Harry Ransom Center digital archives allows study of popular entertainment

Alyssa Mahoney

The Harry Ransom Center unveiled its new digital collections earlier this week, putting digitized versions of 14 collections online.

The collections were spearheaded by digital collections librarian Elizabeth Gushee and included collaborations with curators. The project was funded in part by the Booth Heritage Foundation.

Gushee said the collection gives people access to resources they would not have otherwise.

“People don’t have to travel to Texas,” Gushee said. “We’d love for them to visit the Ransom Center, but if they can’t for financial reasons or whatever, they can access these collections online.”

Gushee said the digitized collections can reunite documents, which may be separated among multiple research centers or libraries.

“If something is online, it’s portable — you can take it with you, you can add it to other things, you can point your friends to it,” Gushee said. “It makes people more aware of the really unique content that these special collections libraries have.”

Performing arts librarian Helen Baer said there has been an increase in the study of popular entertainment in the past few years.

“Scholars are increasingly demanding materials in a digital format — not just texts, but also images,” Baer said. “That [interest] has skyrocketed in the past ten years.”

Leslie DeLassus, a research fellow at the Ransom Center, said she is working on a dissertation focusing on a collection about Norman O. Dawn, a special effects cinematographer. DeLassus said the recent digitization of the collection allows her added flexibility because she knew she could return to view the materials if she
encountered a research problem.

“Halfway through my visit, the material I was viewing gave me a new idea about my work,” DeLassus said. “I then was able to write this idea down, set it aside, knowing I can return to the material with this idea in mind.”

Gushee hopes to incorporate new tools such as Mirador, which would allow researchers to compare images of drafts side by side for close analysis.

DeLassus said materials such as advertising, publicity material and lobby cards are especially important to her work because Dawn’s films no longer exist.

“I had the privilege of listening to audio recordings of an interview with Norman Dawn available locally in an audio booth,” DeLassus said. “I would love to be able to access that material again remotely in the case that something I gain from the digitized material might motivate me to revisit the interviews.”