Read, Hot and Digitized: Disability COVID Chronicles

As the European Studies Librarian for the UT Austin Libraries, I am interested in exploring and encouraging connections between my subject areas and the broader global community. Understanding and advocating for disability is one way that this sense of global community can be fostered, as disability transcends national boundaries and affects people across the world.

Disabled people have consistently been marginalized and excluded from the historical record. Efforts to remedy this–and to reclaim the history and dignity of disabled people–are ongoing, and are burgeoned by digital studies and practice. Of especial interest at the moment is how the global pandemic has affected disabled people, and how their experience of the pandemic may differ from the non-disabled. The Disability Covid Chronicles from NYU aims to explore the stories of disabled people in NYC and let them tell, in their own words, how they experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot of the project's homepage.
The project’s homepage.

While the project is still ongoing, essays and interviews from research-in-progress are available to view on their website. The project team is preparing an edited volume based on its research during the pandemic, and is also “building a publicly-accessible archive to preserve memories, stories, artworks, and other materials in a range of accessible formats” in collaboration with community members. In the words of the project team members, they “are preserving conversations on social media, records of digital public meetings, and photographs of street art and actions that are otherwise ephemeral. [Their] goal is to chronicle not only vulnerabilities, but creative initiatives for survival under these new conditions that are structured by old inequalities.”

Screenshot of the project’s Essays & Interviews page
A couple of essays from the project’s Essays & Interviews page.

In addition to the essays and interviews linked above, the fieldnotes section of the site highlights notable ephemera and other media–from posters and artwork to social media campaigns and more–that the team has encountered during its research. This is a great way to explore the diverse content available on the site, as the content is reloaded in a random order each time the page is refreshed. Notable entries from the page include this post recapping a survey from Special Support Services, an advocacy group for disabled students and their families, this post preserving artwork by Jen White-Johnson created to amplify the #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy hashtag, and this post preserving artwork from Roan Boucher/AORTA: Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance. You can also share your own resources at this link.

Screenshot of a few essays displayed on the project’s Essays & Interviews page.
A few essays displayed on the project’s Essays & Interviews page.

The site was built using WordPress, a popular content management platform. While free and open-source, WordPress does charge for hosting plans through its website, which can be a barrier for access to some. It also offers a large number of plugins that can make constructing a website less of a burden for those with less technical knowledge—such as the Random Post on Refresh plugin, which allows users to accomplish a similar randomizing functionality to the site’s Fieldnotes section. The site makes  use of accessibility features, such as the “alt” tag in HTML, to ensure that those using screen readers or other assistive features can still access the site’s content. WordPress itself also makes a commitment to accessibility in its design and code.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly strong impact on many disabled people, and having a site that documents and amplifies disabled perspectives and experiences is an important step toward creating a supportive and equitable culture for all. The site serves as a valuable resource related to the global pandemic, and its forthcoming edited volume and digital project will, I hope, further amplify and uplift disabled voices.

Related materials in the UT Libraries collection:

The Disability Studies LibGuide from UT Librarian Gina Bastone: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/disabilitystudies

Albrecht, Gary L., Katherine D. Seelman, and Michael Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies. Sage Publications, 2001.

Disability Studies Quarterly.

Hall, Kim Q. Feminist Disability Studies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Kapp, Steven K, ed. Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Digital Access to Deep Time

A project to provide digital access to an important collection of geologic cartography from the Walter Geology Library has been completed.

The Deep Time Maps are a collection of paleogeographic maps showing the landscapes and oceans of ancient Earth through hundreds of millions of years of geologic time. These maps are an extraordinary resource for geoscientists, but have been inaccessible to users due to limits on the technology available for allowing access to this large of a collection.

The project to make this resource accessible online through the Libraries’ online presence was an idea that had been sitting around collecting “digital dust” for quite some time due to limits on the technology available for our use.

Senior Content Management Specialist Stacy Ogilvie took lead on the project to provide digital access to views of the Earth’s continents over the course of millions of years through the Libraries’ unified management resource system component Alma Digital. Adding this collection to Alma Digital is a significant step in increasing its accessibility to our users and fulfilling a goal that our late colleague Dennis Trombatore had in purchasing the materials. 

“The process also served as our first big test of adding a large collection to Alma Digital and the experience Stacy gained from working on this from scratch will help inform how we work more closely with SRD and add additional large collections to the Alma Digital workflow,” says Head of Content Management Corey Halaychik. “Her work on this front is invaluable to our team.”

View the available maps at the links below:

North America key time slices
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991047203019706011

Paleogeography of Europe
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058325874106011

Global paleogeography and tectonics in deep time

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058405079206011

Paleogeography of Southwestern North America
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058404871506011

Paleogeography of Greater Permian Basin
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058404969506011

Paleogeography of the Western Interior Seaway of North America
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058404969306011

Climate Watch

Library work involves simultaneously preserving the past, meeting needs in the present and trying to predict the future. Since there is no crystal ball, libraries rely on tools like surveys to help us monitor needs and make predictions. As previously noted, the Libraries conducted a campus-wide survey of students, faculty and staff in spring 2022. The results have now been analyzed, and largely reaffirm that we are serving campus needs while pointing us toward areas where we can do even better.

