Illustrated letter from Edward Lear to Augusta ("Gussie") Bethell (1881)

Illustrated letter from Edward Lear to Augusta (“Gussie”) Bethell (1881) (all images courtesy Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin)

Around 22,000 images from collections on 25 authors are now available through the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Called Project REVEAL (Read and View English and American Literature), the year-long initiative launched last week in conjunction with the center’s new open access policy for public domain materials. From Jack London’s letters to Thomas Hardy’s obscure architectural drawings, with manuscripts and correspondence by figures like Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield, L. Frank Baum, Oscar Wilde, Henry David Thoreau, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Project REVEAL is an impressive rabbit hole of rarely seen archives.

“Part of the Ransom Center’s mission is to encourage discovery and inspire creativity by sharing its incredible collections,” Liz Gushee, head of Digital Collections Services who oversaw the project, told Hyperallergic. “The adoption of an open access policy, which removes permission and fees, is a concrete way we can facilitate that creativity and use of our collection materials, by anyone, for any purpose.”

Pencil sketches by Gerard Manley Hopkins (November 25, 1854)

List of favorite books by Robert Louis Stevenson (undated) (click to enlarge)

The Ransom Center, which is both a humanities research library and a museum, has long had impressive literature holdings, with recent acquisitions including archives of David Foster Wallace and Gabriel García Márquez. The Project REVEAL digitized selections focus on authors from the United States and Great Britain. Some of the collections are huge, with Oscar Wilde, for instance, represented with typescripts of major works and examples of his correspondence; others are more modest, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, best known for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” on a woman’s claustrophobic madness, with a few compact manuscripts and letters. The Ransom Center offers succinct descriptions of what’s available on author landing pages, which links to high-resolution scans.

It’s a resource that rewards digging, whether paging through a journal of writing and drawings by poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, or checking out a list of favorite books by Robert Louis Stevenson (which is heavy on the Bible and Shakespeare). There are also some curiosities like a lock of hair from the deathbed of Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, playful illustrated comic verses by “The Gift of the Magi” author O. Henry sketched for his daughter, and detailed architectural drawings by Thomas Hardy for the restoration of St. Juliot’s Church in Cornwall.

The Ransom Center is planning to digitize and make available more material in the future. And for contemporary authors who might be considering what will become of their own archives in some public domain future, it might be worth taking a glance at the last will and testament of Katherine Mansfield. She asks her husband, to whom she leaves all her unpublished writing, “to publish as little as possible and to tear up and burn as much as possible. He will understand that I desire to leave as few traces of my camping ground as possible.”

Architectural drawing of St. Juliot’s Church in Cornwall by Thomas Hardy (April 8, 1867)

Page from illustrated comic verses by O. Henry for his daughter (undated)

Letter from Vachel Lindsay to John Martin Weatherwax with Lindsay’s printed “seals” at the foot of the page (December 14, 1927)

“Sonnet on a sonnet” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (April 27, 1880)

Lock of William Makepeace Thackeray’s hair (December 24, 1863)

Note from Jack London to Vincent Starrett: “Yours for the revolution” (March 25, 1911)

Access over 22,000 high-resolution images from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin at Project REVEAL.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...