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Notes on a Native Son The Work of Harry Ransom BY DAVE OLIPHAI4T MOST OF THE prominent figures who shaped this state’s history were not native sons or daught ers. Stephen F. Austin, Mary Aukin Holley, Sam Houston, Elisabet Ney, Ashbel Smith to name a few came to the state after receiving their education, training, or life-shaping experiences elsewhere. The contributions of these immigrants to the design and spirit of Texas have been largely acknowledged, if only meagerly understood. Native Texans who have left an indelible mark on the land and the character of its people and institutions are a smaller number, rarely known or acknowledged or understood by the general public. Among such natives I would mention Walter Prescott Webb, Eugene C. Barker, J. Frank Dobie, and Harry Huntt Ransom; all were thinkers and teachers associated with the University of Texas at Austin. Perhaps the least famous of these four names is the last; and yet it could be that Harry Ransom has willed to the state the most far-reaching intellectual inheritance of them all. This is not to deny the significance of Webb’s historical writings on the great plains and the great frontier, or of Barker’s biography of Stephen F. Austin and his work in establishing the Texas History Center, or of Dobie’s studies in folklore and animal symbolism and his vital influence on folklorists like Americo Paredes and Francis Abernethy. But Ransom’s contributions to a native tradition of intellectual life include not only Texas history, biography, and folklore but a wide range of interests, from copyright law to libraries, from education to medicine, from the humanities in general to the practice of poetry and the graphic arts. Harry Ransom was born in Galveston on November 22, 1908, and “grew up in a 50bed hospital” in Sewanee, Tennessee. From 1935 until his death in 1976, he served the University of Texas as part-time English instructor, full professor, associate dean of the Graduate School, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, president, and chancellor of the UT System, among other positions. He was also associate editor of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, an editor with J. Frank Dobie and Mody C. Boatright of early publications of the Texas Folklore Society, and the founder and editor of the Texas Quarterly. Dave Oliphant is a writer and poet who lives in Austin. GAIL WOODS Harry Ransom Most commentators on Ransom’s career consider his creation of the Humanities Research Center at UT-Austin as his major achievement, and Ransom himself was justifiably proud of this internationally acclaimed archive of rare books, manuscripts, photography, theatre arts, and iconography. According to Decherd Turner, a former director of what is now the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Ransom effected a revolution with “one basic conclusion: that the first edition is not the beginning of the literary process, but rather its end. . . . In other words, the true seat of analysis, criticism, and understanding of the literary process lies in the pre-published materials, and thus the need for complete archival collections.” With this in mind, Ransom set out to collect all stages of the production of creative works, from notes to manuscript drafts to galleys to pageproofs to first and successive editions. His work left the University of Texas with one of the most important collections of archival materials for the late 19thand early 20thcentury literature of America, Britain, and France. While there seems no doubt that the Ransom Center will have a worldwide impact on the study of the humanities for generations to come, Ransom’s own writings stand as a remarkable testament to the dedicated mind behind the creation of his research collections, as well as an inspira tion for aspiring thinkers and writers. Ransom’s first major book, entitled The First Copyright Statute \(An Essay on “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning,” University of Texas Press. Ransom’s interest in the “Act of Anne,” as the statute was known, is a clear indication of his lifelong concern for education and the sources for learning in the written and printed word. This first book also contains ample evidence of Ransom’s lucid and logical thinking, of his ability to handle complex ideas in an uncomplicated, uncluttered, and impersonal prose style. Ransom’s sentences consistently achieve great clarity in offering syntheses of broad historical movements and tendencies: Throughout English society, effects of the earliest printed words went deep, and, at first, official response to the press was swelling expectation and eagerness: here was a welcome thing, a blessing to the society and a forwarding of the Kingdom of God. But very soon political sensitivity sharpened the realization that printing was capable of forming opinions and rousing action. Religious sensitiveness sharpened that realization in a different way: here was an instrument that could undermine doctrine as well as establish it. One irony revealed by Ransom’s study of developments leading up to the “Act of Anne” though it is not specifically noted by him is the fact that while printers and booksellers in the 16th and 17th centuries were protesting the infringement of copyright as a discouragement of learning, England was enjoying its golden age of literature. Ransom acknowledges that even in those days a possibly greater discouragement to learning was that “poverty was an unavoidable condition of study and writing.” Despite this fact, his book on copyright law demonstrates both the undaunted activity of intellectual curiosity among writers and readers at the time and Ransom’s devotion to publication as a means of education and to the encouragement of learning as it was promoted by one of the First Statute’s “main purposes”: “to assist libraries and to guarantee a complete record of English literature” by requiring the deposit of copies of all printed works in the major libraries of England and Scotland. To encourage learning in Texas, Ransom established in 1957 what he hoped would become “a center of cultural compass, a 18 JULY 14, 1989