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"Write for readers like yourself": James Salter’s Novels

By Megan Barnard

Note: This post originally appeared on April 18, 2013.

James Salter’s All That Is (Knopf), his first new novel since 1979, is a reflective work, a reconsideration of many of the themes he has explored in his earlier fiction. Looking back at Salter’s prior novels through his archive at the Harry Ransom Center, one can see the artist at work and better understand the sentiments that guide his craft. Read more

Morris Dickstein to discuss Commentary magazine

By Emily Neie

Cover of the February 1960 issue of Commentary magazine.
Cover of the February 1960 issue of Commentary magazine.

Author Morris Dickstein presents the lecture “America’s Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s” this Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Harry Ransom Center. In 2011, Commentary magazine donated its archive to the Center, and the collection is now open for research.

Founded in November 1945, shortly after World War II, Commentary was established to reconnect assimilated American Jews and Jewish intellectuals with the broader Jewish community and to bring the ideas of young Jewish intellectuals to a wider audience.

Throughout its history, Commentary has published significant articles on historical, political, cultural, and theological issues in addition to fiction and memoirs. The magazine became a major outlet for leading figures to establish their intellectual careers. The archive spans from 1945 to 1995 and consists mainly of editorial correspondence, galleys, other records, and correspondence with a number of writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center, including Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Commentary underwent a dramatic shift in 1960 under the editorship of Norman Podhoretz, who applied more rigorous critical standards and made greater use of strong-minded New York intellectuals such as Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Mailer. The magazine responded to all of the major controversies of the decade, from the Eichmann trial and the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War and the Columbia student uprising.

According to historian Richard Pells, Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, “no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States.”

Dickstein is Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent book, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, received the Ambassador Book Award in American Studies in 2010.

The event is free, but donations are welcome. Seating is limited. Line forms upon arrival of the first patron, and doors open 30 minutes in advance. The program will be webcast live.

This program is co-sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation made a generous grant to support this program and the cataloging of the Commentary archive.

From the Outside In: "Milk Drop Coronet," Harold Edgerton, 1936

By Edgar Walters

© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This simple image captures a milk drop as it strikes a thin layer of milk. The photographer Harold Edgerton maintained that he was a scientist rather than an artist, but he and his colleagues nonetheless produced many stunning pictures, of which Milk Drop is but one. National Geographic called him “the man who made time stand still.”

Harold Eugene Edgerton (1903–1990) graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Nebraska and continued his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). For his doctoral thesis, he used strobe lights to study electric motors and the motion of everyday events. Among his early works are renowned photos of a balloon bursting and bullets penetrating apples. In 1947 he founded his own company, EG&G, which, among other things, supplied special cameras for recording nuclear explosions. He also contributed to the development of side-scan sonar and worked with Jacques Cousteau to provide lighting for undersea filming. Over the course of his career, Edgerton received most of the honors possible for a technical wizard, including the National Medal of Science and the Royal Photographic Society’s Bronze Medal.

He taught at MIT for many years, and in 1992 the Edgerton Center, devoted to hands-on engineering and technical education, was named in his honor.

The most eye-catching of Edgerton’s contributions was his spectacular stop-motion photography. The human eye cannot time-resolve events shorter than a fraction of a second, which is why movies appear to be continuous, rather than the sequence of still images that they really are. Edgerton’s discoveries and inventions enabled him to reduce photographic exposure times to less than a millionth of a second. He achieved this feat by opening a camera’s shutter in a darkened space, generating a flash of light to expose the film, and then closing the shutter. With associated electronics, he could control both the brightness and duration of the flash, creating a very brief light that, by coincidence, had a color similar to daylight. The challenge was to trigger this flash at just the right moment. It is said that Edgerton tried many times to produce a symmetrical version of Milk Drop, but he was never completely successful.

The Ransom Center holds a collection of 35 of Edgerton’s prints from throughout his career. His primary archive is housed at MIT. The book Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton provides a comprehensive account of his work.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

Photo Friday

By Edgar Walters

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.

Paper Conservator Jane Boyd treats a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of cricket stories from the J. M. Coetzee papers for the summer exhibition “Literature and Sport,” which opens June 11. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Paper Conservator Jane Boyd treats a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of cricket stories from the J. M. Coetzee papers for the summer exhibition “Literature and Sport,” which opens June 11. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Fellowship recipient Teal Triggs views photographs from the Fleur Cowles archive as part of her research project on Flair magazine. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Fellowship recipient Teal Triggs views photographs from the Fleur Cowles archive as part of her research project on Flair magazine. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Students from the Butler School of Music set up for Saturday's concert crawl of Austin's Cultural Campus. Photo by Sydney Reed.
Students from the Butler School of Music set up for Saturday's concert crawl of Austin's Cultural Campus. Photo by Sydney Reed.
Students from the Butler School of Music perform in the atrium of the Ransom Center as part of a music crawl of Austin’s Cultural Campus. Photo by Ryan Goodland.
Students from the Butler School of Music perform in the atrium of the Ransom Center as part of a music crawl of Austin’s Cultural Campus. Photo by Ryan Goodland.

“Arnold Newman: At Work” explores photographer through his archive

By Ady Wetegrove

Cover of "Arnold Newman: At Work" by Roy Flukinger.
Cover of "Arnold Newman: At Work" by Roy Flukinger.

