Read, Hot and Digitized: The Texas Archive of the Moving Image

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Preserving audio visual materials is one of the biggest challenges for archivists and preservationists. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) has approached the preservation of Texas’ film history in innovative and unprecedented ways for the last 20 years. The non-profit organization solicits any kind of film – home movies, advertisements, local television programs, corporate productions, amateur films and even professional movie productions, and offers to digitize them in exchange for a donation of the digital copy. As a result, TAMI has a digital archive of over 50,000 films by Texans or about Texas. Created by Caroline Frick, currently the Associate Chair of Media Studies in the Radio, Television and Film department at UT Austin, TAMI’s stated goals are to “discover, preserve, provide access to, and educate the community about Texas’ film heritage.” Not only are they preserved for long-term historical and research purposes, but a huge number of those films are accessible online through TAMI’s website.

The casual user can enjoy this site by simply watching videos highlighted on their homepage. They feature a rotating selection of interesting films, with a ‘watch next’ feature and a ‘random video’ selector. I will admit to having fun reminiscing about places I’ve visited and lived in Texas, as well as getting sucked into the fascinating, the weird, and the sometimes inexplicable videos on the site (take, for instance, this baffling 1978 corporate wine industry video from Dallas).

More importantly, TAMI takes their educational mission seriously, with multiple sections that place films within their geographical, historical and social contexts. An education page provides lesson plans on topics from a Texas perspective such as The Cold War, The Dust Bowl and the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Each lesson plan includes a curated selection of films accompanied by class conversation prompts, assignment ideas and how the themes fit within Texas’ TEKS and STAAR standardized testing requirements. 

The Education and Web Exhibits pages bring together digital technologies in creative ways to teach new understandings of Texas history. The Webs Exhibits section looks at different aspects of Texas. For instance, ‘La Frontera Fluida – The Fluid Border’ explores films of the Texas-Mexico borderlands. On the site you can view films depicting historical events from a historical chronology page, a subject page, and even geographically from a map of the border. These value-added aspects are great examples of a digital-humanities approach, but TAMI also makes these films available for researchers to use in their own projects. Each film has code that allows you to embed the film on your own page. This makes the content of the archive ripe for myriad digital humanities projects exploring every aspect of Texas.

The University of Texas Libraries owns or subscribes to an enormous collection of audio-visual materials originating from every corner of the globe. A simple search in the library catalog for video/film turns up over 75,000 results. While the majority of this material is not necessarily focused on Texas, the library  does have incredible collections of audio-visual materials that originate in the state.

At the Benson Latin American Collection, for instance, we have significant collections of film focused on the history and culture of Latinas/os in Texas, especially focusing on Mexican Americans and the Chicano movement. This includes large numbers of interviews with prominent activists,  documentaries and archival collections such as the Cine las Americas video collection and a collection of their festival materials, the Robert P. and Sugar C. Rodriguez collection of Tejano Music videos, and the Los del Valle project. All of these materials can be crucial primary and secondary source materials for research projects. Taken together with the materials found in TAMI, I can almost always find something useful for students doing research on Texas Latinas/os when they are looking for audio visual materials. No other state has a statewide digital film archive like TAMI, and we are privileged to have such as amazing resource at our fingertips.

All images from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image website and Instagram site.

Further resources:

Frick, Caroline. “An Interview With Caroline Frick of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the University of Texas at Austin Department of Radio-Television-Film” The Velvet light trap: 2013, Vol. 71 (1), p. 42-6.

National Film Preservation Foundation https://www.filmpreservation.org/.

Library of Congress Moving Image Research Center. Digital Moving Image Collections. https://www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/ndlmps.html

Journey into the Archive: The McFarland Cuban Plantation Records

BY KATIE COLDIRON

The Benson Latin American Collection is a beacon for Latin Americanist scholars the world over. It has drawn researchers to examine its archival gems, particularly its strength in holdings that shed light on Mexico and Central America. Over the past few years, the Benson has further diversified its collection to better represent other parts of Latin America and strengthen its holdings on materials from the Caribbean as well as Latinx and African diasporas in the United States. Its well-deserved status as the top Latin American and Caribbean-focused collection in the United States is what drew me to UT Austin in the first place.

Before I was an Information Studies student at UT, I was a first-time graduate student diving into academia at the University of Florida. Having found employment in UF’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection, I was soon inspired by the wide variety of unique Cuban holdings present, such as autographed first editions of works by Cuba’s national hero and author José Martí. The mentorship of scholars of Cuba like historian Lillian Guerra further drew me into Cuban Studies. Five years and many trips later, Cuba continues to capture my interests, particularly now that I live and work in Miami, where the highest number of Cuban Americans in the United States reside.

