The New Generation of Archives

Today an interesting exhibit opens at the Ransom Center in Austin. Culture UnBound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century presents archives of writers or artists acquired in the past decade. So the focus is "modern archives," for example those of Julian Barnes, Jayne Anne Phillips, Don DeLillo, Tim O'Brien, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Norman Mailer. These twentieth-century letters, photographs, notebooks, and journals (such as those of David Mamet seen here) will be on exhibit through July 31.

David Foster Wallace is another highlight of the show. The Ransom Center acquired his archives in 2009 and just opened it to researchers this past fall. Which is good news for the many researchers who have been eager to study Wallace's writings. As Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center, said back in September, "It is quickly becoming apparent that this is an opportunity for the Ransom Center to welcome a new generation of scholars into our reading room, just as the Wallace papers themselves mark a new generation of writers to be acquired by the Center."

This trend was recently picked up by Jennifer Howard in The Chronicle of Higher Education. She wrote:

Those paying attention will notice that younger scholars, including graduate students and postdocs, loom unusually large in all this activity: organizing conferences, contributing papers, coediting collections. That trend has made itself evident at the David Foster Wallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, too.

As the archive's curator, Molly Schwartzburg is on the front lines of scholarly interest in Wallace. She oversees an abundance of newly available material to tempt scholars: manuscript drafts, correspondence with editors, annotated books from Wallace's library. After The Pale King is published this spring, the center will receive materials related to that novel as well.

Since the Wallace archive opened in September 2010, Schwartzburg and her colleagues have been flooded with queries from researchers. "There's extremely high interest in the collection, especially from younger scholars," she says. "Wallace was born 10 years later than any other writer whose archive we house. That really is notable, and it's reflected in the demographic of researchers we're hearing from." Many are graduate students, the curator says. "Younger scholars early in their career are doing a lot of work on Wallace."

Adding to this chorus is Columbia University Press, which just released Wallace's
Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, a critique of Richard Taylor that Wallace wrote as an undergraduate at Amherst. His unfinished novel, The Pale King, will be published this spring by Little, Brown & Co., which will certainly feed the new scholarship.