In conjunction with the exhibition Arnold Newman: Masterclass, University of Texas Press and the Ransom Center have published Arnold Newman: At Work by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger. Featuring an introductory essay by photo historian Marianne Fulton, the illustrated volume includes Newman’s iconic images alongside his contact sheets, Polaroids, and work prints complete with handwritten notes and marginalia. Providing a contextual overview of the Ransom Center’s Newman archive, the book reveals insights into Newman’s process. The book also includes Newman’s lesser known collages, commercial work, and cityscapes.

Drawing extensively from the Ransom Center’s Newman archive, the book is a rich collection of materials ranging from personal documents—such as Augusta and Arnold Newman’s holiday cards, travel ledgers, and copies of passports and pocketbooks—to some of Newman’s most iconic images. Readers can track the creative process from contact sheets with the photographer’s notes and cropping instructions to the eventual final selection and enlargement.

For Newman, a single session with the sitter was only the beginning of the creative process. Newman’s attentive markups and anecdotes litter the edges of countless contact sheets, and work prints from a portrait sitting allow readers to see how Newman approached his subject and found ways to reveal his or her character. Newman would take 10, 20, 30 and in some cases more than 50 individual photographs of a sitter, making minor adjustments each time. Though highly significant, the differences between the frames are often miniscule, but the variation in their impact can be dramatic.

The Center’s Newman archive contains all of Newman’s negatives, slides and color transparencies, all of his original contact sheets, and more than two thousand prints, including examples of color and collage work. The collection also includes Newman’s original sittings books, correspondence and business files, early sketchbooks and photographic albums.

Read an excerpt from Marianne Fulton’s introduction to the book, which is available for purchase in the Ransom Center’s online store or at the visitors desk during gallery hours. Arnold Newman: Masterclass runs through May 12.

From the Outside In: Typescript of "Death of a Salesman," Arthur Miller, ca. 1948

By Edgar Walters

Typescript of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller, ca. 1948.
Typescript of "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller, ca. 1948.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

Etched into the windows of the Ransom Center is an image of one of Arthur Miller’s typescripts for the play Death of a Salesman. The excerpt depicted is between the title character, Willy Loman, and his wife, Linda, in the opening scene of the second act. Large scratch-outs zigzag through whole paragraphs, arrows rearrange the words, and new lines have been handwritten into place. The first lines discuss the couple’s dreamy expectations for a brighter future soon to come—a business loan his son might be given, a new house in the country, and an office job in the city so Willy can stop traveling. But Linda’s reminder “to ask [Willy’s boss] for a little advance” in the last lines “because we’ve got the insurance premium” exposes the discrepancy between their dreams and a reality in which they are barely getting by. The passage encapsulates the play’s central theme that valuing oneself in terms of the American dream is a setup for failure.

Although Death of a Salesman was not Miller’s first successful play, it was the play that established him as a great American playwright. Miller wrote the play in the spring of 1947, within a small studio he built himself next to his Connecticut farmhouse. The writing flowed easily for Miller, who finished the first half of the play in one day and night, and the second half in the next six weeks. According to his biographer Christopher Bigsby, Miller wanted “to take the audience on an internal journey through the mind, memories, fears, anxieties of his central character.” Rather than adhering to earlier playwrights’ conventions, Miller gave the play a radical structure in which the past and the present coexist, and where walls can sometimes be stepped through. The play opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, and was met with critical acclaim, winning Miller numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The play has remained popular and has since been produced into films, translated, performed internationally, and revived on Broadway. Playwright Tony Kushner, while discussing the continuing importance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, has stated, “Willy is part of our mythology now.”

This typescript represents one of several papers within the Arthur Miller archive held at the Ransom Center, which includes the manuscripts of 34 different works, dated from 1935 to1953. Viewing Miller’s early notebooks and seeing how his works took shape gives one a more intimate understanding of the playwright who represented his generation so well by writing about the dreams and tragedies of his era. A leading scholar of Arthur Miller’s work and life—Christopher Bigsby, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia—benefited from studying these papers. Regarding his 30 years of research in the archive, Bigsby has stated, “The Ransom Center is what the House of the Medicis once was to 14th century Florence… it has had a hand in a new Renaissance.”

Ransom Center volunteer Amy Kristofoletti wrote this post.

University appoints new director of the Ransom Center

By Jennifer Tisdale

Photo of Stephen Enniss by Julie Ainsworth/Folger Shakespeare Library.
Photo of Stephen Enniss by Julie Ainsworth/Folger Shakespeare Library.

The University of Texas at Austin has appointed head librarian of the Folger Shakespeare Library Stephen Enniss as the new director of the Ransom Center.

Enniss will take over the duties of current Director Thomas F. Staley, who will retire August 31. Staley, who has been responsible for scores of notable acquisitions and the Center’s enormous growth during his 25-year tenure, had announced plans to retire in 2011, but later agreed to postpone his retirement date. Staley, who is also the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts, will remain on faculty and plans to teach in the College of Liberal Arts. Enniss will start at the Ransom Center on August 1.

Enniss will be the seventh director in the Ransom Center’s 56-year history.