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Posts Tagged ‘University of Texas

“Living with those who have lived and the companionship of those who are no longer alive… archives are a kind of site in the sense of an archaeological site”*…

Inside cover of David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Players. The papers of both writers are collected at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas

Why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas? D.T. Max dives into what is, arguably, America’s “hottest” literary archive, and chronicles the acquisition strategy of its director…

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.

The current director of the center is Thomas Staley. Seventy-one, and a modernist scholar by training, he is mercurial and hard-driving. Amid the silence of the center’s Reading Room, he often greets visiting scholars with a resonant slap on the back. In college, at a Jesuit school in Colorado, Staley pitched in a summer baseball league, specializing in a slow, sinking curve. His “crafty pitch,” as he calls it, was good enough to attract the attention of professional scouts. The Ransom Center, under Staley’s leadership, easily outmaneuvers rivals such as Yale, Harvard, and the British Library. It operates more like a college sports team, with Staley as the coach—an approach that fits the temperament of Texas. “People take a special pride here in winners,” Staley says. “They like success.” (After the Ransom bought its Gutenberg Bible, the center sent the Bible on a victory lap, displaying it at libraries, museums, and universities around the state.)…

A fascinating look into the (surprisingly competitive) world of literary archives: “Final Destination,” from @dtmax in @NewYorker.

(One archive that is not at the Ransom Center is that of Lou Reed. His widow and executor Laurie Anderson had originally intended to house the papers, tapes, and memorabilia there, but changed her mind when the Texas legislature passed a law allowing the open carry of hand guns on state college campuses. They are now at the New York Public Library– and the subject of an exhibit at The Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.)

* John Berger


As we turn every page, we might send archival birthday greetings to Henry Clay Folger; he was born on this date in 1857. A businessman and philanthropist, he founded (with with his wife, Emily Jordan Folger) the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., an independent research library (and archive) that houses the world’s largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period (1500–1750) in Britain and Europe. The library is privately endowed, and is administered by the trustees of Folger’s alma mater, Amherst College.


Now we’re cooking!…


It is not often in life we have the privilege of handling a masterpiece of ingenuity. But we do it without thinking when we cook one of nature’s most brilliant creations—the unassuming but extraordinary egg.
—Anne Gardiner and Sue Wilson, The Inquisitive Cook

From the ever-exciting Exploratorium, “The Science of Cooking“… which, like everything at this marvelous institution, is anything but dull: “Discover how a pinch of curiosity can improve your cooking! Explore recipes, activities, and Webcasts that will enhance your understanding of the science behind food and cooking.”


As we explore the broccoli forest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that the University of Texas- Arlington became the nation’s first accredited institution of higher education to offer a course in belly-dancing.



Adventures in Cosmology: Starting out Simply…

Why was entropy so low at the Big Bang? (source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Back in 2010, SUNY-Buffalo physics professor Dejan Stojkovic and colleagues made a simple– a radically simple– suggestion:  that the early universe — which exploded from a single point and was very, very small at first — was one-dimensional (like a straight line) before expanding to include two dimensions (like a plane) and then three (like the world in which we live today).

The core idea is that the dimensionality of space depends on the size of the space observed, with smaller spaces associated with fewer dimensions. That means that a fourth dimension will open up — if it hasn’t already — as the universe continues to expand.  (Interesting corollary: space has fewer dimensions at very high energies of the kind associated with the early, post-big bang universe.)

Stojkovic’s notion is challenging; but at the same time, it would help address a number of fundamental problems with the standard model of particle physics, from the incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity to the mystery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

But is it “true”?  There’s no way to know as yet.  But Stojkovic and his colleagues have devised a test using the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a planned international gravitational observatory, that could shed some definitive light on the question in just a few years.

Read the whole story in Science Daily, and read Stojkovic’s proposal for experimental proof in Physical Review Letters.

As we glance around for evidence of that fourth dimension, we might bid an indeterminate farewell to Ilya Prigogine, the Nobel Laureate whose work on dissipative structures, complex systems, and irreversibility led to the identification of self-organizing systems, and is seen by many as a bridge between the natural and social sciences.  He died at the Hospital Erasme in Brussels on this date in 2003.

Prigogine’s 1997 book, The End of Certainty, summarized his departure from the determinist thinking of Newton, Einstein, and Schrödinger in arguing for “the arrow of time”– and “complexity,” the ineluctable reality of irreversibility and instability.  “Unstable systems” like weather and biological life, he suggested, cannot be explained with standard deterministic models.  Rather, given their to sensitivity to initial conditions, unstable systems can only be explained statistically, probabilistically.

source: University of Texas

First Takes…

The very first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who aimed a camera obscura, which held a polished pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), out the window of the upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Varennes country house, Le Gras. After a day-long exposure, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum, which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was this permanent direct positive picture– a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter:

(For more on Niépce and the story of his pioneering accomplishment, visit the source of this photo, the site of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.)

But in many ways as interesting as the first photo of anything is the first photo of a specific thing.  OObject has curated a collection of a dozen of the most interesting “firsts,” from the first photo of a human face

Self portrait of Robert Cornelius, 1839

… to the first photo on the web

Les Horribles Cernettes (LHC... pun intended*), a band at CERN (where Tim Berners-Lee "created" the web), 1992

More– from the first photo of the whole earth and the first x-ray to the first color photo and the first picture of the surface of another planet– at OObject.

As we say “cheese,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that George Gershwin signed his name to the completed orchestral score of the opera Porgy and Bess. The composer considered the 700-page work his masterpiece; many critics agree, considering this first American opera to be the finest American opera.

From the title page of the manuscript score (source: Library of Congress)


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