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  • Harry Huntt Ransom: Intellect in Motion
  • Patricia Bozeman
Harry Huntt Ransom: Intellect in Motion. By Alan Gribben. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008. 356 pp. $60.00. ISBN 978-0-292-71704-6.

Harry Huntt Ransom (1908-76) was long associated with the University of Texas, having joined its English faculty in 1935. He eventually advanced to the post of chancellor of the University of Texas System, where he served until 1971. An innovative and forward-thinking educator, Ransom's philosophy of education strikes a familiar chord with many of the concepts current in the academy today: a focus on teachers' commitment to student success, the importance of achieving national and international ranking as a draw for the best faculty and scholars, [End Page 370] electronic instruction and materials access, cross-disciplinary and interinstitutional cooperation, and the central importance of world-class collections of books, manuscripts, and their supporting materials to support the scholarly enterprise, to name only a few.

It was Ransom's passionate vision to build a world-class library center supporting the arts and humanities. He rose through the university's administrative ranks, beginning with his 1951 appointment as assistant dean of the Graduate School. With his appointment as vice president and provost in 1957 he attained a position from which he could make this happen. Over what would become known as the Ransom years, lasting through his term as chancellor, he succeeded in creating a renowned center for rare books and manuscripts. One nationally prominent scholar-librarian stated in 1969 that the University of Texas had "telescoped seventy-five years of arduous library building into a scant ten years of Herculean effort" (232).

Alan Gribben's purpose in writing this book was to produce the first full-length biography of Harry Huntt Ransom, an undertaking that was eighteen years in the making. He has succeeded in creating a well-researched account that incorporates material from both rich archival resources and personal interviews covering the life of his subject.

Gribben made extensive use of the Ransom documentation in the university's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as well as an unnamed Ransom archives at the university, which, most surely, was the Harry Huntt Ransom Personal Papers housed at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC). The author also communicated with scores of Ransom's colleagues and others who personally knew Harry Ransom, including administrators, faculty members, librarians, and alumni, as well as Ransom's widow, Hazel Harrod Ransom (1920-93).

In the first quarter of the book, which introduces Ransom's family, Gribben makes the point that Ransom's father's large library as well as book gifts to young Harry encouraged an early interest in books and reading (9-10). Additionally, Ransom's mother made considerable sacrifices to ensure that her son was exposed to the best educational opportunities available.

Many of Ransom's ideas about student-focused teaching came from his own experiences at the University of the South and during his graduate school years at Yale. His views on the importance of primary research collections may have come from his own scholastic endeavors at Yale, especially in association with acclaimed professor Charles Brewster Tinker, a collector of first rank in his day and later the first keeper of rare books at Sterling Memorial Library.

The focal point of the biography is Ransom's career at the University of Texas. Two facets of his career intertwine: his philosophy of education as a teacher and administrator and—the feat for which he primarily is known worldwide—his amassing of rare books, manuscripts, and supporting material for what became the Harry Ransom Center. Gribben, however, does not fail to discuss two momentous events during his administration: racial integration of the university in the 1960s and campus unrest from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s stemming from opposition to the military draft and the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War.

Establishing himself as a legendary classroom teacher was the springboard from which Ransom would gain entry into university administration as assistant dean of the Graduate School. His capacity for hard work, his gift with words that "carried verve, zing," and an uncanny ability "to adapt his style to...


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