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Rackoff Fund Awards Student Prizes for Primary Research

By Darren Miller | Development Communications | Feb. 4, 2015

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Wayne Rackoff 75C and his wife established the Betsy and Wayne Rackoff Fund to encourage students' use of primary source material.

Emory Photo/Video

Emory professor Ronald Schuchard’s students expected his 1975 study-abroad course in England to cover the country’s celebrated writers. Schuchard, however, wanted to go beyond a staid anthology. To deepen the experience, he called the University of Nottingham for access to its extensive collection of D. H. Lawrence materials.

Invited to bring his class, Schuchard expected to arrive at the famous writer’s birthplace—a couple hours’ north of Oxford, where the Emory group had been studying—and view a few manuscripts safeguarded in a glass case. Instead, the group entered a large room with manuscripts, letters, diaries, and other items spread out across six tables. Students buzzed with excitement, bouncing back and forth between tables, hollering to each other with every new discovery. “I’ve never seen such an electrified group of students,” says Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English emeritus, who joined Emory in 1969. “It was the intellectual highlight of the trip for all of us. It changed my teaching life.”

The experience made a lasting imprint on Wayne Rackoff 75C too. “It opened my eyes,” says Rackoff, one of about 30 Emory students on that trip nearly 40 years ago. “It revealed not just the end product, but the process and amount of editing that is involved. So much research today is done without ever touching the original materials of writers that it can be hard to understand how one three-stanza poem goes through dozens of iterations.”

Now Rackoff, vice president of clinical oncology at Janssen Research & Development (a Johnson & Johnson company), wants to ensure students at his alma mater take full advantage of the “real treasure” available to them—Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. Along with his wife, Rackoff has committed three gifts of $10,000 to MARBL, establishing the Betsy and Wayne Rackoff Fund.

The fund will create two new prizes for Emory students beginning in the 2014–2015 academic year:

  • The Schuchard Prize will award $1,500 each academic year for the best paper written on the basis of primary source material submitted for a class offered by the Department of English.

  • The Alan Rackoff Prize will award $1,500 each academic year for the best paper written on the basis of primary source material submitted for a class in any other academic department.

“We wanted to do something meaningful enough to attract students to a place that’s unique to Emory,” Rackoff says. “I hope these prizes will encourage students who might not have used the archives before to discover the value of this resource.”

Rosemary M. Magee, director of MARBL, is very pleased that the awards instituted by the Rackoffs will do just that.

“These two prizes highlight the power of primary evidence to shape knowledge,” she says. The Rackoffs’ generosity, she adds, also demonstrates Schuchard’s ongoing influence.

Schuchard and Rackoff, energized by the encounter with the Lawrence archives, would visit a London bookseller later that summer and make another fateful discovery: a three-foot-square limited edition of Cave Birds by Ted Hughes. Schuchard purchased the large volume and brought it back to Emory, knowing it might spawn something even bigger.

“That really is one of the original legs of the table of what the collection has become today,” Rackoff says. “That trip opened Ron’s eyes to how much interest undergrads have in these materials.”

Schuchard views MARBL as a humanities laboratory and has long used the world-class collection as an essential teaching tool. “There are some real teaching moments when a student’s jaw drops,” he says. “These prizes encourage students to use the rare materials in MARBL in their work and see the value of primary sources. There is a pride that comes from handing in a paper that relies on firsthand engagement with previously unpublished materials and original research.”

Thanks to the seed brought back from England by Schuchard’s study-abroad group and the subsequent growth of MARBL, along with the unique access it offers undergrads and scholars alike, Emory students no longer need to travel across the pond to experience the kind of magic Rackoff did. An easy stroll across the Quad will do.

To invest in MARBL, contact Alex Wan at 404.727.5386 or alex.wan@emory.edu.