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Scholar discusses research in De Niro collection

By Edgar Walters

R. Colin Tait, a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas at Austin, has used the Ransom Center’s Robert De Niro collection as the basis for his dissertation, “Robert De Niro’s Method: Acting, Authorship and Agency in the New Hollywood (1967–1980).” Tait argues that De Niro has been a major intellectual and creative contributor to the world of film and acting and writes about his research in the De Niro archive. Tait shares how the papers reveal the actor’s commitment to his craft with examples of his “meticulous research, collaborations with directors, and extreme bodily transformations.”

In the above video, Tait discusses De Niro’s place in the film canon.

R. Colin Tait works with papers in the Robert De Niro archive in the Ransom Center’s reading room. Photo by Pete Smith.
R. Colin Tait works with papers in the Robert De Niro archive in the Ransom Center’s reading room. Photo by Pete Smith.

From the Outside In: Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing," Arthur B. Frost, 1883.

By Edgar Walters

Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing."
Illustration for Lewis Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photographing."

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 he perched upon a tripod—
Crouched beneath its dusky cover—
Stretched his hand enforcing silence—
Said “Be motionless, I beg you!”
Mystic, awful was the process.
—from Lewis Carroll, “Hiawatha’s Photographing”

The image etched into the Harry Ransom Center’s windows of a wooden camera with a photographer crouching behind, hand outstretched, is an illustration by Arthur B. Frost for the poem “Hiawatha’s Photographing” by Lewis Carroll. The poem parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (1855), an epic ballad that became popular despite its awkward meter that was often mocked. Although the protagonist in Longfellow’s poem is based on a Native-American hero, Carroll’s Hiawatha is a photographer who arrives at a family’s home and attempts to take each relative’s portrait, yet continually fails because the sitters move too soon and pose too strangely. Hiawatha finally manages to tumble “all the tribe together” and create a photograph in which “the faces all succeed.” But the family members then criticize the image as “the worst and ugliest picture / They could possibly have dreamed of,” and assert that “Really any one would take us / (Any one that did not know us) / For the most unpleasant people!” Carroll satirizes not just vanity in this poem but also the Victorian fad for families to have their pictures taken while adopting poses of affected elegance. Though “Hiawatha’s Photographing” appeared in the magazine Train in about 1857, this illustration did not accompany the poem until its publication within Carroll’s 1883 anthology Rhyme? And Reason?, to which Arthur B. Frost contributed 65 illustrations.

Although Carroll is well known as the author of the beloved Alice books, he was also an accomplished mathematician, logician, and photographer. He was born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, in 1832, and given the name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He later chose the pen name Lewis Carroll to separate his academic life from his career publishing comedic poetry and nonsense writings. As a mathematics lecturer at Christ Church College, Oxford, between 1855 and 1881, Carroll published reputable works on mathematics and logic, many of which are still valued by scholars today. During the summer of 1856, Carroll adopted the then-burgeoning practice of photography as a hobby. He purchased an Otterwill folding camera, much like the one pictured in the illustration, which used the collodion-plate process and required finesse in timing and technique to produce a successful picture. Although this technique was difficult to master, Carroll produced more than 80 successful albumen-print photographs during his first summer, primarily portraits of his family. With the camera, Carroll had found a real-life “looking glass.” Inspired by Oscar Gustave Rejlander—the first photographer to create art photos comparable to paintings—Carroll settled on the genre of child portraiture. His most frequent subjects were his “child-friends,” many of whom were the daughters of his Oxford colleagues. The most notable of these children were Alice Liddell, who inspired the stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Alexandra “Xie” Kitchin, Carroll’s favorite subject, of whom he created about 50 photographs that spanned her childhood. Carroll carefully organized his photographs into albums to be given as gifts, which he kept within his own personal collection, and as portfolios to display to potential sitters. Although Carroll assembled at least 34 of these albums in his lifetime, only a third of these are known to exist today. Because of Carroll’s gift for putting his subjects at ease, he was able to capture youthful innocence with contented expressions not previously achieved. Biographer Morton N. Cohen claims that “his studies of children reached the apex of the genre in the earliest days of photography and retain their authority today.”

