|Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin|
Lesser known dimensions of US Universities - Archives of history and literatureDuring my seven years at the University of Texas at Austin, I went a few times to Harry Ransom Center (HRC) which is an archive and a museum of art, literature and other historical documents. I now think, given what I have to say in the latter part of this post, that I should have gone there more and explored it in greater detail. When I first stumbled in there to discover the treasures it was holding, I was surprised why many students are not aware of this museum although this huge magestic building sits at a very busy interesection, located right on the busiest street of the university (the Drag, Guadalupe St) and across the much frequented 27 stories high Dobie Mall/Dorm and a few paces from the oft-visited central library (PCL). As mentioned in this wonderful article on Harry Ransom Center in the New Yorker:
"Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars."
|Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, UT Austin|
|Main Building, UT Austin|
I believe the collection of Urdu fiction books here may have been bigger than many of the libraries in Pakistan. I remember searching in 1988, the name "iqbal" in the titles held in the UT online catalog. The search returned over 1025 results showing what a treasure trove the sixth biggest educational library of USA at that time can yield. How many libraries in Pakistan can boast of over 1000 titles having the name "Iqbal". Most of the books from Pakistan were obtained as part of the PL480 US aid program during the Ayub Khan era. I remember reading many books on urdu literature from this collection. Thanks to my friend Nasir Rahman for introducing me to this wonderful collection.
It is so unfortunate that so many students who go and study in universities in USA, especially those from Pakistan, often do not take time out to go and visit such wonderful museums and collections that are there at all major universities.
We in Pakistan destroy history. I am trying to get some good recordings of the classic PTV dramas of the 1970s by Hasina Moin, and am unable to find good quality recordings. The first drama serial Khuda ki Basti (based on the book by Shaukat Siddiqi) aired during the late 1960s is lost. The latter remake done in the early 1970s has a pathetic recording. Recording of Shahzori (based on the story by Azim Baig Chughtai) and other plays written by Hasin Moin are incomplete and have pathetic recordings [please guide me from where I can get some good recordings].
The point I am trying to make is that we can't even preserve the arts and literature of forty years ago. How are we going to safeguard the manuscripts, writings and historical documents of hundred years ago of the times of Ghalib, Zauq and Sauda. They may already be lost. I know of the effort during Hakim Said's time at Madinat ul Hikmat library at Hamdard University where they are trying painstakingly to safeguard handwritten manuscripts of hundreds of years ago. But, such examples are few and far between. I think this is a task that should be taken up by our universities. Lack of such preservation of historical records has led to the incorrect interpretations of history and concoction of narratives related to the creation of Pakistan as seen in the Dawn Supplement of Aug 14, 2013 masquerading as scholarly.
We have already lost many rare and invaluable manuscripts stored for the last ten centuries in Tumbuktu libraries during the recent violence there. I hope many of them may have slipped through to the West and I wish they get preserved in collections there.
A nation that has no history, has no future. Those who forget history are then forgotten by the history. Ah! Would we be able to learn?