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Happy Holidays

By Alicia Dietrich

Some of the thousands of 'Dear Santa' letters received at the General Post Office at Christmastime. December 13, 1955. 'New York Journal American' collection.
Some of the thousands of 'Dear Santa' letters received at the General Post Office at Christmastime. December 13, 1955. 'New York Journal American' collection.

Cultural Compass will be on hiatus during the University’s winter break and will return with new content the week of January 3. Holiday hours for the Ransom Center are as follows:

Ransom Center Galleries
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 a.m.–7 p.m. Thursday
Noon–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Please note that the Ransom Center Galleries are closed Mondays and the following holidays:
Christmas Eve Day (Friday, December 24)
Christmas Day (Saturday, December 25)
New Year’s Day (Saturday, January 1)

Through January 2, visitors can see the current exhibition, Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection, as well as The First Photograph and the Gutenberg Bible, which are on permanent display.

Free docent-led tours of the Gernsheim exhibition will be offered at 2 p.m. on the following dates:

Saturday, December 18
Sunday, December 19
Sunday, December 26
Sunday, January 2

The Reading Room and administrative office will close on Friday, December 24, and they will reopen on Monday, January 3.

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Cameras on display in the exhibition ‘Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.’  Shown here are cameras ranging in date from 1886 to 1925, including the first Kodak camera and a circular nineteenth-century detective camera that was used while being concealed under a jacket or vest. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Cameras on display in the exhibition ‘Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.’ Shown here are cameras ranging in date from 1886 to 1925, including the first Kodak camera and a circular nineteenth-century detective camera that was used while being concealed under a jacket or vest. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Currently on display, this portable folding camera obscura, ca. 1750, can be disassembled and stored in the box that serves as its base. The periscope, which comes with separate lenses for distant and near subjects, contains a mirror that reflects the light at a 45-degree angle onto the floor of the base. This projected image may be viewed through a large aperture on the side, and an artist could reach inside through a cloth sleeve to trace the projected image onto a sheet of paper. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Currently on display, this portable folding camera obscura, ca. 1750, can be disassembled and stored in the box that serves as its base. The periscope, which comes with separate lenses for distant and near subjects, contains a mirror that reflects the light at a 45-degree angle onto the floor of the base. This projected image may be viewed through a large aperture on the side, and an artist could reach inside through a cloth sleeve to trace the projected image onto a sheet of paper. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Hal Erickson, a University of Utah Health Sciences Center researcher, visited the Ransom Center to apply nondestructive forensic techniques for recovering faded, erased, redacted, obscured or otherwise lost content.  Here, Erickson is photographing a passage that was redacted, and then further obscured with adhered paper bearing replacement text, by Thomas Hammond in a manuscript volume of his ‘Memoirs.’  Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Hal Erickson, a University of Utah Health Sciences Center researcher, visited the Ransom Center to apply nondestructive forensic techniques for recovering faded, erased, redacted, obscured or otherwise lost content. Here, Erickson is photographing a passage that was redacted, and then further obscured with adhered paper bearing replacement text, by Thomas Hammond in a manuscript volume of his ‘Memoirs.’ Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

View video of “Gernsheim Plays 20 Questions with George Bernard Shaw”

By Courtney Reed

In this video clip from a 1978 interview, J. B. Colson, Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Fellow of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, asks Helmut Gernsheim about his letter collection of famous and contemporary photographers, including correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. In this clip, Gernsheim discusses how he asked Shaw 20 questions about his interest in photography and Shaw’s response.

View the exhibition Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection at the Harry Ransom Center through January 2. The galleries are open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.

Your old computer equipment could make the Ransom Center’s New Year

By Gabriela Redwine

The Ransom Center seeks donated computer equipment to help in its digital preservation, access, and outreach efforts. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
The Ransom Center seeks donated computer equipment to help in its digital preservation, access, and outreach efforts. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

Since the early 1990s, the Ransom Center has been receiving computers, disks, and similar media as part of its manuscript collections. One of the biggest challenges we face when trying to preserve these materials is accessing files that are on older disks.

Some of the items in our collection, such as CDs and DVDs, were created relatively recently and can be read using modern computers. But, to access older types of media—for example, 8-inch and 5.25-inch floppy disks or 3-inch Amstrad disks—we must first find the correct drive or computer.

The Center’s collection includes close to 2,300 disks, as well as personal computers from Michael Joyce, Iain Sinclair, and other authors. Approximately 60 percent of these disks are 3.5-inch floppies of various types (single- or double-sided, double density, high density, etc.). Recent acquisitions have also included older formats such as 5.25-inch floppy disks and TRS-80 computer cassette tapes.