Link to full-size PDF.

Following trends from the past decade, faculty and staff rated access to online materials as their top library priority and undergraduates ranked library spaces as most important. Grad students have continued to prioritize online materials throughout the past decade, while library space has emerged as a secondary priority over the past 5 years. Throughout the past 10+ years, students and faculty have continued to display a shift in preferences toward digital materials. This shift, however, is not complete. While ranking online materials as being more important than physical materials, 48.5% of respondents still reported that they prefer print materials to electronic resources. This is despite the fact that 96% of faculty reported that online materials are “very important,” compared to only 50% who rated physical materials as “very important.” These somewhat contradictory results, combined with usage statistics, paint a complex picture in which users value physical materials, but are more and more likely to use digital materials to fulfill their information needs.

I use UT Libraries all the time to access materials for my work, it is invaluable. I could not do my work without UT Libraries, including the on-campus collections and materials available through Interlibrary loan. -College of Liberal Arts Graduate Student

Happily, since collections are of high importance to every user group, results show that users are largely satisfied with our library collections. In fact, about a quarter of the responses to an open-ended “What are we doing well?” question focused on collections and resources, the highest percentage of any topic areas mentioned. 87% of respondents agreed that “UT Libraries gives me access to the resources I need to achieve my academic goals.” A student from the College of Natural Sciences stated, “As a graduate student I am constantly searching for articles on my research topic. With so few journals being open access, I literally could not do my work without UT Libraries!” The Get a Scan service and Interlibrary Loan are also highly appreciated, ranking in the top three priorities for faculty, staff, and graduate students.

“They provided me with the space and kindhearted welcomes to come into the library and study for a huge test.” -Moody School of Communications Undergraduate Student

We were pleased to see that 87% of respondents agreed that they “feel safe from discrimination, harassment or harm in library spaces and when interacting with library staff.” This continues a trend of decreasing worries about safety following concerns seen in the 2012 campus survey. An undergraduate business student noted, “During finals season I needed a safe space to study when I could in my dorm room. The only place open closest to me was the PCL which was perfect that night.” Additionally, 86% of respondents agreed that UT Libraries is a welcoming place. Demographic breakdowns, however, show us that those who identify as black or African American, or nonbinary in gender identity, were slightly less likely to agree that they feel safe than the overall group. With the Libraries’ focus on IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) including a recently adapted IDEA Action Plan, we hope to close that gap so that everyone feels safe and welcome in library spaces.

“My classes that I take make access to technology a must. The libraries on campus provide me with access to tools I would never have to opportunity to own. Tools such as 3D printers, book scanners, adobe software, and much more. Without the library I would either had to have dropped out of college and be thousands of dollars in debt.” – College of Liberal Arts Undergraduate Student

            Results also showed how much library users value the expertise, kindness, and labor of library staff. Library staff are seen as friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable by all user groups. In fact, staff comprised the second largest category of “What are we doing well?” responses. “In my UGS, a librarian came to explain to us how to use the library website nad how to find the sources we would need to conduct academic research,” shared an undergraduate from the College of Communication. “It was extremely helpful and I have since used these tips and skills in all of my classes!” Faculty especially value staff expertise – research support from a librarian is ranked as the third most important service by faculty respondents. Library web pages (research guides) for a subject area or course, which are designed and curated by librarians, were ranked within the top five priorities by every user group.

“Our librarian helped us research resources to unpack racial bias in grading and writing and coordinated with us and the writing center and writing flag staff to hold faculty meetings around this topic, The resources our librarian found were immensely helpful as were their contributions to our conversations.” -School of Social Work Faculty Member

While it’s nice to receive confirmation of what we’re doing well, it’s also important to look for ways we can better serve the campus community. In an open-answer “What can we do better?” question, navigation and wayfinding were often mentioned as areas that the Libraries can improve. One example of a task that some users currently find difficult is the process of finding a book on our website and then locating it in the stacks. Under the guidance of our UX Designer, we’re working on a project to improve signage on the entry level of PCL and will eventually move toward improving navigation and wayfinding at large. We also noted that the increase in remote learning and work brought on by the pandemic has possibly introduced a new need, as 20% of undergraduates who reported visiting a UTL space did so in order to attend a Zoom meeting or class. Individual space to attend online meetings is consistently being mentioned as a recent desire both anecdotally and through more formal assessments.

