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The Door to Opportunity: Undergraduate Internships at the Ransom Center

By Kelsey McKinney

Undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney with the authors' door at the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney with the authors' door at the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.

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Each academic year, the Ransom Center hosts undergraduate interns sponsored by various programs and departments at The University of Texas at Austin. For the 2012–2013 academic year, the Center is pleased to announce the addition of four Ransom Center–sponsored undergraduate intern positions. Students do not need to be affiliated with any particular program or department but must be full-time undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin. Application materials should be delivered to the Administrative Suite on the third floor of the Ransom Center by April 9, 2012. Below, current undergraduate intern Kelsey McKinney discusses her internship experience at the Ransom Center.

I fell in love with the Ransom Center at first sight. It was my freshman fall semester at The University of Texas at Austin, and my English class visited the Ransom Center to view Anne Sexton manuscripts in the reading room. In addition to the manuscripts, we saw Anne Sexton’s Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter. That typewriter showed me that the Ransom Center is a diverse place with hidden gems to discover. As an undergraduate intern, that belief has only been confirmed.

I began working at the Ransom Center in August 2011.  At the time, The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925 exhibition had recently opened, and I was offered the opportunity to work on a related project with the Ransom Center’s own authors’ door. The door, located deep within the fifth-floor stacks, began as a tribute to the Greenwich Village bookshop door. Since the 1970s, visiting artists and writers have been invited to sign the door. As of today, the door has 212 signatures. I began a project to document all of the signatures, many of which verged on being illegible. Having horrible handwriting myself, the match was ideal. I spent hours with the door, and it allowed me to interact with author archives and Ransom Center staff.  The work was exciting and fulfilling. Each time I deciphered another signature was just as exciting as the first. Today, 206 of the 212 signatures are identified.

There are so many collections and so many incredible projects to take on that there is something for everyone here. More than any specific project I have worked on during my time as an intern, I value most the knowledge I have gained through interaction with Ransom Center staff and scholars. Each day here, I learn more. As an intern in the public affairs department, I have researched and written blog posts. For these, I have learned from the Ransom Center collections and holdings. That knowledge, though, is only the beginning. Ultimately, the benefit of working with intelligent, interesting, and passionate people is that they share those passions willingly. I have learned about the evolution to digital photography, how to conserve a decaying book, how exhibitions are formed, and how collections are organized. Every person at the Ransom Center is a person to learn from. The greatest testament to this, I believe, is how unmanageably tall my book stack has grown during my time here.  The tasks and projects I have completed have improved my writing and research skills, but it is the level of intelligent, jovial, and interesting conversation that has taught me the most.

The University of Texas at Austin not only provides an excellent education for its undergraduate students, but also works to couple that education with compelling undergraduate experiences. Ideally, these experiences encompass the core values of the University: learning, freedom, discovery, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. My time at the Ransom Center has developed within me every one of those values. I have learned more than I could ever describe, discovered dozens of new authors, encountered new ideas, and was granted the freedom to enjoy every step of the process. This undergraduate experience is one I would never trade.

Gobsmacked: Professor Recounts Class’s Tour of the Ransom Center

By Elana Estrin

Jacket worn by Robert De Niro in 'Taxi Driver' from the Paul Schrader collection.
Jacket worn by Robert De Niro in 'Taxi Driver' from the Paul Schrader collection.

In October, University of Texas at Austin Psychology Professor Marc Lewis brought his freshman Plan II Honors class on a trip to the Ransom Center. Professor Lewis has won numerous teaching awards, including the Regents’ Outstanding
Teaching
Award and the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award. Below, Professor Lewis writes about his class’s private tour of the Ransom Center, led by Director Thomas F. Staley.
 

Page from the Shakespeare First Folio.
Page from the Shakespeare First Folio.

Over 30 years of teaching, I can remember many occasions where students were excited and interested, but my Plan II Honors Signature class’s visit to the Ransom Center on October 4 marks the first time that I have heard audible gasps of astonishment. The class arrived with high expectations, knowing that even among the “gems of the university,” the Ransom Center is unique. They had ordered an eclectic collection of treasures to view: the original manuscript of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” a Shakespeare first folio, Robert De Niro’s jacket from Taxi Driver, Volume 1 of the 1609 Douay Old Testament, original notes from a Woodward and Bernstein interview with Deep Throat, Abraham Ortelius’s 500-year-old map of the New World, a set of original architectural drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright, and various other rare items. The students came expecting that those exhibits would be the highlight of the day; what they did not expect was that the real magic would be a talk by Director Tom Staley followed by a personal tour of the closed, nonpublic sections of the building.

These freshmen students knew what they experiencing. As one student wrote afterwards: “Walking through rooms filled with original movie posters, books filled with presidential autographs, and other priceless historical artifacts spread casually along shelves was incredible in and of itself, but the places and people Dr. Staley took us to were even more remarkable. Seemingly without ever planning to do so, he showed us the full scope of the Ransom Center’s activities and their significance, everything from the meticulous preservation of the cover from a first edition of The Great Gatsby to colorful sketches of Macy’s parade floats from 40 or 50 years ago.”

Another student was as struck by the excitement of the Center as fully as he was by the items: “Having a backstage pass with Director Tom Staley as guide was a spectacular experience. Simply observing his reactions to the artifacts we saw being restored revealed to me the passion that goes into maintaining this Center.”

Conservator Ken Grant works in the paper lab, consolidating the paint layer on designer Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 drawing for floats and participants in Macy’s parade. The drawing will be included in an upcoming exhibition on Bel Geddes, with support generously provided by an FAIC/Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Conservator Ken Grant works in the paper lab, consolidating the paint layer on designer Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 drawing for floats and participants in Macy’s parade. The drawing will be included in an upcoming exhibition on Bel Geddes, with support generously provided by an FAIC/Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.

And: “Around a corner, we encountered an original poster for the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird—you just don’t find this sort of thing anywhere else. Sometime later in the trip, we were taken to a room where an ancient map a dozen-and-a-half feet long was undergoing a preservation process. You see this sort of artifact on the Discovery Channel and think, ‘Oh, that’s neat!’ but it is only when you see it first-hand that you get a true appreciation for the talent, dedication, and effort that goes into it all.”

Other students commented on the way that the Ransom Center’s collections connect the dots to show artistic flows of thought: “The Ransom Center’s pursuit of an understanding of the creative process and the artistic mind made me completely rethink the process of bringing together collections of art and writing.”

These students had never seen anything like the Ransom Center, and I am pleased that they were wise enough to understand how rare an opportunity they were given. I understood that opportunity as well, and I am not embarrassed to admit that my own jaw dropped more than once during the visit. What an astounding afternoon.