Thanks to the generosity of the University’s Information Technology Service department and individual donors, the Ransom Center has begun acquiring legacy computer equipment to use in accessing these older formats. Recent donations include a Kaypro II, a Victor 9000, related computer manuals, and blank floppy disks.

We have used these donations in a few different ways. The first is to facilitate physical access to the legacy media in our collections. Staff members have also used the older computers and disks as visual aids when talking with students, the public, and other interested parties about born-digital archives and preservation. The point of these talks is to educate people about the need for digital preservation. Seeing a Kaypro II, for example, or an 8-inch disk often prompts people to share stories about their early experiences with computer technology, or, if the audience consists of younger students, to ask questions about “ancient” media like 5.25-inch floppy disks.

One of the most exciting aspects of digital preservation work has to do with access. How will people who come to our reading room engage with born-digital materials? One possibility is that people will be interested in interacting with a computing environment similar to the one used by a particular author. Loading copies of files from an author’s collection onto a replica of the computer he or she originally used to compose a work would enable a visitor to sit down in front of an Apple ][ Plus, for example, and explore drafts of the stories Denis Johnson wrote using a similar machine. To plan for this and other possibilities, we have begun collecting computers similar to ones used by the authors whose born-digital materials reside in our collection.

If you have computer equipment that you would like to donate to help the Ransom Center in its digital preservation, access, and outreach efforts, please contact Lisa Snider, the Center's digital archivist, at lisasnider@utexas.edu. Specifically, the Ransom Center is looking for the following items:

  • 8-inch disks and drives
  • 5.25-inch disks and drives
  • 3.5-inch drives
  • 3-inch disks and drives
  • Amstrad computer with 3-inch disk drive
  • TRS-80 computer with cassette player
  • Mac Performa 460
  • Apple ][ Plus
  • Macintosh Wallstreet Powerbook G3
  • Blank floppy disks of all sizes
  • The name of someone, preferably in Austin, who can repair and align 8-, 5.25-, and 3.5-inch disk drives

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate Elizabeth Phan (left) and Apryl Voskamp, manager of preservation housing, work with collection items coming out of cold storage.  Because there had been evidence of bugs, Phan and Voskamp are covering the items with thin mylar, where they will then sit in constructed trays to observe any potential future evidence of bug activity. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Undergraduate Elizabeth Phan (left) and Apryl Voskamp, manager of preservation housing, work with collection items coming out of cold storage. Because there had been evidence of bugs, Phan and Voskamp are covering the items with thin mylar, where they will then sit in constructed trays to observe any potential future evidence of bug activity. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
David Coleman, curator of photography, leads a gallery tour of the exhibition ‘Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.’ Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
David Coleman, curator of photography, leads a gallery tour of the exhibition ‘Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection.’ Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Volunteer paper conservator Lauren Morales shapes a toned insert paper to fill in the losses of an original 1889 English circus poster, part of the performing arts collection. The losses (white spaces) are visible in the area of the horse (lower left of the image along a horizontal fold line) and around the orange-colored insert for the man's jacket. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Volunteer paper conservator Lauren Morales shapes a toned insert paper to fill in the losses of an original 1889 English circus poster, part of the performing arts collection. The losses (white spaces) are visible in the area of the horse (lower left of the image along a horizontal fold line) and around the orange-colored insert for the man's jacket. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

Fellow goes behind the scenes of motion pictures

By Courtney Reed

Andrew Scahill, of George Mason University, discusses his research on still photographer Jack Harris and the role of “still men” in Hollywood. Scahill’s research, “Cogs in the Dream Machine: Jack Harris and the Role of the ‘Still Man,'” was funded by the Robert De Niro Endowed Fund.

The Ransom Center is now receiving applications for its 2011–2012 research fellowships in the humanities. The application deadline is February 1, 2011, but applicants are encouraged, if necessary, to request information from curators by January 1. About 50 fellowships are awarded annually by the Ransom Center to support scholarly research projects in all areas of the humanities. Applicants must demonstrate the need for substantial on-site use of the Center’s collections.

From blue skies to blue print: Astronomer John Herschel’s invention of the cyanotype

By Courtney Reed

For Sir John Herschel, science and art were inextricably linked. Son of the celebrated astronomer William Herschel—who, with the discovery of the planet Uranus, revolutionized the modern day conception of the universe—science was in John Herschel’s blood. Following in his father’s footsteps, Herschel himself became a renowned astronomer. Herschel also applied scientific exploration to art and participated in some of photography’s earliest experimentation.