“Essential in a chronic sort of way. No single event represents it. ” -College of Natural Sciences Faculty Member

            While survey results are useful for confirming suspicions, tracking trends, and uncovering areas of interest, they also raise further questions. Respondents frequently expressed a lack of awareness of the Libraries’ communication channels, and undergraduate responses showed that there is room for improvement in outreach. We will follow up on these findings by doing further research to untangle where the disconnects are and what we can do to better reach all users. The results will continue to provide rich fodder for ongoing planning, and rather than being satisfied with the positive findings, the Libraries will continue to strive toward continual improvement so that everyone on campus can succeed. An undergraduate student from the College of Liberal Arts summed up why we do what we do, stating that “UT Libraries are essential to the accomplishment of my academic work.”

OA Week Highlight – South Asia Open Archives

As part of Open Access Week 2022 celebrations, I want to highlight a few of the open access initiatives that UT Libraries supports.

Image from @SouthAsiaOA

Today, I’ll be highlighting the South Asia Open Archives. The South Asia Open Archives (SAOA) is a rich, curated collection of historical and contemporary resources from and about South Asia. The SAOA collection contains hundreds of thousands of pages of books, journals, newspapers, census data, and magazines with a focus on social and economic history, literature, women and gender, and caste and social structure. The collection includes documents in English and in other languages of the region such as Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

SAOA is administratively hosted by the Center for Research Libraries, and is the product of a broad consortium of 26 current member research libraries in South Asia and around the world, including the University of Texas Libraries. It is enriched by substantial contributions of content, human and material resources from a community of libraries, research centers, archives and other institutions partnering to bring these resources out for global scholarship and pedagogy.

Some of the titles that have been digitized with direct support from the University of Texas include: Baghi, Viplav, and Viplavi Tract. All three titles have a Leftist/Marxist focus and engage with workers and labor issues.

Cover image from Viplava 01-01-1949
Cover image from Viplava 01-01-1949

In keeping with the OA Week theme for this year of Open for Climate Justice, I did a search for climate, in the SAOA Collection, and found over 1200 results ranging from census information, Indian Assembly debates, newspapers, correspondence, and books. SAOA has been digitizing and will be publishing collections of colonial records related to public works (irrigation), forests, land settlement, trade and navigation, and famine that will be available to support the work of environmental historians and climate scientists.

You can find more information about SAOA within the collection in JSTOR, on Twitter, and on Instagram. To suggest sources to add to SAOA or learn more about joining or participating in SAOA, please email them at saoa@crl.edu. UT Austin faculty, staff, and students with questions about SAOA, may also reach out to Mary Rader, South Asian Studies Liaison Librarian. To learn more about open access at UT, please see our Open Access blog or our Open Access LibGuide.

The Benson’s Summer Texas Roadtrip

BY ALBERT A. PALACIOS, PhD

It was a doozy of a summer for the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office. Thanks to a Department of Education National Resource Center grant, we had the distinct opportunity to share some of the Benson Latin American Collection’s Spanish colonial treasures with a few communities outside of UT Austin. In a traveling exhibit titled A New Spain, 1521–1821, the reproduced materials demonstrated the cultural, social, and political evolution of colonial Mexico.

A New Spain exhibit at the University of Texas at El Paso Library, El Paso, Texas. The C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department also showcased their Spanish colonial holdings in the exhibit.

We were fortunate to continue our longstanding partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). In collaboration with Claudia Rivers and Abbie Weiser at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, we put together an exhibit that highlighted Spanish colonial holdings from both libraries, providing both a hemispheric and local perspective. To broaden the impact of the collaborative effort, we also organized an accompanying series of workshops based on the materials for social studies teachers, colonialists, and archival professionals in the El Paso–Las Cruces (NM) region. 

Clockwise from left: 1. Social studies teachers play a loteria game, or Mexican bingo, based on the exhibit’s items; 2. curator’s tour of A New Spain, 1521–1821 (photor: Aide Cardoza); 3. screenshot of online teacher workshop (photo: Tiffany Guridy); 4. Mapping Mexican History exhibit at Horizon High School, Horizon City, Texas (photo: Erika Ruelas).

We kicked off the programming with a two-day intensive training for teachers from El Paso and Clint independent school districts. The workshops started onsite at UTEP’s library with a curator’s tour, a lunchtime loteria game based on the exhibit, and an in-depth look at Indigenous and Spanish maps from a previous traveling exhibition, Mapping Mexican History. By the end of the day, teachers were able to take home the facsimile Mapping items, some of which are on display this fall at Horizon High School.

The second day of workshops went fully online. One of our 2022 Digital Scholarship Fellows, Dr. Diego Luis, shared an interactive simulation he designed based on an inquisitorial case archived at the Benson to teach about Afro-descendant colonial experiences. We then showcased lesson plans we developed with UT Austin’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction on the navigation of gender roles in New Spain. To wrap things up, we provided the teachers with a survey of digital resources at UT Austin and digital humanities tools they can use to teach about colonial Mexico in their class.

