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Austin, Texas

The Harry Ransom Center

The upstairs reading room is packed with millions of rare books, literary manuscripts, and historical treasures. 

Most visitors to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin gravitate toward catching a glimpse of its two star artifacts: a rare Gutenberg Bible and the world’s oldest surviving photograph. Fewer people head upstairs, where the true treasures await.

Go through a quick, free registration and informational training and you can be granted access to the Hazel H. Ransom Reading and Viewing Room, where you can peruse a mind-boggling 36 million literary manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs and more than 100,000 works of art. And wow, is there something for everyone.

The room is full of fascinating pieces from history, like three copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, an official declaration by Napoleon Bonaparte, a 16th-century globe designed by Gerardus Mercator, love letters from a 19th-century Mexican emperor, and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s notes, interviews, manuscripts, and other documents from their coverage of the Watergate scandal.

Literary gems include manuscripts from the likes of poet Anne Sexton, actor Robert De Niro, writer Samuel Beckett, and photographer Larry Clark. There’s a handwritten journal John Steinbeck kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath, and another one kept by Jack Kerouac while he prepared to write On the Road. There’s even a suppressed first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Lewis Carroll recalled after the illustrator was displeased with how his images printed.

In addition to writings and manuscripts, you’ll find props from movies like Gone with the Wind, Tarot Cards colored by Aleister Crowley himself, Edgar Allan Poe’s writing desk, John Wilkes Booth’s production prompt book for Richard III, and unused props designed by Salvador Dalí.

There’s much more, most of which is cataloged on the center’s website, making it fairly easy to complete a quick search.

Know Before You Go

It's all free. You don't need to be a student or academic to access the materials. Curious fans and nerds are welcome.

Some materials are not available on some days, some must be requested in advance, and some are too fragile for public viewing. There are extensive details available on the HRC's website, but the process is pretty easy if you just show up.

The staff can help you find something cool but it's best that you do some research ahead of time.