An accomplished chemist, Herschel discovered the action of hyposulfite of soda on silver salts, which lead to the use of “hypo” as the most effective fixing agent for silver-based photography. Herschel also endorsed and encouraged the term “photography” and coined the terms “negative” and “positive” to refer to photographic images.

John Herschel not only searched the dark blue skies, but also searched for ways to introduce color into photography. A child of Newtonian science, Herschel knew that white light is composed of the color spectrum. The trick was to separate the white light and pinpoint specific colors: “By using the prism first to separate all but the pure prismatic tint of given refrangibility and then re-analyzing this by media I conceive it possible to obtain rays totally exempt from any colour but the elementary one wanted” Herschel theorized in a letter, dated July 6, 1839, to Henry F. Talbot, another scientist interested in experimental photography.

During his quest for color, Herschel carefully documented his experiments with hundreds of variations of chemical formulas, using engravings as source imagery to create negatives on paper. In 1842, Herschel invented the cyanotype.

The cyanotype process uses light-sensitive iron salts produced by brushing solutions of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, also known as Prussian blue, onto paper, which is then dried in the dark. Cyanotypes were not widely used until 1880, when they became popular because they required only water for fixing the image.

The cyanotype is one of Herschel’s most influential contributions to the art of photography. Not only does it lend itself to strikingly beautiful photos, but the cyanotype is also the originator of the architect blue-print.

One of Herschel’s cyanotypes is featured in the exhibition Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection. Closing in just a few weeks, the exhibition can be seen in the Ransom Center Galleries on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays. Free docent-led tours of the Gernsheim exhibition are offered at 2 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Actors Adam Couperthwaite and Robbie Ann Darby perform in ‘No Snakes in This Grass,’ a one-act play by James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers. Prior to Thanksgiving, The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School and the James A. Michener Center for Writers hosted the event outside the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Actors Adam Couperthwaite and Robbie Ann Darby perform in ‘No Snakes in This Grass,’ a one-act play by James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers. Prior to Thanksgiving, The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School and the James A. Michener Center for Writers hosted the event outside the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students following the program song list that Thomas G. Palaima created for the Ransom Center’s Poetry on the Plaza 'Harmonica Bob: The Poetry of Bob Dylan.' Palaima is the Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students following the program song list that Thomas G. Palaima created for the Ransom Center’s Poetry on the Plaza 'Harmonica Bob: The Poetry of Bob Dylan.' Palaima is the Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Judith Freeman, author of 'The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and The Woman He Loved,' researches the archive of jazz journalist and historian Ross Russell. Freeman is a recipient of a fellowship funded by the Erle Stanley Gardner Endowment for Mystery Studies. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Judith Freeman, author of 'The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and The Woman He Loved,' researches the archive of jazz journalist and historian Ross Russell. Freeman is a recipient of a fellowship funded by the Erle Stanley Gardner Endowment for Mystery Studies. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.

Tonight: “Winston Churchill’s Public Library” lecture and webcast at 7 p.m. (CST)

By Jennifer Tisdale

Winston Churchill by unknown photographer. Undated. ‘New York Journal-American’ collection.
Winston Churchill by unknown photographer. Undated. ‘New York Journal-American’ collection.

Drew University historian Jonathan Rose delivers the inaugural Donald G. Davis, Jr. Lecture, “Winston Churchill’s Public Library,” tonight at 7 p.m. (CST) at the Harry Ransom Center.

View a live webcast of this event starting at approximately 7 p.m. (CST).

In his lecture, Rose explores the relationship between politicians and literature. Are politicians’ agendas molded by literature? How far are their policies and tactics shaped by poetry, prose, and drama? Rose focuses on the career of Winston Churchill by examining the books he read. George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, and Siegfried Sassoon; The Red Badge of Courage, The Good Earth, Gone With The Wind, and 1984—these and many other books and authors exerted a powerful influence on Churchill and his brilliant career.

Rose is the William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president for the Society of the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. His publications include A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot), The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, and The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation.

Ransom Center accepting applications for Mellon Summer Institute in Spanish Paleography

By Alicia Dietrich

Petition for summons by the corregidor Andrés Fernández de Herrera, Valle de Cochabamba, Bolivia, 1596. HRC 117, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts collection. Harry Ransom Center.
Petition for summons by the corregidor Andrés Fernández de Herrera, Valle de Cochabamba, Bolivia, 1596. HRC 117, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts collection. Harry Ransom Center.

Applications are being accepted by the Ransom Center for the Mellon Summer Institute in Spanish Paleography, occurring in Austin June 6-24, 2011. The institute is an opportunity for scholars to acquire intensive training in reading late medieval and early modern manuscripts of Spain and Latin America. All application materials must be received by Tuesday, March 1, 2011.