The Ransom Center holds a large collection of Carroll’s photography, with five complete albums and more than 380 photographs. One album, labeled nonchronologically as “Album A (VI),” is believed to contain Carroll’s earliest photographs. Peter C. Bunnell, in his introduction to the book Lewis Carroll: Photographer, refers to this “small and intimate album” as “most likely his first and perhaps intended to be seen only by the Dodgson family and close friends,” and continues that “[t]his album reveals just how quickly [Carroll] was able to grasp and master the complexities of the process as well as compose exceptionally elegant images.” These photographs came to the Center through the acquisition of the Gernsheim collection, whose images document the history of photography from its beginning. The Center’s Warren Weaver collection holds rare editions of Carroll’s books, including two inscribed copies of the 1883 Rhyme? And Reason?, from which this illustration for “Hiawatha’s Photographing” originates. Manuscripts, correspondence, and juvenilia fill out the Center’s Carroll collection. In addition, a large number of items related to Alice in Wonderland are found in the Byron and Susan Sewell collection, which includes translations of the work into 21 languages, as well as parodies and adaptations of the story for television, theater, and film. Viewing Carroll’s photographs, especially in the preserved albums in which he arranged them, provides not only insight into his life’s story and the people with whom he associated, but also an understanding of his talents as an artist outside children’s literature.

Ransom Center volunteer Amy Kristofoletti wrote this post.

Conservator preserves stitched manuscript for Elizabeth Barret Browning poem

By Edgar Walters

Detail of the manuscript of the poem “The Battle of Marathon” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dated 1819.
Detail of the manuscript of the poem “The Battle of Marathon” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dated 1819.

Paper Conservator Jane Boyd recently completed a treatment of the 1819 manuscript for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Battle of Marathon,” which was recently digitized. Browning’s method of revising involved sewing pieces of paper containing handwritten notes directly into the manuscript, which had to be removed and preserved during the digitization process.

From the Outside In: "Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange, 1936

By Edgar Walters

Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.

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 powerful portrait depicts the weariness of a hard existence in poverty. Florence Owens, the migrant mother of the title, crouches in the foreground flanked by two of her children, their faces hidden. Her eyes seem not to be directed outward, perhaps contemplating an uncertain future with little hope.

The photographer, Dorothea Lange, was born in 1895 and contracted polio in childhood, leaving her with a lasting limp. She believed that this impairment increased her empathy for those down on their luck. Her photographic career began at a New York portrait studio in 1914, and she studied at Columbia University under Clarence White. She then moved to San Francisco to do freelance photography until 1919, when she opened her own portrait studio. During the Great Depression, however, fewer people had money to spend on portraits, and Lange moved to Taos, New Mexico, where she began work with several of the New Deal projects.

Owens lived a very different life. Of Cherokee descent, she worked as a pea picker in California. She had six children by 1932, and on remarriage, three more arrived. In 1935, however, the pea crop failed, and the family was forced to sell their tent to get food. In the following year, when Owens was 32, Lange arrived on assignment for the Federal Resettlement Administration and met the family. She took six photographs of Owens, including Migrant Mother. It was published in a number of magazines, including as a full-page image in the September 1936 issue of Survey Graphic.

Despite the image’s fame, Owens never profited personally from her portraits. In middle age, she often acted as the straw boss—the one who negotiated wages—for her fellow migrant workers, and she continued to work in the fields until the age of about 50. She married again and settled down with her new husband in Modesto, California. Despite the difficulty of much of her life, she lived to be 80; she died of cancer and heart problems in September 1983, survived by many of her children.

The Ransom Center’s photography collection holds the work of important early-twentieth-century documentary photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as well as the more recent work of the Magnum Photos agency.

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.

Magnum photographer, poet, and folk musician Larry Towell presents a selection of his work in a multimedia performance at the Belo Center for New Media last Thursday. Harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens, at right, accompanies. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer, poet, and folk musician Larry Towell presents a selection of his work in a multimedia performance at the Belo Center for New Media last Thursday. Harmonica virtuoso Mike Stevens, at right, accompanies. Photo by Pete Smith.
Christine Lee and Margi Tenney of the Ransom Center visit with students at the Libraries Fair at Perry-Castañeda Library. Photo courtesy of UT Libraries.
Christine Lee and Margi Tenney of the Ransom Center visit with students at the Libraries Fair at Perry-Castañeda Library. Photo courtesy of UT Libraries.
Author Morris Dickstein presented the lecture "America's Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s" on Thursday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Author Morris Dickstein presented the lecture "America's Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s" on Thursday. Photo by Pete Smith.

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.

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.

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.

