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Student Blog: Harry Ransom Center

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View of a book with its cover removed, showing the fabric strips running across the binding.

​During treatment; resewing the textblock on a book belonging to the Briscoe Center for American History​. (Image: K. Ferguson)

​Last fall, I began my third-year internship at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The conservation team works mostly on book, paper, and photo collections, however the Ransom Center also has objects, textiles, paintings, and so much more within their collections, which makes also having a preventive team a bonus. I am spending my time in the book lab under the supervision of Andrea Knowlton, and I'm so excited to learn from her experience and explore all Austin has to offer! 

While working in the book lab I've been able to work on books spanning many different centuries from the Ransom Center's collections. From Houdini's papers to an Ethiopic manuscript, I've been learning about treating such a wide range of materials that reflect the variety found within the collection. Another avenue of treatment for me this year has been from the Campus Conservation Initiative (CCI). ​

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A book lies on a table; the pages are loose and unbound.

​Before Treatment of “List of Slaves and Slaveholders: Slaves Subject to Road Duty” from the Briscoe​ Center for American History displaying the loose gatherings​. (Image: K. Ferguson)

​Initiated by the Ransom Venter, the CCI is a partnership with campus collecting institutions. With the Ransom Center being the only institution at UT Austin that has fully equipped and staffed preservation and conservation operations for special collections, the Center felt strongly that the university would benefit from expanding operations to care for the vast special collections and artistic holdings across campus. With funding support from the university's Office of the Provost, the CCI is in early stages, with a paper conservator on board devoted to treating items from the UT Libraries, the Briscoe Center for American History, and the Blanton Museum of Art. I am honored to be treating books from two of these 
institutions as part of my third year, and I'll be highlighting one below.

This book is a highly used ledger dating from 1850-1857 from the Briscoe Center for American History titled “List of Slaves and Slaveholders: Slaves Subject to Road Duty." This is one of many documents in the collection that provides insight into the institution of slavery as well as documents the names of both enslavers and enslaved persons in Adams County Mississippi before the Civil War. 

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A view of the spine of the book after the sections are sewn, before the cover is added.

​Springback binding book Model in progress; after sewing and attaching the lever​. (Image: K. Ferguson)

​In its current condition, the book cannot be safely used by researchers. Due to the binding style (a springback binding) the gatherings are detaching from the binding and are at risk for further damage or even disassociation.

One thing my WUDPAC training has taught me is that making models of book structures helps to understand the mechanisms and inner workings of books in order to construct an informed treatment proposal. As this was a new binding style for me, I am in the process of making a model to explore how the Briscoe book was made and am having such fun doing so! 

So far, I've learned so much in making this model and have been able to begin treatment on the Briscoe's book as a result! As seen here, the binding was detached from the textblock, and I have resewn it with strong, stable materials. The next step will be to reattach it to the cover, which is in great condition. Finishing up my model will help me make these informed decisions, and I'm looking forward to completing it so it can be used by researchers who come to the Briscoe Center from around the world! 

— Kaeley Ferguson​, WUDPAC Class of 2023

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A student works at a table and uses a special stand to assist with resewing the book sections.

​In progress photo of Kaeley resewing the textblock on “List of Slaves and Slaveholders: Slaves Subject to Road Duty.” (Image: Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa​)

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In this post, WUDPAC Class of 2023 Fellow Kaeley Ferguson talks about her internship at the Harry Ransom Center / UT Austin, including work with the Campus Conservation Initiative, and the treatment of ledgers from the Briscoe Center for American History.
 
 
1/31/2023
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