Clockwise from left: 1. Payroll of soldiers, 1575, Genaro García Manuscript Collection; 2. depiction of Tlaxcalteca ruler, Xicoténcatl, meeting with Hernan Cortés and Malintzin, circa 1530–1540, Ex-Stendahl Collection; 3. Inquisition case against Ana de Herrera for witchcraft, 1584, Genaro García Manuscript Collection; 4. “Tracing Witchcraft Networks in Veracruz” workshop (photo: Abbie Weiser).

On the final day, we shifted gears and led a series of digital scholarship workshops for local scholars. Students, faculty, and cultural heritage staff from the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University Library powered through three sessions that provided them with practical training in the visualization and analysis of Spanish colonial materials using various digital tools. Attendees learned to annotate various colonial texts and images, map the origins of New Spain’s soldiers, and visualize the networks of Afro-descendant hechiceras, or women casting incantations, in Veracruz.

A New Spain exhibit at the Downs-Jones Library, Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas (photo: Katie Ashton).

Upon our return to Austin, another one of our partners, Huston-Tillotson University, graciously agreed to host the traveling exhibit. Thanks to Technical Services & Systems Librarian Katie Ashton, the history of colonial Mexico we put together went up on the walls of the Downs-Jones Library, and will remain there throughout the fall. For those who are not able to visit either installation, you can explore the digital version through our UT Libraries Exhibits platform.

Acknowledgements

This initiative would not have been possible without the support of the following individuals and sponsorships:

C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, The University of Texas at El Paso

  • Claudia Rivers, Head
  • Abbie Weiser, Assistant Head

Huston-Tillotson University

  • Katie Ashton, Technical Services & Systems Librarian, Downs-Jones Library
  • Alaine Hutson, Associate Professor of History

Tufts University

  • Diego Javier Luis, Assistant Professor of History

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, UT Austin

  • Michael Joseph, Doctoral student
  • Katie Pekarske, Master’s student
  • Cinthia Salinas, Department Chair & Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusive Excellence

UT Libraries

  • Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian
  • Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

  • Jac Erengil, Administrative Manager
  • Tiffany Guridy, previous Public Engagement Coordinator (special thanks)
  • Melissa Guy, Director, Benson Latin American Collection
  • Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections
  • Jennifer Mailloux, Graphic Designer (special thanks)
  • Adela Pineda Franco, LLILAS Director & Lozano Long Endowed Professor
  • Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives
  • Megan Scarborough, previous Grants Manager
  • Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator (special thanks)
  • Krissi Trumeter, previous Financial Analyst

Sponsors

  • U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center Title VI Grant
  • LLILAS Benson Collaborative Funds

Read, Hot and Digitized: Dasubhashitam – ‘An Uncommon App’ for Telugu Speakers

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.

This post was written by Jyotsna Vempati, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.


A Telugu (pronounced ˈteləˌɡo͞o) literature classic – Bāriṣṭaru Pārvatīśaṃ, is a novel that I brought along with me despite the strict luggage weight limits of international flights so that I have a piece of my childhood and home with me in a new country. But if I am honest, this was my way of ensuring that I don’t forget how to read and write in my mother tongue. Although the biggest of the Dravidian language family with over 80 million speakers and 4th most spoken language in India, the future of Telugu is in danger from the proliferation of English and other less-regional languages in Telugu speaking regions. 

Many believe it is time to take deliberate action to preserve a language that has a rich history and culture, and many compelling literary works that date back to 575 CE. While there is still a sizable reader base for Telugu literature, there is a rising need to make these texts more accessible and visible in today’s digital era. And in comes the first of its kind Telugu audiobook application – Dasubhashitam.

Founded by Konduru Tulasidas and his son Kiran Kumar, this ‘uncommon app’ draws its essence from multiple disciplines that include Literature, Behavioural Science, and Non-Dualism. It promotes personal, professional, and spiritual wellbeing through original content in a style that is simple and straightforward. The app contains free content as well as paid literature works, which can be accessed through subscription plans.I think this app fills the gap by providing an opportunity for those who speak Telugu but face difficulty in reading the script to reconnect with their roots, thus reviving the language from its slumber.

The Dasubhashitam app is paving the way to immortalize the works of both renowned and new authors by creating an ecosystem where people connect Telugu texts to audio content. It contains literary works in various digital formats such as audiobooks, ebooks, podcasts, interviews, and albums within categories like short stories, novels, poetry, wellbeing, and educational content. The audiobooks need a mention of their own due to the deep cultural context within which they’re recorded and presented. Not only is a book read out loud, but some audiobooks of play scripts also have accompanying musical notes that add a touch of the popular Telugu cinema experience, transporting one back to the age of black-and-white films. Another noteworthy aspect of this app is that it offers the opportunity for individuals to suggest a book to digitize, or submit their audiobooks to the app for hosting (after a strict copyright and quality check, of course).

