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University of Texas at Austin partners with online learning initiative

Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger and University of Texas at Austin Professor of Philosophy Daniel Bonevac will be teaching an online course this fall on “Ideas of the Twentieth Century.”
Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger and University of Texas at Austin Professor of Philosophy Daniel Bonevac will be teaching an online course this fall on “Ideas of the Twentieth Century.”

When University of Texas at Austin Professor of Philosophy Daniel Bonevac and Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger taught the course “Ideas of the Twentieth Century” last fall, they had 100 students.

This fall, they will teach over 20,000.

“Ideas of the Twentieth Century” is one of the courses offered by The University of Texas at Austin as part of the UT System’s partnership with edX, a nonprofit online learning initiative. Launched by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012, edX collaborates with universities across the country to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs).  MOOCs boast unlimited enrollment and are free for all participants.

Of the classes submitted by The University of Texas at Austin for the upcoming school year, four are currently open for registration and will begin September 15. Besides “Ideas of the Twentieth Century,” those interested can also take “Energy 101,” “Age of Globalization,” and “Take Your Medicine: The Impact of Drug Development.”

Bonevac and Flukinger’s course explores the changing mindsets and morals of the past century through the lenses of philosophy, literature, art, and history. Although they have taught this course five times before as one of the University’s Signature Courses for incoming freshmen, the class had to be adapted for an online audience.

“Our time is much more limited in teaching the online course, so each session had to be reduced down to the more basic concepts, trends, and ideas,” Flukinger said. “And, obviously, the other fact that you miss immediately is the interchange of ideas and discussion with your students. The production studio tends to be a much more detached environment than the customary give-and-take of the classroom. But such are always the tradeoffs with any mass media. And, at the same time, I do find it very invigorating to attempt to expand our teaching to a much larger and more diverse global community.”

Seminar exposes students to the Ransom Center’s photography holdings

Dr. Sherre L. Paris—lecturer at The University of Texas School of Journalism—teaches her undergraduate class “A Cultural History of Photography” at the Ransom Center. During the three-hour-long-seminar, which meets every Tuesday in a classroom adjacent to the Ransom Center’s Reading Room, undergraduates work with primary source materials from the Center’s photography collections. “Cultural Compass” spoke with Dr. Paris about her experience teaching at the Ransom Center.

Ransom Center to offer summer undergraduate internships

Former undergraduate intern Rachel Platis worked on selecting photographs for an exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.
Former undergraduate intern Rachel Platis worked on selecting photographs for an exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith.

The Harry Ransom Center will support six undergraduate internships during the summer of 2013, four from The University of Texas at Austin and two from another accredited college or university.

The 14-hour-per-week positions will provide undergraduates with a hands-on and behind-the-scenes look at the operation of a humanities research center. Selected interns will choose from a variety of opportunities within the Center, including working with archives, exhibitions, marketing, public affairs, and curatorial departments of art, film, manuscripts, performing arts, photography, and rare books.

Learn more about the internships and application process. March 15 is the deadline to apply.

The internships will begin on June 10 and end August 16, 2013.

The Creekmore and Adele Fath Charitable Foundation has provided generous funding for these internships.

Notes from the Undergrad: The Penguin Illustrated Collapse

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Alyssa O’Connell is an English Honors junior in Professor Janine Barchas’s seminar, “The Paperback,” in which students used the Ransom Center’s collections to research the history of paperbacks.

Among today’s reading public, the ubiquitous Penguin Books are nearly synonymous with the notion of mass-market paperbacks. The publishing house’s continual commercial triumphs since Allen Lane founded it in 1935 have provided inexpensive literary texts for readers of all ages. Despite its successes, however, Penguin has also faced failure, and one such misstep occurred only three years after the company’s inception.

On May 18, 1938, Allen Lane introduced a new paperback series, the Penguin Illustrated Classics. Ten out-of-copyright novels, short stories, and poetry collections were released simultaneously and sold at the low cost of six pence each, which is the equivalent of around $1 to $2 in modern currency. The titles were Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne, Some Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Selected Poems by Robert Browning, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (in two volumes), Typee by Herman Melville, The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies, and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Every book featured at least 12 woodcut illustrations by reputable wood-engravers of the twentieth century.

Penguin’s inspiration for the books came in part from a fellow member of the Lane family. Allen Lane’s uncle, John Lane, was co-founder of The Bodley Head publishing house. From the company’s beginnings in 1887 and into the 1920s and 1930s, The Bodley Head published elite illustrated hardbacks in small quantities at high prices. Because there was a woodcut revival in the 1930s, the nephew believed it was the perfect market to present such illustrated texts with wood engravings in the new, accessible, and inexpensive paperback format. To highlight the artists, each front cover featured the illustrator’s name in slightly smaller print than the author’s name. Also, while the front flap of the dust jacket provided information about the author, the back flap offered a biography of the wood engraver. Penguin, therefore, endorsed the artists nearly as strongly as it promoted the writers.

Despite its hopes and efforts, Penguin soon found the Illustrated Classics struggling in bookstores. World War II was approaching, and the refined series alienated consumers who sought simplicity and current information. The journalistic Penguin Specials, a different Allen Lane product that offered plain aesthetics and up-to-date intelligence, became extremely popular while the experimental Penguin Illustrated Classics failed to rouse much interest. Furthermore, as illustrated texts, the poor quality Classics did not impress customers. The cheap, thin paper could not support the rather bold art of the wood engravers, thus undermining Penguin’s venture to merge sophistication with an economical product.

