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Teacher workshops demonstrate value of primary source materials in Ransom Center's collections to enhance learning

By Danielle Sigler

Teachers attend a workshop about using Watergate materials in their classroom in 2011. Photo by Pete Smith.
Teachers attend a workshop about using Watergate materials in their classroom in 2011. Photo by Pete Smith.

In elementary school, my class took a field trip to the main branch of the Houston Public Library. We learned how to use the microfilm machines, and I was allowed to look up the front page of the newspaper from the day I was born. I still remember the “Ransom Recovered” headline, a reference to the Patty Hearst case, something about which I knew absolutely nothing.

That moment sitting in front of a microfilm reader is as vivid to me now as it was 30 years ago. Suddenly, there was an entire world before me. I had discovered the appeal of research and of primary source materials. I certainly wouldn’t have articulated it that way at the time. I just knew that I had found something new and interesting that suggested limitless possibility.

That love of research ultimately led me to the Ransom Center. And appreciating the value of using primary source materials in the classroom has inspired the Ransom Center’s teacher workshops.

For the last five years, the Center has offered seminars for teachers on topics ranging from the 1920s to Watergate. These workshops provide the Ransom Center with the opportunity to share collections with educators from around the state who can then take their experiences and digital materials back to the classroom and their students. Local teachers can also follow up by bringing their students to tour the exhibitions.

This spring, the Ransom Center will be hosting two workshops related to the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence. The first workshop will examine the historical influence of the King James translation and is designed for social studies teachers at the junior high and high school levels, while the second workshop will focus on the King James Bible’s literary influence and is designed for language arts teachers at the junior high and high school levels.

A grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, made these workshops possible. Thanks to their support, teachers will leave the workshop with a copy of Gordon Campbell’s Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611–2011, an edition of the King James Bible, and digital images from the Center’s collections to use in their classrooms.

By supporting the work of local educators, we hope to foster the next generation of scholars and help students understand how vital the care and preservation of our cultural heritage is.

UT Students: Apply to participate in seminar with playwright, writer, and director David Mamet

By Danielle Sigler

Photo of David Mamet by Brigitte Lacombe
Photo of David Mamet by Brigitte Lacombe

The Harry Ransom Center is pleased to provide current University of Texas at Austin graduate and undergraduate students with the opportunity to join playwright, writer, and director David Mamet on “A Journey Towards Meaning.”

The Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum, is home to David Mamet’s archive, which is open and available for use.

Mr. Mamet will meet with 10 students 1-4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9 and 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10. Students must be available on both days in order to participate. The Ransom Center encourages students to consult with their professors before missing class to participate in this seminar.

Currently enrolled University of Texas at Austin students should submit no more than TWO LINES explaining why they should be chosen to mametseminar@gmail.com. Entries longer than two lines will not be considered.

Entries must be received by March 2, 2010. Selected students will be notified by March 4, 2010.

The Ransom Center cannot offer further guidance about entries.

Claude McKay and the "Making of Home to Harlem"

By Danielle Sigler

Jamaican-born writer Claude McKay (1889–1948) is probably best-known for his poem “If We Must Die.” McKay, however, also published three novels and a collection of short stories. His most popular novel, Home to Harlem (1928), grew out of a short story of the same name. He was encouraged in his work by his literary agent William Bradley, an American whose agency operated out of Paris. Claude McKay’s correspondence can be found in the Center’s William A. Bradley Literary Agency collection.

An optimistic McKay wrote to Bradley from Antibes, France in February 1927, “Everything is clear and I can see through the whole story to the end. I ought to have the thing done by the end of March.” However, a series of difficulties beset McKay and slowed his writing process. In mid-March, McKay’s friend Max Eastman was planning to return to the United States and to take his typewriter with him. McKay thought he might have to write long-hand, but on March 26 happily reported “The typewriter problem is almost solved” after he purchased a used typewriter for 550 francs. He noted, however, it “doesn’t work so well. I have already had to take it back to Nice twice…and now it is on the blink again.” In early April, McKay was still working on the manuscript and struggling through financial and creative challenges, writing to Bradley, “I am without any money and should be very obliged to you for sending me two hundred francs….. I got into an impasse for a week nearly and had to destroy everything I wrote. But I got out and am going along smoothly again.”

McKay continued to work, and by June the manuscript was complete. In February 1928, McKay finally received the publisher’s “dummy” of the book and had concerns about the dust jacket featuring an illustration by Aaron Douglas:

“I like the cover of the book & the color of the jacket but I don’t like the drawing. It looks so much like the stiff skeleton of a black ape. Has no life and one looking at it will naturally link it with Jake [the novel’s protagonist]. Covarrubias could have done something striking & sympathetic, but I suppose I should not grumble & criticize but be loyal and patriotic as the artist is a colored man.”

A week later he followed-up with Bradley:

“Yes, I think my first opinion about the cover was wrong. It is effective and grows on me. The Senegalese fellows at the café were enchanted with it at first sight. Maybe my plastic sense is a little corrupt and sentimental.”

Harper and Brothers released the book with the Aaron Douglas illustration and Home to Harlem went on to become a success, surprising even McKay who was tickled with its popularity “I see Home to Harlem like an impudent dog has nosed right in among the best sellers in New York!” The New York Times declared of McKay’s talent, “it is not a strained, a half-hearted or skimpy talent, but one that is eminently worth more play than one novel.” While McKay went on to write Banjo (1929) and Banana Bottom (1933), these novels failed to live up to the success of Home to Harlem.

 

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