Postcard from Holguín, where J.F. McFarland noted details from his trip to Cuba.

It should come as no surprise that the collection I am reviewing relates to Cuba. With the assistance of the Benson’s Caribbean Studies liaison librarian Adrian Johnson, I came across the McFarland Cuban Plantation Records. It is a bilingual collection of correspondence, company records, legal documents, news clippings, and personal photos relating to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. The company was originally organized and incorporated in New York State by twenty Pennsylvanians who came together to buy a 1000-acre plantation near Holguín, a city in eastern Cuba. The date of the incorporation, October 1, 1902, is important, as it came less than five months after the end of the four-year U.S. military occupation of Cuba following the conclusion of the Cuban War of Independence. During this turbulent period, Cubans negotiated with the legacies of Spanish colonialism as well as the neo-imperial presence of the United States at all levels of society.[1] Following the formal end of the occupation, U.S. interests did not disappear, but rather intensified, with 13,000 North Americans having bought land in Cuba by 1905.[2]

Of those twenty Pennsylvanians mentioned previously, nineteen eventually stopped paying the interest on their loans and thus ceased to be a part of the Cuban Plantation Company. The only original investor who remained was one J.F. McFarland. McFarland would eventually pass ownership of the company to his two sons, and in 1953, they officially changed the business’s name to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. During this period, their landholdings became entangled with a brewing revolutionary fervor against the brutal dictatorship of military strongman Fulgencio Batista, who was backed by multiple U.S. public and private interests. However, the story of the Cuban Revolution and the eventual agrarian reform that would affect U.S. interests like the those of the McFarlands is not a simple one.

Agrarian reform was on everyone’s minds, both inside and outside of Cuba. In June 1959, then–Prime Minister of Cuba Fidel Castro told the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Philip Bonsal that agrarian reform was “a matter of life and death.” U.S. landowners like the McFarlands and the United Fruit Company, which was the single-largest landowner in Cuba, found the prospect of agrarian reform worrisome. As the McFarland records show, they like many others assumed that Cuba’s revolutionary experiment would not last long. For example, in a 1959 letter from J.R. McFarland, the secretary-treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, to lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, McFarland wrote, “We also feel that the dictatorship of Castro will sooner or later terminate because of lack of finances, because he has alienated the people or governments from which he might have obtained finances.” In the same letter, McFarland also notes that the company felt they would be paid “a price below the actual worth of the land” or “in bonds of uncertain value.” As the years passed and Cuba found economic stability through a relationship with the Soviet Union, these assumptions turned into legal efforts to secure some form of compensation for expropriated properties. In the McFarland records, one can see that their efforts to receive compensation for their land continued as late as 1971.

Letter from J.R. McFarland to Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, employee of the Cuban Plantation Company who was given power of attorney on the company’s behalf. The letter notes that the company considered the Cuban revolutionary project to be temporary.

The culture of the U.S. plantation in Cuba was one in which North American custom reigned supreme, with many plantations having their own police forces subject only to the laws set by the landowner.[3] This detested system, and the poverty it created in the Cuban countryside, were so unpopular that agrarian reform was overwhelmingly supported by Cuba’s middle classes. As Lillian Guerra shows in her pivotal work on the first decade following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban middle classes supported agrarian reform via monetary donations, donations of agricultural machinery, and some even opening their homes to visiting guajiros (Cubans from the countryside) in a government PR initiative to open the luxuries of the city previously unavailable to them.[4]

While agrarian reform was wildly popular at its initiation, certain instances during this period foreshadow what would become an authoritarian regime. Fidel Castro directly controlled the agency tasked with instituting agrarian reform, the Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria, or INRA, along with a host of other government entities.[5] As he expanded his personal popularity and power, he also put his allies in positions that they were not always qualified for. For example, the medical doctor Ernesto “Che” Guevara was appointed as the head of the national bank. Urban underground activists, commonly known as “la clandestinidad,” who had fought on behalf of Castro’s 26th of July Movement, were displaced by those of the Partido Socialista Popular, a covertly Stalinist party and the not-too-distant allies of Fulgencio Batista during his first presidency and later dictatorship.[6]

Copy of letter sent to J.R. McFarland, then-secretary/treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, by Cuban company lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba. In the second-to-last paragraph on this page, Ferrer y Coba acknowledges the popularity of the then-provisional government.

