical Archaeology, has led an excavation at the site since 1994.

The site’s designation was first announced in June after its nomination by the World Heritage Convention. The convention seeks locations around the world that deserve protection because of either physical or cultural significance on an international level. Chersonesos is one of 981 World Heritage sites around the globe in 2013. 

“The Chersonesos site has universal cultural importance for humanity, as it is the birthplace of democracy in Ukraine, which was then the Soviet Union, and the birthplace of Christianity in the Slavic world,” Carter said. “It is one of only two ancient cities in the eastern world with chora, a way of life in the countryside with farms, fields, burials, sanctuaries and that’s what makes it different.”

Carter has been increasing collaboration between the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos at Sevastopol, Ukrainian archaeologists and students regarding the excavation and preservation of the Chersonesos site. Among the staff performing conservation training at the site were conservators from the Ransom Center.

“What played a significant role in the site’s World Heritage designation was [Carter’s] interest in building big labs [at Chersonesos] for object conservation and for research of archaeological remains,” said Jim Stroud, associate director for conservation and building management at the Ransom Center. 

Conservators from the Ransom Center went to Chersonesos for two summers to discuss possibilities of establishing conservation training programs at a university level, Stroud said.

In addition to assistance from the Ransom Center, the project in Chersonesos received contributions amounting to more than $12 million from the Packard Humanities Institute, which has offered Carter support throughout the years of his excavation.

Anthropology sophomore Alia Nazir said she was impressed by UT’s involvement in the World Heritage site. 

“I am proud of the University’s pervasive global presence, especially in regards to such a culturally and historically significant site,” Nazir said. “Civilizations, cultures and people can trace their ideological and religious origins back to this place.”