As a student of User Experience Design here at UT, I cannot help but comment on opportunities for improvement when it comes to the user experience and usability aspect of the mobile application. I find that the app’s heuristics are yet to be optimized to make the content more accessible to their user base. Especially, ramping up the in-app search and filter options, standardizing the transliteration of the literary title to the English alphabet (romanization), having uniform navigation gestures across and refining the information architecture would surely minimize user pain points and add value to the overall experience.

This spectacular enterprise is carving out a presence for itself rapidly and, all-in-all, the kind of content and initiatives undertaken by the creators clearly reflects their intentions, namely,  to promote the wellbeing of their users. I look forward to witnessing the great potential of this piece of technology, especially as some of the notable names in the world of Telugu literature are available on the Dasubhashitam app.

I’m also delighted to discover that UT Libraries hold a great collection of Telugu literature. One might be encouraged to read one of UT’s print versions of these titles alongside the audio book on Dasubhashitam!  See for example the Telugu writings by:

P. V. Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India

Madhubabu,renowned Telugu detective novel writer

Gurajada Venkata Apparao, popular Indian playwright

Kandukuri Veeresalingam  (Vīrēśaliṅgaṃ), prominent social reformer and writer from the Madras Presidency, India.

Welcome Week at the Libraries

The Libraries received a new and returning fall class of Longhorns earlier this month with a series of events designed to connect patrons with resources, services and experts in fun and engaging ways.

Organized by the Arts, Humanities, & Global Studies Engagement Team, Welcome Week 2022 featured opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn more about the UT Libraries’ map, international and zine collections in traditional and cutting edge spaces, all the while participating in activities that taught them about how resources can be used for scholarly and research endeavors.

Color + Geometry in Islamic Art, 9/1

Part math, part art: for centuries, artists in Muslim contexts have used geometry and mathematical principles to create stimulating patterns for architecture, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, and paintings. Attendees at the Fine Arts Library’s Foundry makerspace had an opportunity to build a 3D geometric models, print Islamic tile-inspired window decals, and stamp beautiful designs inspired by Islamic art on fabric or paper. Throughout the event, visitors were rapt by the process of an Islamic sphere coming to life on a 3D printer, all while learning how to use the Foundry to create their own masterpieces.

Kolam Drawing on the Plaza, 9/2

Students from the Longhorn Malayalee Student Association and in the Department of Asian Studies’ Malayalam language courses showed up before sunrise at PCL to create colorfully complex chalk drawings on the plaza amid waves of onlookers making their way to the library at the throughout the day.

You Are Here: Shifting Perspectives, 9/6

The PCL Map Room hosted a gathering to introduce attendees to this incredible resource tucked away in the bottom floor of the Perry-Castañeda Library which houses the physical collection of more than 350,000 items representing all areas of the world. Most of the collection’s maps date from 1900 to the present, and are utilized by faculty, researchers and students from every corner of the Forty Acres.

Welcome to the Libraries…in Arabic, 9/7

The Libraries provided an informational session delivered in Arabic as an introduction to the services offered by the University of Texas Libraries. Visitors to the discipline-agnostic session were provided general information on how to use the Libraries and how to seek help for research and teaching.

Zine Party, 9/8

PCL denizens seemed happily distracted by a zine creation station set up in the lobby where students took a much-deserved break from academic work for some DIY creative therapy. Examples from the Libraries’ Zine Collections, featuring a number of works by BIPOC and LGBTQ creators, were presented for attendees to thumb through and gather ideas.

Alumna Virginia Miller: Fond Memories of UT Austin Prompt a Generous Bequest

Art historian Dr. Virginia E. Miller, a UT Austin alumna, has generously included support for LLILAS Benson in her estate. The bequest designates the creation of two program endowments: Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund in Latin American Art Studies, to support the study of Latin American Art via LLILAS, and Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund for the Benson Library, to support any function of the Benson Latin American Collection. 

Dr. Miller completed her master’s in Latin American Studies from LLILAS (at the time, ILAS) in 1973, and earned her doctorate in Art History, also from UT, in 1981. An art historian who specializes in ancient Maya art, she is Associate Professor Emerita of Pre-Columbian and Native American Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Recently, Dr. Miller spoke to LLILAS Benson Communications Coordinator Susanna Sharpe, explaining how a young woman born in London, Ontario, Canada, made her way to Austin, Texas, to study Latin America. 

Photo courtesy Virginia Miller

“I was a French major [in college], but nobody was offering me a glamorous job in Paris when I graduated. But I got a chance to work for the YWCA in Mexico City, so I took it,” recalled Miller. “I had already spent a summer in South America by then.”  

Driven by her interest in learning more about Latin America, her fluency in Spanish, and her desire to study and live someplace warm, Miller applied to a handful of master’s programs in the U.S. She knew very little about the programs she applied to. “Remember, this is before the internet.” A Latin American history professor she knew told her to choose UT Austin if she got in, so she did, although she admits the decision was rather random. “I hadn’t looked at a map,” Miller laughed, “I didn’t know where Austin was; I just knew it was in Texas. I couldn’t understand anybody at all for the first few days!”  