The McFarland records provide little insight into life on their farm, but the collection includes a brief memoir about a family/company trip to Cuba written by J.R. McFarland, son of J.F. The farm is romanticized as a quaint country estate, but the tenants, like other facets of Cuba in the eyes of the author, are portrayed as primitive. Furthermore, racist imagery is present throughout, with most Cubans encountered labeled as “negroes.” This label also does not take into consideration the diversity of racial identifications in Cuba, where like other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, a variety of racial identifications exist apart from the dichotomy of “black” and “white.”[7] These instances provide important context for the plethora of social ills that arise when foreign entities control the land and people of an independent country. The agrarian reform in its infancy was a noble cause that enjoyed support from the Cuban masses and was a glimmer of hope for those seeking a more independent and egalitarian nation. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to dismiss what came after this period of hope.

The principal crop of the Cuban Plantation Company was sugar, a hugely important product in Cuban history. Early revolutionary ideals of crop diversification and self-sufficiency were displaced for more of the same. Instead of supplying the bulk of its sugar harvest to the United States, Cuba would instead provide its cash crop to the USSR. In the Soviet era, Cuba functioned as a quasi-colony of the USSR in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, failed agricultural initiatives like the Ten Million Ton Harvest (Zafra de los Diez Millones), which emptied other professional sectors of personnel in the name of carrying out a hefty sugar harvest, created ration shortages and the corruption of the ration system itself.[8] With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Cuba faced a massive decrease in food supply, with a 50% decrease in overall food production within its own borders.[9] This food insecurity has not been overcome to this day, with increasingly difficult U.S. economic sanctions, failed state agricultural policy, dependence on a limited supply of imports, and a stagnant economic structure where success is often determined by race, gender, lucrative familial connections abroad, and geographic location.[10]

Postcard depicting a home characteristic of the Cuban countryside. On his family trip to Cuba, J.R. McFarland thought that the image closely resembled that of a home on his company’s farm.

My time at UT Austin taught me much about amplifying voices that have been historically absent from the archive. At the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab of Florida International University, we are seeking to do just that, with strategic community partnerships around South Florida to document oral histories and create a more all-encompassing archive of the region and how different groups have experienced it. About archiving Cuban themes in South Florida, the tradition has been to almost exclusively preserve the stories of pre-1959 Cuba, prominent members of the exile community, and dissidents. While these stories are important, they should nonetheless be complemented by those of individuals who were brought up in Cold War–era and post–USSR collapse Cuba, as well as the more quotidian stories of Cuban exile life in South Florida from recent decades. As someone who has lived in and researched Cuba, I learned early on that the hyperpoliticization of the subject of Cuba leads to anyone willingly diving into post-1959, in-country themes being met with suspicion. However, for the sake of engaging research, preservation, and ultimately positive change in Cuba, these themes must not be pushed to the side.

While the situation I have described is unique, the Benson nonetheless offers a great example for these goals. The Benson’s historic holdings, like the Genaro García Collection and the Joaquín García Icazbalceta Manuscript Collection, are being complemented by newer, digitally based initiatives like the Voces Oral History Archive and post-custodial digitization in the region with partners like the Colombian Proceso de Comunidades Negras, or PCN. My hope is that one day, the archives in South Florida that more closely resemble the McFarland Collection can coexist with those of Cubans who lived through the turbulent decades of the Revolution, and those who came to Florida in later decades seeking libertad.

Throughout my professional and personal life in Florida and Cuba, I have seen both sides of the partisan battles surrounding Cuba and its contested future. On one side are those academics and activists who celebrate the successes of the Cuban Revolution without acknowledging the extent of its failures. On the other side, many in the Miami exile community, as well some U.S.  politicians, are unable to see the dire human costs of the trade embargo and toughening U.S. sanctions. The lack of room for critique leads to Cubans being nothing more than symbols to justify one view or the other, while also leaving Cubans—to borrow the words of cultural anthropologist Noelle Stout—“to make the long, hot walk back to their normal lives” when they are no longer on the radar of foreigners or the exile community.[11] In this moment, a climactic and potentially transformative one for the people of Cuba, they must be seen as more than props in a partisan battle, but agents in their own destiny.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published September 16, 2021, in the series Journey into the Archive: History from the Benson Latin American Collection, a collaboration between the Benson and Not Even Past. View the original here.


About the Author

A native of Kentucky, Katie L. Coldiron moved to Florida in 2016 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies, and she undertook her thesis research in Cuba under the advisement of Dr. Lillian Guerra. She was also introduced to library and archival work at UF, and parlayed different roles held during her time as a student into a position digitizing Cuban Judaica items and periodicals on the ground in Havana, all part of a post-custodial digitization project undertaken by the UF George A. Smathers Libraries. Following this experience, Katie enrolled in a library and information science master’s program at The University of Texas at Austin. During her time at UT Austin, Katie served as a graduate research assistant for digital projects at the UT Libraries, where she assisted area studies librarians on various facets of their digital projects. She also was a FLAS fellow at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. Katie is currently working as the Digital Archivist and Project Manager for the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab at Florida International University. She can be found on Twitter: @katielcoldiron.

