Harry Ransom Center

The Harry Ransom Center (formerly the Humanities Research Center until 1983) is a University of Texas at Austin archive, library, and museum specializing in the collection of literary and cultural artifacts from the Americas and Europe for the purpose of advancing the study of the arts and humanities. The Ransom Center is home to 36 million literary manuscripts, 1 million rare books, 5 million photos, and over 100,000 works of art.

The center includes a reading area for researchers as well as galleries that host rotating exhibitions of works and artifacts from the collections. The center held approximately 6,000 research visits during the 2015-16 academic year, resulting in the publishing of over 145 books.


In 1957, Harry Ransom established the Humanities Research Center with the goal of augmenting the University of Texas’ rare book and manuscript holdings. The Edward Alexander Parsons Collection, the T. Edward Hanley Collection, and the Norman Bel Geddes Collection were all acquired by him.

Ransom was only the center’s formal director from 1958 to 1961, but he oversaw and presided over a period of significant increase in the collections until his retirement as chancellor of the University of Texas System in 1971. In 1972, the facility relocated to its current location.

From 1961 until 1976, F. Warren Roberts was the official director, and he acquired the Helmut Gernsheim Collection of pictures, the archives of D. H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, and Evelyn Waugh, and the Carlton Lake Collection in 1968.

Following Roberts’ term, temporary directors John Payne and Carlton Lake served from 1976 until 1980. During this period (in 1978), the center obtained a full copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

Decherd Turner was recruited as director of the institution in 1980. The Giorgio Uzielli Collection of Aldine editions, the Anne Sexton collection, the Robert Lee Wolff Collection of 19th-century fiction, the Pforzheimer Collection, the David O. Selznick archive, the Gloria Swanson archive, and the Ernest Lehman Collection were all bought by Turner. Thomas F. Staley took over as director of the center after Decherd Turner retired in 1988. Staley had obtained the Watergate Papers, a copy of the Plantin Polyglot Bible, and more than 100 literary archives. Stephen Enniss was named director of the Ransom Center in September 2013. Enniss formerly served as the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Head Librarian. The Ransom Center has continued to gather archives under Enniss, including those of Kazuo Ishiguro, Arthur Miller, and Ian McEwan.

The name of the institution was changed from the Humanities Research Center to the Harry Ransom Center in 1983.

Collections of note

A Gutenberg Bible (one of just 21 complete copies known to survive) and Nicéphore Niépce’s c. 1826 View from the Window at Le Gras, the first successful permanent image from nature, are two noteworthy treasures in the Ransom Center’s holdings. Both of these items are on exhibit in the main lobby on a permanent basis.

Aside from them, the center holds several culturally significant papers and objects. Modern literature, performing arts, and photography are examples of particular strengths. Other important assets, in addition to the Gutenberg Bible and the picture, are:


  • Three copies of William Shakespeare’s plays from the 1623 First Folio
  • One of just 23 copies believed to remain of the suppressed 1865 first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  • The first edition of Luis de Cames’ 1572 Portuguese novel Os Lusadas.
  • Ezra Pound’s, Evelyn Waugh’s, Alice Corbin Henderson’s, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, and the Coleridge family’s personal libraries
  • George Atherton Aitken, Lewis Carroll, Doris Lessing, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, T. E. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence, T.H. White, Carson McCullers, Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Don DeLillo, Graham Greene, Brian Moore, Erle Stanley Gardner, David Foster Wallace, Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Bowen, J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julia Alvarez, Billy Collins, T.

The performing arts and theater

Stella Adler, Frith Banbury, Sebastian Barry, Samuel Beckett, Paul Bowles, Richard Buckle, Edward Gordon Craig, T. S. Eliot, Harry Frazee, Spalding Gray, David Hare, Lillian Hellman, Harry Houdini, Anne Jackson, Adrienne Kennedy, David Mamet, Terrence McNally, Arthur Miller, John Osborne, Sam Shepard, Peter O’Toole, J. B. Priestley, James Purdy,

Movies and television

  • Robert De Niro’s papers, David O. Selznick’s papers, Nicholas Ray’s papers, Edward Carrick’s papers, Alfred Junge’s papers, Jay Presson Allen’s papers, Lewis Allen’s papers, Ernest Lehman’s papers, King Vidor’s papers, Tobe Hooper’s papers, and Gloria Swanson’s papers.
  • Gone with the Wind costumes, script drafts, storyboards, and audition media. These are from the collection of David O. Selznick.
  • Unused Salvador Dal props intended for inclusion in the dream sequence of the 1945 film Spellbound.
  • Gloria Swanson’s sunglasses in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard
  • Scripts, drafts, notes, props, costumes, digital footage, and research materials from the American drama series Mad Men.


  • Frida Kahlo created two paintings: Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) and Still Life (1941). (with Parrot and Fruit)
  • Pablo Picasso’s 1930-1937 full set The Vollard Suite
  • Eric Gill, the designer of the Gill Sans font, sculpted a she-wolf figure in stone and covered it with gold leaf (which has since faded off).
  • Various writers’ busts (on display in the lobby and reading room)
  • Large collections of writers’ art and portraits of literary people
  • Facsimile of Maurice Ravel’s 1908 piano suite Gaspard de la nuit.


  • Gerardus Mercator’s 16th-century globe Kraus Map Collection, a 16th- and 17th-century cartographic collection
  • Napoleon Bonaparte’s formal proclamation
  • The Mexican Emperor Maximilian I’s love letters to his wife Carlota Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate-related notes, interviews, manuscripts, and other materials

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Next Point of Interest: George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center