It was during an art history seminar during her first semester that Miller began to develop an interest in the field that would become the focus of her career. Once she began the PhD program in art history, things gradually began to fall into place and her focus zeroed in on pre-Columbian and then specifically ancient Maya art.  

Miller remarked on witnessing her own students’ reactions to this material. “A lot of my students were just astonished to learn about [pre-Columbian art]. Even the art history majors. I got a lot of converts from modern and Renaissance art, especially at the master’s level. The best part of teaching was the students’ discovery of these cultures.” 

Although she spent most of her career teaching at UIC, Miller also taught at Oberlin College and Northwestern University. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught in both Guatemala and Mexico. She also took a brief break from teaching to join the Foreign Service, working in the consular office of the American embassy in Madrid.  

She is the author of The Frieze of the Palace of the Stuccoes, Acanceh, Yucatan, Mexico, and an edited volume titled The Role of Gender in Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture, as well as numerous book chapters and journal articles. A forthcoming article, “Heads, Skulls, and Sacred Scaffolds: New Studies on Ritual Body Processing and Display in Chichen Itza and Beyond” (Ancient Mesoamerica), is the product of a collaboration with physical anthropologist Vera Tiesler.  

Fond Memories of UT Austin 

Miller’s memories of UT and of Austin are joyful and positive, and it is clear that the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Collection were a hub for much of her engagement here. 

“UT was really foundational to me—to my professional career, but also to me personally. I really enjoyed my time in Austin. It was wonderful having that fantastic library. There were so many events that had a Latin American focus. There were so many faculty, even in areas I didn’t do, like geography and history, that you had this wonderful climate.” 

Recalling the Benson, she said, “I loved the library. It had every publication. It was amazing. I mean, I would be researching pre-Columbian art in say, Bolivia, and I would find a journal that had two issues published in La Paz in the twenties [laughs] and it would be in the library! I was completely spoiled. Even Dumbarton Oaks in Washington does not match it. I was in the library a lot. Partly to work, partly to hang out with my friends, and partly because back then you browsed the stacks a lot. . . . I would browse the stacks endlessly to find interesting material on a wide range of subjects. It was the amplitude of the library and the accessibility of the material . . . it was just a very good atmosphere there.” 

The inevitable question arose: Did she cross paths with the revered (and sometimes feared) head librarian Nettie Lee Benson? “Oh yeah. She terrified me! [laughs] She was in charge! I also knew Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, and David Block was a close friend of mine in graduate school.” (The beloved Gutiérrez-Witt and the late Block are former head librarians at the Benson.) 

The Latin American Studies master’s degree offered Miller the freedom she needed to explore a wide and diverse field. “I was fascinated that when I arrived, I went to see my adviser because I didn’t know what to take, and he told me I could take anything,” she said. 

It is clear that Dr. Miller’s gift is her way of giving back to a place that helped shape her and enriched her life.  

“I had a lot of fun there. I know that’s not academic, but I really enjoyed my time. Austin is a wonderful memory to me.” 

Libraries Explorer Fellowship: Fast Fun Facts

Over the past five years, great strides have been made in enhancing access to the UT Libraries (UTL) maps and geospatial collections. The UT Libraries has for decades been committed to making copyright-free maps from its collections freely available online. This commitment has resulted in the scanning and sharing of tens of thousands of maps from the renowned Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (PCLMC), which have been made available for download online for over 25 years. The Libraries’ focus on sharing its geospatial data has also more recently led to the development of the Texas GeoData portal in 2019, which has been a game-changer for enhancing discovery and use of geospatial data and maps from the UT Libraries’ collections. This portal enables access to a wide variety of geospatial data types available for download, including georeferenced scanned maps from the PCLMC and geospatial datasets developed from collections in the Alexander Architectural Archives and the Benson Latin American Collection.

The Texas GeoData portal allows you to download georeferenced maps, like this Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Austin from 1889.

In 2021, the UT Libraries Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship was created to incentivize engagement with the Libraries’ geospatial materials like those shared through the PCLMC site, the Texas GeoData portal, the UT Libraries Collections portal. This Fellowship has been designed to both support the work of UT researchers and scholars who utilize UTL map and geospatial assets in their projects and to encourage further enrichment and promotion of the UT Libraries’ map and geospatial collections. The Explorer Fellowship is now offered annually, with two separate award categories: one for UT students of all levels and the other for faculty and post-docs.

On August 22, UTL launched the call for proposals for the 2022 Fellowship awards. Proposals are due October 3, and the Faculty and Student award winners will be announced on GIS Day, November 16, 2022.