Students perform “Synthesis” in the north atrium of the Ransom Center as part of the Cohen New Works Festival last Friday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students perform “Synthesis” in the north atrium of the Ransom Center as part of the Cohen New Works Festival last Friday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students perform “Synthesis” on the second floor of the Ransom Center as part of the Cohen New Works Festival last Friday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students perform “Synthesis” on the second floor of the Ransom Center as part of the Cohen New Works Festival last Friday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Carie Graves, head coach of women’s rowing at The University of Texas at Austin, reads as part of the Poetry on the Plaza event “Poetry of Sport” on Wednesday. Photo by Pete Smith.
Carie Graves, head coach of women’s rowing at The University of Texas at Austin, reads as part of the Poetry on the Plaza event “Poetry of Sport” on Wednesday. Photo by Pete Smith.

From the Outside In: Title page from William Shakespeare's "A Midsommer Nights Dreame," 1619

By Edgar Walters

Title page from "A Midsommer Nights Dreame."
Title page from "A Midsommer Nights Dreame."

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 image of the title page to William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream reads, “A Midsommer Nights Dreame, As it hath beene sundry times publikely acted, by the Right Honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants.” Below the title, the printer and date are identified as James Roberts, 1600, but this is a misrepresentation. Although 1600 was the first date of publication of the play, this image is of the title page of a second edition, printed in 1619 by William Jaggard and Thomas Pavier. Jaggard ran the printing shop that had been founded by James Roberts, and his edition was an unauthorized printing that upset Shakespeare’s playing company, the King’s Men. The company asked the king to order the immediate ban of publication of their works by other parties. Jaggard continued to publish the play, however, by using the date of the first edition to sell it as old stock. Notably, William Jaggard had previously printed an unauthorized collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets in 1599 under the title The Passionate Pilgrim. As was customary in Elizabethan publishing, Jaggard retained copyright as publisher, and no profits of the sale went to Shakespeare or his company.

The Jaggard printing from 1619 was later used as the publisher’s copy for the text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1623 First Folio. Shakespeare’s plays were published in a number of early editions. The first single-play copies were published as “quartos,” so called because pieces of paper were folded in four to make the pages. The first collection of all of the plays—the First Folio—was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death by John Heminges and Henry Condell, members of the King’s Men who would have known Shakespeare. Their edition was published in the larger “folio” format, with the paper folded in two, and it contained the 36 plays generally accepted as Shakespeare’s. The first quarto of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1600 had contained few errors or corruptions, but the second quarto by Jaggard in 1619 contained many errors. When Heminges and Condell put together the First Folio, they used a corrected copy of the second quarto as the text for this play. Because of their knowledge of Shakespeare and his plays, they could make the First Folio more accurate than either of the previous quartos. The First Folio is particularly important because it covers the full body of Shakespeare’s work. Half of the plays in the First Folio, including Macbeth and The Tempest, had never been published before and would have been lost had they not been collected at this time. The 1623 First Folio was also the first licensed printing of the works of Shakespeare.

Among Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the closest example to the Renaissance genre of the masque, and it was most likely written in the mid-1590s for the occasion of an important wedding. Popular court entertainments, full of music, dancing, and pageantry, masques were written by many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, such as Ben Jonson. A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores romantic desire through the wedding of the mythological royal couple Theseus and Hippolyta, and features four young people of Athens (Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena), a squabble between King Oberon and Queen Titania of the Fairies, and Bottom and his company of actors who are rehearsing a play (Pyramus and Thisby) for the nuptials. The title alludes to the rites of Midsummer’s Eve, but the setting is May Day—a day associated with madness and an appropriate time for young lovers to get swept up into an argument at the fairy court. The themes and characters would have been familiar to the Elizabethan audience: Theseus and Hippolyta are a couple who had appeared in works of Chaucer and Plutarch; Pyramus and Thisby, from the play within a play, had been written of by Chaucer and Ovid; and Oberon was from Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene.

This copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is part of the Carl H. Pforzheimer library at the Harry Ransom Center. The Pforzheimer library of early English literature comprises 1,100 books and was purchased in 1986. Acquiring this collection was a coup for the Ransom Center because it includes many of the finest examples of the plays, poems, novels, essays, polemical writings, and translations of the most influential English writers from 1475 to 1700. It includes first and important editions of John Milton, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, William Congreve, Christopher Marlowe, and Francis Bacon. In addition, the Ransom Center’s collections of British and Irish Literature are rich in the publishing, performance, and reception history of Shakespeare. Early editions in the Pforzheimer, Wrenn, and other collections include several quarto plays printed during Shakespeare’s lifetime and all four Folio editions, including three copies of the First Folio (1623).

Ransom Center volunteer Sara Childress wrote this post.