Notes

[1] Mariel Iglesias Utset, A Cultural History of Cuba During the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[2] Louis M. Pérez, On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lillian Guerra, Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959–1971 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Devyn Spence Benson, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

[8] Guerra, 2012.

[9] Pérez, 2019.

[10] Hannah Garth, Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020).

[11] Noelle M. Stout, After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

Curating an Oral History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at The University of Texas at Austin

BY BRIANA MARIE DAVIS, CLASS OF 2021

Delta Xi of Spring 1966: Camilla Jackson, Beverly Robinson, Karen Williams, Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin, Carolyn Cole, Ruth Franklin, Mary Gordon, Linda Lewis, Mary Poston, Shirley Tennyson, Barbara Ward, Debbera Williams. Photo courtesy of Pamiel Johnson-Gaskin.

The honorable Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. was the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at The University of Texas at Austin. Sworn in on May 16, 1959, at high noon in the Queen Anne Room, this particular group of women is dripping in legacy, poignant programs, community service, and rich history. As an archivist-in-training, with the unique opportunity to not only archive an oral history but curate it from scratch, I see it as my duty to extract the essence and diversity of these highly valuable experiences among the Delta Xi women. This is a preview of a three-part blog series, accompanied by a digital archive that has been published and gathered throughout the summer of 2021.

What Is Oral History? The Beginning Processes of Oral History Curation

Oral history-making is a method of conducting historical research to preserve the experiences, significant historical events, and stories of narrators, recorded by a well-informed interviewer, with the purpose of making them accessible to future generations. Oral history not only helps us understand singular events in the past, but gives us a snapshot of any and all historical forces at play during a moment in time.

As an archivist-in-training and now an oral historian, I have been involved in the process of creating a blueprint for an oral recording documenting the first UT Black Greek organization from scratch. I hope that this specific process of interviewing can be applied to future endeavors to preserve the Delta Xi history and possibly the oral histories of other Greek-letter organizations at The University of Texas at Austin.

A Brief History of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated was founded by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle of St. Louis, Missouri, at Howard University on January 15, 1908. Over time, the organization expanded to many higher-learning institutions across the globe, growing to over 1,018 undergraduate and graduate chapters with the purpose of enriching the lives of Black women through service, networking, and social experiences. The sorority promotes unity, friendship, and academic achievement among its members; it seeks to continue and provide opportunities for higher education through scholarship and donation. As the first Black Greek-letter organization to be established at the University of Texas, the brand-new members of the Delta Xi Chapter were serenaded by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at their swearing-in.

AKA Christmas Party, 1966, photo courtesy of Pamiel Gaskin.

AKA Impact on Campus and Beyond

The impact of the signature projects created and facilitated by the Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. reaches beyond the Forty Acres and into the lives of Austin mothers and their children. Working in East Austin, where, historically, the majority of African American Austinites have resided, since 1959 Delta Xi has held events to aid battered women, and to provide holiday parties, daycare, resources, encouragement, and toys for impoverished families.

Honorable Mentions, Members, and Findings

Lareatha H. Clay: Shankleville Community Oral History Collection

Lareatha H. Clay is a prominent oral historian and Delta Xi member (among other accolades). She has created the Shankleville Community Oral History Collection, an archival collection focused on preserving the spoken histories of Shankleville, a historic freedom colony in Newton County, located in East Texas. Clay is currently working to organize the Aya Symposium, an annual multidisciplinary event that explores the history of Texas freedom colonies.

DeMetris Sampson: Innervisions of Blackness

The Delta Xi Chapter has also had its influence in fine arts on campus. DeMetris Sampson, founder of the choral group Innervisions of Blackness and its first president, created the organization with the purpose of “educating, representing and exemplifying the soul of Black students through the scope of music.” Sampson was advised by Almetris Duren, a highly influential historical figure at UT Austin, to make the group official in 1974. Contrary to the rumor that Duren founded the group, Sampson (first president), Rene Hight (Delta Xi member, vice president, and pianist), Vanessa Ferguson (vice president), and Butler School of Music doctoral student Irlene Swain (director) were the first to spearhead the organization. Be sure to check out DeMetris Sampson’s inspiring interview as soon as the Delta Xi Oral History Collection is live to find out more about Innervisions of Blackness.

Barbara Dugas-Patterson: Cotton Bowl Queen

Photo courtesy of Barbara Dugas-Patterson, 1982.