Here are some fast fun facts about the Explorer Fellowship to pique your interest:

  • Fellowship awards are $1500 each, with half distributed upon announcement of Fellowship recipients and half distributed after completion of Fellowship requirements.
  • Two Fellowships are offered annually, one for active UT students and one for UT faculty and postdocs in current paid appointments.
  • Fellowship recipients will have their work featured and preserved in one or more UTL repositories, such as Texas ScholarWorks and the Texas Data Repository.
  • Maps and geospatial assets that are improved or enhanced by Fellowship awardees will be shared with others through the Texas GeoData portal.
  • Fellows will have the opportunity to meet and consult with UTL map collections and GIS experts Katherine Strickland and Michael Shensky for project insights and tool guidance.
  • Researchers selected for Fellowship support will join the nascent ranks of previous recipients doing impressive work whose projects are described below.

2021 Student Fellowship:

Bailey Ohlson

Bailey is studying critical watersheds in Puerto Rico (PR) and their downstream fresh-water reservoirs in order to quantify sediment accumulation rates and identify environmental controls on erosion. She is using maps from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection to characterize past land use in PR and determine their influence on sediment accumulation. She plans on publishing a database of bathymetric data in the UTL repositories with pre-existing bathymetric data from government agencies as well as new data she will be collecting using a bathymetric hydro-drone.


headshot photo of Dr. Ginny Catania

2021 Faculty Fellowship:

Dr. Ginny Catania

The threat from sea-level rise to the Texas coast, which produces ~$400 billion in economic value, is increasingly visible with widespread impacts across human, built, and natural environments. This project plans to build a map of coastal change for the State of Texas to enable the detection of the regions of greatest change (hotspots). By studying hotspot locations in conjunction with environmental data, we can understand the processes responsible for change and how such regions might be impacted from future sea level rise. Map data will be superimposed with demographic data to determine the coastal populations most at risk from sea level and associated threats.


Curious to know more? Visit the UTL Map & Geospatial Collections Explorer Fellowship LibGuide.

Take a look at the Call for Proposals document for ideas about using geospatial collection items in research you’re planning. It’s possible your project could be elevated by these materials, and incorporating them would enable you to meet the Fellowship application requirements. Please also feel free to share this information about the Explorer Fellowship with any friends or colleagues that you think might be interested in this opportunity.

Latin American Digital Initiatives TEAM Visits Partners in Buenaventura, Colombia

[Español abajo]

Two members of the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team recently visited Buenaventura, Colombia, to work with archivists and community leaders at Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a grassroots collective of organizations founded in 1993 that is working to transform the political, social, economic, and territorial reality of Colombia’s Black, Afro-descendant, Raizal, and Palenquera communities through the defense and revindication of their individual, collective, and ancestral rights.

View of Bahía de Buenaventura from hotel balcony in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

PCN participates as one of several sister archives with which LLILAS Benson has developed a partnership to support the digitization and description of archival materials. Funded by a succession of grants from the Mellon Foundation, this project emphasizes the post-custodial archiving model.* Digitized materials from PCN’s Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia archive.

Alex Suarez, Digital Projects Archivist, and Karla Roig, former Post-Custodial and Digital Initiatives Graduate Research Assistant, spent a week in Buenaventura to assist PCN with organizing and processing their physical collection. By processing the physical collection, PCN will be able to digitize and create metadata more efficiently. Below, Suarez (AS) and Roig (KR) answer questions about this meaningful visit.

Please describe what you did while visiting Colombia.

AR: We conducted a series of trainings on archival processing, metadata creation, and digitization. We also had the opportunity to learn about the region as well as the city of Buenaventura. The first few days were spent getting to know the collection and to also understand how PCN works as an organization. 

Digital Projects Archivist Alex Suarez works with team members at PCN in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Together with PCN, we brainstormed how to arrange the archive in a way that reflects how PCN operates and how they envisioned using the archive in the future. We also reviewed digitization and metadata best practices so that PCN materials can be accessible worldwide and researchers can learn about the organization and Buenaventura. 

We were also invited to attend throughout the week three talks titled “Diálogos ribereños,” organized by PCN and the Banco de la República, in which community leaders engaged in conversation with the community around topics of burial rites, economic practices and the environment, and the settlement of their rivers.

Diálogos ribereños meeting, Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Please share some of the highlights of the trip: the setting, activities, and accomplishments.

AR: I was blown away by the closeness of the community and the work they have accomplished over the last 30 years. Everybody knows each other and have been working toward the same goals. It was so interesting to see the community at work. 

One of the biggest accomplishments was PCN creating their archival processing plan and defining their arrangement plan. Some of my favorite moments were spent drinking freshly brewed coffee around [PCN leader] Marta’s dining room table talking about how to arrange the archive and how they envisioned future researchers using the archive. 

PCN leader Marta Inés Cuervo (l) examines archival material with Alex Suarez. Photo: Karla Roig.


Another favorite moment was attending an interactive exhibit titled Río la Verdad, by Bogotá-based artist Leonel Vásquez, who installed a swimming pool where guests could submerge themselves and hear the sound of the rivers and people singing songs about their history. It was a deeply powerful experience and one that I will never forget. 

