Out of the many places you can see when you visit Austin, Texas, don’t be surprised that one of the best ones is at a university. The University of Texas at Austin is a beautiful campus—full of rich history in every corner. The Austin campus is actually the flagship institution of the University of Texas system. It’s been around since 1883 and is still one of the best universities in the nation. Within its grounds is another gem waiting to be discovered. The Harry Ransom Center is an archive, library, and museum all rolled into one. If ever you’re in the area, this center is a must-see and here are 10 reasons why.
1. It’s free
If there were one good reason to see anything, it would be because it doesn’t cost money to see. That’s actually shocking considering the amount of wonders it holds behind its doors. The Harry Ransom Center is open to the public, which means that you don’t have to be a student or faculty at the University to have access. Curiosity is all that’s really required for you to get inside.
2. The room upstairs
For those who do their due diligence with research before going to a place, it pays to know a little bit more about the Harry Ransom Center before you go. You should know that there’s a hidden room upstairs where you can behold the multitude of creativity on display. In total, there are 36 million manuscripts, a million rare books, five million rare photographs, and 100,000 pieces of artwork. It’s hard to get your mind wrapped around those numbers; imagine getting to see them all in one place. You’ll have to register and go through an informational training before you can proceed, but we promise that the Hazel H. Ransom Reading and Viewing Room is well worth the trouble.
3. Special items
Everything that has to do with literature in this place is a fascination; but if you’re not interested in that, don’t worry. There are plenty of other things to see. Perhaps you’re more interested in seeing movie props from Gone with the Wind, or maybe you’d rather take a look at Edgar Allan Poe’s writing desk. Salvador Dali has some props stored in the center too, and there are also a number of tarot cards hand-colored by master occultist Aleister Crowley himself.
Many people visit the Harry Ransom Center for one specific purpose: to see a Gutenberg bible. Johannes Gutenberg was the German inventor of the first true printing press. This invention came about in the 1440s and it changed the course of publishing. One of the first major printing projects he did was the first printed edition of the Bible. He made 170 copies, and fewer than 50 copies survived to this day. Out of those 50 copies, 11 can be found in the United States, and one of them is at the Harry Ransom Center.
5. First photo
Apart from the Gutenberg bible, the Harry Ransom Center has another exceptional property: the world’s first recorded photograph. The photo is known as View from the Window at Le Gras. French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the photo in the 1820s. It was the view from his studio’s window in France. The process of taking the photo was quite extensive and involved a ton of trial and error, and Niépce, unfortunately, passed before he saw the idea of photography take off.
The Harry Ransom Center features permanent and special exhibits throughout the year. If you’re an art enthusiast, this center will surely tickle your fancy. Some of the exhibits that have been featured in the past include The Rise of Everyday Design and The Art of the Craftsman Style. You’ll also find a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, Ed Ruscha’s masterpieces, and so many others.
If you’re more of a history buff, you’ll also find some pleasure here. At the Harry Ransom Center, there are a number of interesting pieces of historical significance. There are some love letters written centuries ago between Mexican emperor Maximilian I and his wife Carlota. There’s an official declaration signed by Napoleon Bonaparte. There’s also a 16thcentury globe designed by Gerardus Mercator, and there are so many others.
8. Remote storage
Apart from the items you’ll see on display at the center, there are a few more that are actually in remote storage. Even further, there are rare books, manuscript, and artworks that the staff can’t even take out because of their condition. These books are important and well protected. You’d have to do your research to see if you can borrow something from remote storage, but make sure you give staff at least 3 days to get the material for you.
9. Docent tours
It’s amazing that the Harry Ransom Center is free, but there are also free docent tours at the center. Every day at noon, a free docent-led public tour happens around the center. There’s also one that happens on Thursday nights at 6pm, Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 2pm as well. While admission and tours are free, they kindly accept donations to those who wish to support the center.
10. Family affair
There’s something for every age to enjoy at the Harry Ransom Center. You can go by yourself for some quiet reading, or you can take the entire family for some wild exploration. You can spend an hour or two taking in as much as you can, or you can spend the entire day just finding something new to discover in every corner. Either way, the Harry Ransom Center is one place worth visiting over and over again. It’s a true gem in the Austin area.