Barbara Dugas-Patterson was crowned as Cotton Bowl Queen by popularity vote and support from Delta Xi members, thus participating in the Cotton Bowl Classic. The University of Texas was ranked #1 in the Southwest Conference at the time and competed against the University of Alabama.

Time and Oral History Making

Time consciousness, memory, subjectivity, explanation, and interpretation are some of the challenges that prevent oral history curation from achieving a concrete and complete picture of the past. To minimize confusion and add structure to the Delta Xi interviews, we devised a template with specific, open-ended questions. The questions revolved around experiences with social life on campus, community service, personal motivations to join the organization, and the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. The scope of the questions was limited to high school, senior year, college, and occasionally beyond. The flexible nature of the interview questions allowed for a diverse set of narratives to surface.

Despite the challenges of extracting histories dating back at least forty years and that are continuing to unfold, I’ve been able to make comparisons depending on the decade each participant pledged and their overall perceptions of racial inclusion at the University of Texas. Participants who pledged the Delta Xi Chapter in the 1960s viewed joining a Black sorority as a means of survival in a challenging sociopolitical atmosphere, freshly recovering from outdated ideas regarding Black women in higher education. Conversely, members who joined in the 1970s and 1980s saw joining a Black sorority as an elective, yet all participants have found that they joined Alpha Kappa Alpha to find women just like themselves in a university whose Black student population is still only 4 percent. To stay up to date with the Delta Xi Chapter, I encourage you to check out their social media: @Texas_AKAs.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Probate Show, circa 1984. Photo courtesy of Barbara Dugas-Patterson.

Final Thoughts

Recording the oral histories of African American women has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my life. The quote “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will,” by Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, has reverberated throughout my psyche while curating this collection. Indeed, this has been the first oral history project for and by Black women at the University of Texas, but I encourage all Black people to take a front seat in the preservation of their personal histories. One of the most impacting sentiments expressed at the Aya Symposium this past summer is the need to preserve family documents, photographs, and memorabilia. Participation in repositories and history-making through the lens of African Americans is crucial to the historical narrative of the Black community as a whole. Please check out our digital archive when it is completed in the months to come. Thank you to the University of Texas, Texas Libraries, the Black Diaspora Archive, and the Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. for allowing this project to blossom and continue.

View Parts I, II, and III of this blog series


Briana Marie Davis is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Anthropology and African American Studies. She carried out this oral history project during an internship at the Black Diaspora Archive. Davis is a problem-solving, creative, convivial individual who enjoys singing and playing piano in venues around Austin, Texas, in her free time. She hopes to be of service to her community by uplifting groups that are marginalized through her research and artistic expression.

Diversifying Library Collections

We recently talked in specific about a project to work on a proactive strategy to diversify our collections. That piece focused on the expansion of Black Lives Matter materials in our holdings, and was a great practical introduction the sort of work being done by professional staff to account for past inequities in how we acquire materials. The umbrella effort for that project was spearheaded by Carolyn Cunningham, the Libraries’ Head of Collection Development, who shares her perspectives on the comprehensive work to diversify the Libraries’ collection here.

As the diversity and inclusion work done on UT campus continues to grow and gather steam, it has been helpful to have UT Libraries commitment to inclusivity, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) as a guiding star for our work in the Scholarly Resources Division (SRD). 

The liaison librarian team in SRD recently had the opportunity to talk with library colleagues about how IDEA informs our collection development work, and how we support others in their collection development work. Our team members are Carolyn Cunningham, David Flaxbart, Corinne Forstot-Burke, Bill Kopplin, Susan Macicak, Katy Parker, and Shiela Winchester. The team is committed to using an IDEA lens in all of our work, beyond special projects or short-term initiatives. This means that we approach every request for a book, every new product offer, and every decision about how to use collection funds with the frame of mind that we will strive to include diverse voices in our collection and orient ourselves toward finding and making available resources that include the many experiences and perspectives of our campus community and beyond. The team describes this work as a group effort, and we continuously learn from each other. 

This embedded IDEA orientation is important because the academic publishing landscape does not necessarily represent all the voices that we want to include. The team recently looked at the results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey together. This survey looked at diversity in the publishing industry, which included academic publishing participants. The respondents to this survey were 76% white, 97% cisgender, 81% heterosexual, and 89% non-disabled. For a quick point of comparison, 38.9% of UT students and 75.7% of UT professors are white. As the creators of the survey point out, “If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books?”