Ultimately, the Penguin Illustrated Classics failed to secure a niche in the market, belonging neither with the expensive hardbacks that had inspired them nor among the pre-war softcovers associated with their publisher. Penguin Books could not transform The Bodley Head’s concept into one of mass production, and the series soon vanished from British bookstores. Allen Lane, who remained with Penguin Books from 1935 until his death in 1970, encountered a disappointing initial failure that forced him to abandon his idea of uniting sophisticated hardback trends with affordable paperbacks.

"The Sphinx" by Oscar Wilde, 1894.
"The Sphinx" by Oscar Wilde, 1894.

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Undergraduate Visitor

English Honors seminar course on David Foster Wallace gives undergraduates a look into Wallace’s archive

Graduate intern Jenn Shapland, center, shares annotated books from Wallace’s library and research materials he used while writing “Infinite Jest.” Photo by Pete Smith.
Graduate intern Jenn Shapland, center, shares annotated books from Wallace’s library and research materials he used while writing “Infinite Jest.” Photo by Pete Smith.

Before spring of last year, I had only heard David Foster Wallace referenced by acquaintances and a TV show character with an affinity for oversized novels. When I was applying for my undergraduate internship at the Ransom Center, I noticed that the Center had acquired Wallace’s archive and opened it for research. I knew that a course on Wallace was being offered by the University as an English Honors seminar during the fall semester, and the opportunity to combine my academic studies with my new internship seemed like a perfect way to enhance my first experience with Wallace’s work. What I believed to be a simple coincidence turned out to be an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole that is the mind of David Foster Wallace.

My first experience with Wallace was his essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and I immediately fell in love with his wit and intimate voice. I would need aforementioned love to lay the foundation for my relationship with Infinite Jest, which has been admittedly rocky, yet rewarding. My professor, Heather Houser, has done an excellent job planning our exposure to Wallace, introducing us to his style in shorter, more light-hearted bursts before throwing us headfirst into the waters of Infinite Jest. She also planned two class trips to the Ransom Center to view items pulled from Wallace’s archive so that we could read marginalia written in miniscule handwriting, correspondence with editors and fans, and annotations in books that he used for research. When I asked her why she thought it was so important to bring our class to see Wallace’s archive firsthand, she replied, “Wallace’s letters, manuscripts, and notes show him to be a painstaking writer and reader. Writing was a laborious, often distressing process for Wallace. Students see this in the sheaves of drafts and series of letters between Wallace and his editors and friends.”

There is something about looking at an author’s handwriting, and leafing through his personal library that grounds you. This was a person, with a life and loved ones: an actual person wrote these books I’m reading, you think, and that realization can be sudden and startling. I am not quite sure why it is easy to forget about the human element of literature, but my time with the Wallace archive helped me remember that I am studying a brilliant person’s imagination incarnate.

I agree with this statement from my classmate Aaron Levine: “We as a class are privileged… most people who read Infinite Jest do not get to read it in segments and then have hour-and-a-half conversations with a room full of inquisitive minds.” It has been an even greater privilege to be taught by a professor who understands the value of pushing the limits of undergraduate study, and to have access to the unique resources that the Ransom Center has to offer. The experiences I have had as an undergraduate scholar at the Ransom Center have enriched my adventures as an intern, as well as my future academic endeavors. In fact, I am planning to research the Ransom Center’s collections for my upcoming undergraduate English Honors thesis.

Students in the David Foster Wallace course view a cinema book that Wallace read while working on “Infinite Jest.” Photo by Pete Smith.
Students in the David Foster Wallace course view a cinema book that Wallace read while working on “Infinite Jest.” Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

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.

Undergraduate intern Kelsey Handler unfolds a painting made by a Devil's  Island prisoner from the René Belbenoit Collection. Photo by Kelsey  McKinney.
Undergraduate intern Kelsey Handler unfolds a painting made by a Devil's Island prisoner from the René Belbenoit Collection. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Ransom Center members enjoy an exclusive tour of the current exhibition,
Ransom Center members enjoy an exclusive tour of the current exhibition,
Filmmaker and special effects pioneer Tom Smith discusses his work at the KLRU studios. Photo by Pete Smith.
Filmmaker and special effects pioneer Tom Smith discusses his work at the KLRU studios. Photo by Pete Smith.

Video: The Undergraduate Visitor at the Ransom Center

Each year, thousands of undergraduates come to the Harry Ransom Center to visit with a class, attend one the Center’s programs, or view an exhibition.

Since its founding, the Ransom Center has been an important resource for undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin. Harry Ransom believed that meaningful undergraduate education was not complete without exposure to rare books and manuscripts.

The Ransom Center continues to maintain this vision to encourage undergraduate interaction with its collections and is launching a new resource that provides information about the many opportunities available to undergraduates.

Whether an entering freshman or a graduating senior, students can explore and be inspired by the offerings of the Ransom Center. Through exposure to and interaction with collection materials—whether it be a manuscript, photograph, artwork, or rare book—students can open the door to the creative process.

Undergraduate students tour the Ransom Center galleries. Photo by Pete Smith.
Undergraduate students tour the Ransom Center galleries. Photo by Pete Smith.

The Door to Opportunity: Undergraduate Internships at the Ransom Center

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

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.