This Briscoe Center’s reopening of new public spaces on the UT campus is now at hand. Next week we’ll begin final preparations, applying the finishing touches to the new reading room, exhibit spaces and seminar rooms. We’ll reopen on April 10, but you’re invited to a special open house preview on Saturday, April 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I hope that you can join us.
These new public spaces will greatly enhance our mission to foster exploration of our nation’s past through exhibits, research, documentaries, digital projects and publications. But at the heart of any and all of these endeavors is the same thing: collections.
The Briscoe Center is home to 7 million photographs, 200,000 books and periodicals, 84,000 linear feet (17 miles) of manuscripts and archives, 57,000 sound recordings, 35,000 maps, 35,000 film and video recordings, 5,500 newspaper titles, 25,000 material culture objects and 13 historic buildings. Furthermore, the Briscoe Center actively seeks out the archives of America’s contemporary history makers. These collections form the inspiration for countless projects—both Briscoe Center projects and those of scholars, filmmakers and writers who come and perform research here.
Those projects—each and every one in some small way—has the capacity to be of service to America’s democratic vitality, because they enable the discourse on American identities, origins and values (however fierce) to remain rooted in evidence. Collections represent the raw materials for scholarly and public debate about what actually happened. Without this evidence there is no history—only myth, legend, folklore or even purposeful fabrication, half-truth and denial.
There have always been archives, but in the 19th and 20th centuries they evolved into something far more accessible. Because of this, history has become something we revise, debate, cherish and dispute. History has become controversial, liberating, dangerous, powerful and far more open. I’m excited for the future of the Briscoe Center not simply because we have wonderful new spaces, but because we continue to build an outstanding archive of historical materials.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History