The Austin Chronicle

The Ransom Center's Hidden Riches

By Matt Martinez, February 4, 2008, 4:19pm, Newsdesk

Per our continuing coverage of the UT history department’s welcome-back-to-Garrison extravaganza, last Friday we saw professor David Oshinsky and archivist Steve Mielke (who the Chron spoke to here) give the public a look into the resources available at the Harry Ransom Center.

“The Ransom Center represents the most important scholarly endeavor on the UT campus,” said Oshinsky.

The exhibit focused on three of the most recently publicized collections in the vault, the Arthur Miller papers, the Woodward and Bernstein collection and the exhaustive Norman Mailer "complete existence" set.

No kidding, apparently. Seeing his genius at an early age, Mrs. Mailer saved the ole' kindergarten collection straight from the fridge to the public, which comes to you via UT’s Ransom Center. The aura of the place is daunting, no doubt, but the staff is far more welcoming than you might expect. I mean, hey, I got in.

These are first-hand, rough draft, never before seen type materials, folks! If that doesn’t make you jump out of your nerd pants, nothing will. I was literally face to face with 6-page carbon paper typed on by the great Bernstein Woodward. He typed up every interview with Mark Felt (i.e., Deep Throat; not the porn) after the fact from memory and titled it “Interview with ‘X’”

Chilling. They’ve got a Gutenberg Bible in there. And if Christianity’s not your cup of tea they also have what was one of about a dozen of the original huge display versions of Mein Kampf (debate Hitler’s alleged Christianity on your own time). Something for everyone!

At one point I thought to myself, ‘Why didn’t I bring my camera?’ But then I came to and realized what would have happened to me if I tried to take a snapshot in that place. I pictured the E.T. government men gang-tackling me like I was Tom Brady or something.

But one of the best parts was when Mielke described the actual moon suit-type of inspections that are done on every box of material that comes through there. Mold and decay are probably even worse than flash photography in a place like the Ransom Center.

Seriously, if I can get one thing across to the two people that might be moved to go do some research in the Ransom Center from this post, it’s this: THERE'S NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE RANSOM CENTER. They’ll gladly make copies of whatever you want for you.

Along with the aforementioned, collections in the vaults include: works by and about Franklin D. Roosevelt, watercolors and drawings by William Blake, medieval editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, some crazy Bobby DeNiro stuffs, Oscar Wilde, Napoleon, first edition Newton, Frida Kahlo, J. Frank Dobie, and Fannie Hurst.

Happy hunting.

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.