Publishers are not the only influencers of what we add to our collections. User requests and emerging research areas are an important source of data for us. One exciting area of focus this past year has been strengthening our holdings related to the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights, and anti-racism topics. Bill Kopplin, social sciences librarian and coordinator, has compared our collections against peer libraries, kept an eye on campus reading clubs and resource lists, and worked directly with vendors to do a wide-ranging scan of publications in these areas to consider adding to our collection. I can also point to the strong interdepartmental work of facilitating selection and discovery of important resources via catalog notes and subject headings. Folks from across UT Libraries work together to select and make available the U.S. Latinx LGBTQ Collection and Black Queer Studies Collection with local notes in our library catalog. This kind of focused attention is found throughout the work of our subject librarians, and our team is here to help get new efforts off the ground. 

One programmatic aspect of collection building that our team works on closely is the major approval plans. These plans are arrangements with large vendors to automatically send us certain types of books published by essential publishers. We keep an eye on those plans to make sure they are bringing in the right material. By describing this process with words like “arrangements,” “large,” and “automatically,” I want to illustrate that it is easy for up-and-coming authors and small publishers to get left out. This is where the expertise of our knowledgeable subject librarians, as well as input from our users, comes in. While we aim to collect books that our researchers expect us to have from major publishers, we pay close attention to the requests we get from users through interlibrary loan, through our Suggest a Purchase form, and via our library colleagues. Those data tell us which things are missing from the collection. We also use these requests to update ourselves on new terminology, new classes being offered, and new and enduring research topics that are finding an audience on campus. 

This work takes a village, and we will continue to learn from each other and respond to new opportunities to make our collections meet the needs of our current and future users.

Discover more of the diverse collections at the Libraries through our Instagram series, Highlighting Diverse Collections.


This post originally appeared at the blog of the Diversity Action Committee.

“Knowledge”: Online Exhibit Celebrates Benson Centennial and Diversity of Thought in the Americas

In Nuestra América (1891), Cuban poet and philosopher José Martí calls for a pan–Latin American identity that grounds itself in the need to value autochthonous knowledge: “Knowing is what counts. To know one’s country and govern it with that knowledge is the only way to free it from tyranny. The European university must bow to the American university. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, must be taught in clear detail and to the letter, even if the archons of Greece are overlooked. Our Greece must take priority over the Greece which is not ours. We need it more.”

A new online exhibition, A Hemisphere of Knowledge: A Benson Centennial Exhibit, accessible in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, explores the implications of Martí’s words across time and cultures, using a wealth of resources available at the Benson Latin American Collection.

“This exhibit, divided into six sub-themes, seeks to present different types of knowledge production from the Americas while recognizing that our universality comes from relations based upon diversity, and that these relations, like cultures themselves, are constantly changing,” said Daniel Arbino, head of collection development at the library and curator of the exhibit. In conceiving the exhibit, Arbino sought to examine “the diverse production of knowledge from the many cultures that make up what we now call the Americas.” He adds that “the exhibition considers this knowledge against the backdrop and legacies of hegemony, thereby situating it within the power dynamics of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. A Hemisphere of Knowledge is intentionally political because it values cultural beliefs that have been dismissed due to legacies of power.”

Learn more about the Benson Centennial at benson100.org.


Above: Knowledge, by Terry Boddie

“The Benson at 100”: Podcast Celebrates Library’s Centennial

In honor of the centennial of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, the library’s head of collection development, Daniel Arbino, has teamed up with Pilar Zazueta, historian and senior lecturer at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS), to create a bilingual podcast.

The Benson at 100 is an audio series designed for listeners interested in Latin American history and culture. Episodes will be released monthly, and explore the region through the Benson archives and books.

Learn more and listen to episodes at The Benson at 100. Visit the Spanish-language homepage: La Biblioteca Benson: Los primeros 100 años.

New Exhibit at PCL Looks at British WWII Propaganda

Now on view in the Scholars Commons at the Perry-Castañeda Library, a new display examines World War II-era indoctrination materials.

The exhibit, “Publicity and Propaganda: The Great Britain Ministry of Information – Daily Press Notices and Bulletins from World War II,” was curated by Gilbert Borrego, Digital Repository Specialist, and features items available in Texas ScholarWorks, including the Press Notices and Bulletins published by the MOI between 1939-1946. The Press Notices and Bulletins are among many publications and films issued by the agency during the war but UT Libraries is the only library in the world that owns this complete series.

By 1935, it was becoming apparent to the British government that war with Germany would be inevitable. To avoid public panic, the government secretly planned a new department that would control propaganda and publicity surrounding the coming war. From this work, the Ministry of Information (MOI) was born on September 4, 1939, the day after Britain’s declaration of war. The MOI was tasked with the handling of news censorship, national publicity, and international publicity in the Allied and neutral countries. Not only did the Ministry produce these daily bulletins, but they were also responsible for posters, films, radio broadcasts, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and advertisements. In March 1946, the MOI was dissolved as its mission to fight “a war of ideas,” had been completed with the end of World War II.

