2014 was quite simply a great year for the Briscoe Center. Our collections have grown richer, our events have been well attended, and our exhibitions have gained nationwide media attention.
In 2014, the center acquired a number of first-class research collections, including the Ron Bennett Photographic Archive, the papers of LBJ confidants Harry McPherson and John Singleton, and those of important writers such as Alexander Cockburn and Clifford Irving. We also acquired the Willie Nelson Collection, which became the basis for a permanent display, Willie Nelson: Texas Icon, now open to the public at the north end of UT’s Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. I was personally delighted that Willie joined UT Austin President Bill Powers and myself for the opening reception of the display back in November.
We also acquired a unique body of historical evidence: the StudioEIS Archive. Over the last 40 years, StudioEIS has produced more historical sculptures than any studio in the United States, making the record of their work itself part of America’s cultural history. By documenting the creative process of countless historical projects, the StudioEIS archive lifts the veil on how public commemoration is conceived, initiated, and realized.
In short, the archive represents a significant addition to the center’s collection strength related to historiography, imagery, and memorialization. That strength includes the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection, which documents the symbolism and significance of flags and heraldry, and the Coppini-Tauch Papers, which detail Pompeo Coppini’s historical sculpture projects including the World War I Littlefield Memorial Fountain on the UT Campus. These archives offer researchers something different when studying the way the past is collectively conceived. Currently, America is in a special season of public remembrance, which makes these kinds of collections even more important.
For example, 2014 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, commemorated on campus with the Civil Rights Summit earlier this year. Looking ahead to next year, 2015 marks 150 years since the end of the Civil War, 70 years since the end of the Second World War, and 20 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. The Briscoe Center, with its unique collections, is poised to help scholars, students, and the public make sense of it all.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History