Four hundred years ago, on December 5, 1623, Sir Edward Dering spent nearly £4.50 as he went about London throughout the day. The 25-year-old bought a number of household items, sent a letter to Cambridge, and saw a play. He also went to see a bookbinder, paying to have a group of printed plays from his collection bound together. He purchased some new books, too: two more playbooks, a Latin book of “considerations upon eternity,” the Workes of playwright and poet Ben Jonson, and two copies of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. This last title, now best known as the First Folio, had just been published, probably less than a month earlier. At £1 each, the two Shakespeare volumes were, by a wide margin, Dering’s largest expenditures of the day. In second place was the set of knives he bought for a friend, and they ran only 12 shillings—just over half the cost of a single First Folio. Even the Jonson volume, a substantial book in its own right, was only 9 shillings. [Read more…] about The Long Lives of First Folios
by BARRIE GELLES
My heart was racing because I had just bolted through the New York City theatre district. As far as I was concerned, there was an archival emergency. I recognize the absurdity and humor in claiming that I was having a musical theatre crisis, but the urgency felt real. Having a desperate need to discover the answer to my question felt simultaneously stressful and exciting. Sometimes, archival research is subdued and slow paced while you sit in a quiet room, carefully taking notes and collecting sources. But, some days, you find yourself frantically checking your research notes in the middle of Times Square, looking through two separate archives, and trying to find answers in between meetings with producers at a Broadway theatre. Some days, the connection between the “then” of an archive and the “now” of a theatre production is immediate. Some days, archival research is really quite thrilling.
This summer, the Harry Ransom Center’s Preservation and Conservation Department opened its doors to undergraduate interns in order to provide hands-on experience in the field. One of those interns is Malachi McMahon. A rising senior at Prairie View A&M University, McMahon is spending a month learning about preservation, conservation, digitization, and more.
There are few routine days on the job for McMahon, whose favorite days have included learning about the binding, design, and construction of 16th-century bibles and making isinglass, a natural glue made from gelatin and sturgeon bladders.
If you have any interest in fine arts or literature, history, this would be a great place to find a new experience and perspective.
“I expected to do more paperwork, but I’m actually glad that I’m doing more hands-on training,” McMahon said. In addition to these new skills, McMahon says he will take other lessons back to school in the fall. “I learned how to be more professional and how to carry myself in a professional setting.”
New initiative is designed to protect cultural collections across the UT campus
Michael Gilmore’s tenure at the Ransom Center began in 1982, after a transfer from UT’s Perry-Castañeda Library on the advice of a friend. “That’s how I ended up over here with rare books and manuscripts,” he says. “It was just a delight.”
Through it all, he’s been a passionate advocate for the extraordinary objects in the collections. After eighteen years at the Center, Gilmore retired on June 16, 2023 from his role as Visual Materials Circulation Coordinator in the Reading and Viewing Room.
I asked Gilmore to show me his favorite item: a book from the collection of Ernest Hemingway, from a box of materials that was kept sealed until 25 years after his death. Gilmore was the one to catalog it.
The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of English poet James Fenton, whose body of work reflects on the political upheavals of our time, including the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the suppression of political protest in China’s Tiananmen Square, and Northern Ireland’s fratricidal bloodletting.
His papers include notebooks and loose manuscript and typescript drafts spanning his career as a journalist, critic, and poet. Letters within the Fenton papers document his lifelong friendship with his Oxford tutor, John Fuller, and with leading writers of his generation, including Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, Redmond O’Hanlon and Craig Raine, as well as with his partner, Darryl Pinckney.