The Daily Press Notices and Bulletins were the main form of communication from the British Government to the public and press during World War II. These publications provided the information that the domestic and international press used to report on the war, from the British government’s point of view. Documents range from descriptions of rationing on the home front to the accounts of battles, to casualty counts and the names of those casualties amongst other information.

The exhibit is also available digitally on the Libraries’ website.

Also check out Ian Goodale’s digital scholarship exhibit, “Socialist Pamphlets: Pamphlets from the USSR, France, and the U.K.,” for another perspective on historical agitprop.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Documenting Judeo-Spanish

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Documenting Judeo-Spanish was launched in Spring 2020 under the leadership of Dr. Bryan Kirschen, a sociolinguist specializing in Hispanic languages at the Romance languages department at Binghamton University, NY (Twitter @LadinoLinguist).

“Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish or Judezmo) refers to the variety of Spanish that developed among Jewish populations who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and subsequently settled throughout Turkey and the Balkans, then of the Ottoman Empire. These Jews, known as Sephardim, preserved many features of Medieval Spanish, while incorporating linguistic elements from the languages spoken in their surroundings. As a Jewish language, Ladino has always been in contact with Hebrew. And while it may sound like other Romance languages, in writing, it would have traditionally appeared more similar to a Semitic language. This project deals with documents in Judeo-Spanish written in Solitreo. Solitreo refers to the Hebrew-based cursive script once used by Sephardim; it is the cursive variety of the Rashi (Rabbinic) script; it derived from Galician/Portuguese, meaning ‘to spell.’[1] This style of writing is distinct from the Ashkenazi-based alphabet used for cursive Hebrew today, making documents in Solitreo undecipherable to the untrained eye. Solitreo is now a nearly-extinct alphabet to an endangered language, as most writers of the language utilize Roman characters.”[2]

The Documenting Judeo-Spanish project contains a range of documents from journal entries and ledgers, to personal correspondence, prayers, poetry, and community minutes. The project currently presents 25 selected documents (out of 150 already collected from around the world). Beyond these fascinating digitized texts, the most compelling tool is one that allows users to engage with the paleographic endeavor of deciphering the script. Hovering one’s mouse over a word in Solitreo will reveal its Latin-character equivalent form in Judeo-Spanish, while clicking on that word would show a tooltip with the literal translation of the lexical term. Below each digitized object there is also downloadable PDF file, containing the parallel text in Romanization of Judeo-Spanish as well as English translation. Metadata about both the content of the item and its digital file is included as well. Some items include a short recording of the text (in WAV format) being read in Judeo-Spanish. See for example this postcard: https://documentingjudeospanish.com/explore/postcards/djs0075/

Additional tools are expected to be launched soon, including a fully-developed font in Solitreo which would include individual and final forms of letters, ligatures, numbers, punctuation, and diacritical marks.[3]

Kirschen’s project could be used both within and outside of academia. Its audience are educators, students, scholars, and the public. While it could be used as a pedagogical tool, introducing students to an extinct script, it could also be used by the community, allowing users to learn how to read personal items and re-connect to their heritage. What I really like about this project is that all 150 items that were processed for it were gathered from the public. As opposed to other projects that use existing collections, Documenting Judeo-Spanish is serving like an ‘aid force,’ connecting the academia with the community. 

Related resources (with annotations):

Aki Yerushalayim : revista de las emisiones de Israel en djudeo-espaniol. Jerusalem: s.n., 1979.

The UT Libraries hold a full run of this Ladino language journal, published in print 1979 to 2016 and resumed publication in digital in 2019. Many of its issues include a section dedicated to Solitreo and its transcription. See UTL catalog. Some issues are also available online.

Barocas, David N. A Study on the Meaning of Ladino, Judezmo, and the Spanish Jewish Dialect / by David N. Barocas ; with an Introductory Essay by Henry V. Besso on Judaeo-Spanish, Its Growth and Decline. New York: Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, 1976. (see UTL catalog).

Bunis, D. A guide to reading and writing Judezmo. Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Judezmo Society, 1975. Downloadable from the author’s academia.edu page.

Bunis, D. Soletreo: Writing the Ladino Script with Prof. David Bunis. Stroum Center for Jewish Studies. University of Washington, 2015. In this video, Professor Bunis reviews and illustrates how to write each letter of Ladino in both the Rashi and Solitreo alphabets.


[1] For many Sephardim, Solitreo was simply known as ganchos, meaning ‘hooks,’ due to the ligatures that form between letters (https://documentingjudeospanish.com/solitreo/)

[2] Kirschen, Bryan. “Our Project.” Documenting Judeo-Spanish, 2020, www.documentingjudeospanish.com/project.

[3] https://documentingjudeospanish.com/tools/

Libraries uses Open Education to promote Inclusive learning opportunities

The Libraries announces the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” instructor learning community, to promote IDEA concepts through the adoption of open educational resources (OERs).

The OER Working Group eagerly seeks applicants to join its first instructor learning community in Fall 2021. With support from facilitators and guest experts, we hope to join participants from across disciplines in their efforts to make their courses as financially inclusive as possible by eliminating or substantially lowering course material costs. The emphasis of the community will be open educational resources (or OER), which are learning materials that carry open licenses and allow anyone to freely read, share, and modify them. These permissions also enable instructors to adapt them for greater cultural responsiveness and accessibility or even include students in building them. 

In the course of the learning community, participants will engage with the cohort to:

  • Understand the spectrum of affordable learning materials available openly or through campus / UTL services, with an emphasis on OER
  • Search for OER that may be relevant to the courses they teach in one or more repositories and evaluate them using open rubrics
  • Evaluate course materials for basic accessibility best practices & cultural responsiveness; identify opportunities to enhance these aspects of OER and self-created course materials
  • Identify and interpret open licenses associated with OER created by others and those they wish to apply to their own materials

If you’ve been interested in taking the first steps to transitioning your course to free or low-cost materials but need support to do it, please consider applying to join this instructor learning community. We will offer a nominal stipend of $200 (less withholdings) for completing the following requirements:

  • Participation in at least five of six required discussion sessions
  • Completion of a course map matching some of your course objectives to existing free and affordable material options
  • A sharing activity that may include openly licensing a learning object (such as a syllabus, lesson plan, module, or even your course map) or a proposed alternative

Please note that to maintain the level of interaction at which this group will most benefit, we will cap participants at 10 for Fall 2021. If interest exceeds that number, we look forward to offering more cohorts of this learning community in the future. 

See more details about who may be interested and what to expect from the experience. Apply here by Monday, 9/20. Notifications to accepted applicants will be delivered no later than Monday, 9/27.

WHIT’S PICKS: TAKE 10 – GEMS FROM THE HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4Take 5Take 6Take 7Take 8, Take 9


Lisa Mills / Tempered in Fire

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Gorgeous-sounding blues-rock soul from Mobile, Alabama’s Lisa Mills. With her force-of-nature vocals, warm analog tape capture, and a rootsy UK backing band (featuring guitarist Andy Fairweather Low), Mills simply stupefies on these Memphis and Muscle Shoals-inspired tracks. Standouts include a touching take on Otis Redding’s These Arms of Mine, as well as the Stax stomp of Why Do I Still Love You? 


The Bell / Make Some Quiet

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Post-punk Swedish indie rock never sounded so sweet. Stockholm’s The Bell certainly enjoys twiddling around with synthesizers and drum loops, but it’s that retro guitar jangle up loud in the mix that really rings out to prove their true intent. While Make Some Quiet nods to the synthpop of New Order and Echo & the Bunnymen, there’s something else entirely unique going on here. Call it Nordic new-wave for now people.


J Dilla / The Shining

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

This posthumous collection cements James “J Dilla” Yancey’s place as a giant in the hip-hop world. Producer, rapper, and instrumentalist, he pioneered playing his Akai drum machine live (as opposed to programming it), giving his beats a human feel. Guest MC’s include Common, Black Thought, and Pharoahe Monch, but it’s Dilla’s deep vibing backing tracks that showcase what a colossal influence he was. 


John Fremgen / Pieces of String

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

UT Austin Butler School professor John Fremgen may spend his days teaching music theory and improvisation, but this monster bassist truly educates with his master class for the jazz trio, Pieces of String. Pianist Shelly Berg and drummer Peter Erskine hold their own on this sublime set of standards (Monk, Waldren, Thad Jones), and compliment with a delicate charm on the elegant Fremgen original For A Better Day.


Casino / Volcanes

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

The Chilean musical response to Britpop’s Oasis, Casino lays down top-notch heavy-handed stadium rock and roll with just the right amount of a Euro shoegaze sheen. From the album’s opening guitar feedback wash, and on through fist-pumping tracks like VelvetVicio, and Para Estallar, the stacked amplifiers cranked-up-to-eleven outdoor festival vibe does not disappoint. Party like it’s 1999, indeed. 

[Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]

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