Río la Verdad exhibit by Leonel Vásquez. Photo: Karla Roig.

KR: About the setting: On Sunday morning, we met with Marta and she showed us around Buenaventura for the first time. Our hotel was in front of the Malecón, their only public park, where people gather early in the morning to wait for the small boats that will connect them to other parts of the Colombian Pacific coast. Walking around the small coastal city, there were many local stores and street vendors displaying their goods—from fruits and vegetables, clothes and shoes, to home essentials. Right away we could sense the tight-knit community bonds. Everyone we passed greeted us with a “Buenos días” and Marta was often stopped by people she knew to have a small conversation.

View from the Faro – Mirador Turístico (lighthouse) at the malecón (pier) in Buenaventura. Photo: Karla Roig.

We stopped at a small coffee shop with the view of the Pacific Ocean to have a refreshing drink, where we talked about geography, how Colombia is divided into different departments, and how Buenaventura is the biggest municipality in the Valle del Cauca department. We were staying in the urban center of the municipality, which is where one of the major ports in the country that brings in a large percentage of imported goods is located. Seeing the large yellow container cranes was impressive, they spotted the skyline from our hotel view to the right, and to the left, on a clear day, we could see the mountains at a distance. 

One of my favorite memories from our visit was the cultural exchange that happened between us and the PCN team. They taught us about their colloquialisms and their native fruits such as maracuyá and borojó (we tried them too!) and we shared our own vernacular from Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish. It was exciting to find the similarities between our cultures as well as learning about the uniqueness of their own: how their communities are based around their rivers and also how the marimba is one of their traditional music instruments. Definitely the highlight of the entire visit for me was how welcoming and friendly the PCN team was, and how excited they were to engage with us at a professional and personal level. Toward the end of the week, we had a team dinner to celebrate what we had accomplished and to thank them for hosting us. That night we talked at length about the week, and we all shared what we had learned and were grateful for. It was a beautiful moment interspersed with conversation centered on the archive, but also with laughter and familiarity. 

Farewell dinner with members of PCN. Photo: Karla Roig.

Any ongoing goals?

The main ongoing goal for LLILAS Benson’s Mellon-funded collaboration with PCN is to continue working on the physical archive and to arrange the materials in a way that reflects the organization. 

Note: Post-custodial archiving is a process whereby sometimes vulnerable archives are preserved digitally and the digital versions made accessible worldwide, thus increasing access to the materials while ensuring they remain in the custody and care of their community of origin.


Lea este artículo en español:

Equipo de Iniciativas Digitales visita socios en Buenaventura, Colombia

Dos miembros del equipo de Iniciativas Digitales de LLILAS Benson viajaron recientemente a Buenaventura, Colombia, para trabajar con archivistas y líderes comunitarios de Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), una colectiva de organizaciones fundada en 1993 que trabaja para transformar la realidad política, social, económica y territorial de las comunidades negras, afro-descendientes, raizal y palenqueras colombianas a través de la defensa y reivindicación de sus derechos individuales, colectivas y ancestrales.

Como archivo, PCN participa en una colaboración con LLILAS Benson para apoyar la digitalización y descripción de la Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia. El proyecto, se está realizando a través del modelo de archivos pos-custodiales* y es apoyado por la Fundación Mellon.

Vista de la Bahía de Buenaventura desde el balcón del hotel enn Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Alex Suarez, Archivista para Proyectos Digitales, y Karla Roig, Asistente Posgrado de Investigaciones para Iniciativas Digitales, pasaron una semana en Buenaventura para ayudar a PCN a organizar y procesar su colección física. Al procesar la colección física, podrían digitalizar y crear metadatos de una manera más eficiente. Abajo, Suarez (AS) y Roig (KR) contestan algunas preguntas sobre la visita.

Expliquen, por favor, las actividades que realizaron durante su visita.

AS: Llevamos a cabo una serie de capacitaciones sobre el procesamiento de archivos, la creación de metadatos y la digitalización. También tuvimos la oportunidad de conocer sobre la región, así como la ciudad de Buenaventura. Los primeros días fueron dedicados a conocer la colección y también a comprender cómo funciona PCN como organización.

Junto con PCN, aportamos ideas sobre cómo organizar el archivo de una manera que reflejara cómo opera PCN y cómo imaginaban usar el archivo en el futuro. También revisamos las mejores prácticas de digitalización y metadatos para que los materiales de PCN puedan ser accesibles en todo el mundo y los investigadores puedan aprender sobre la organización y sobre Buenaventura.

Archivista para Proyectos Digitales Alex Suarez trabaja con miembros del equipo de PCN en Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

También fuimos invitadas a asistir a lo largo de la semana a tres charlas tituladas “Diálogos ribereños”, organizadas por PCN y el Banco de la República, en las que líderes comunitarios conversaron con la comunidad en torno a temas de ritos fúnebres, prácticas económicas y medio ambiente, y del poblamiento de sus ríos.

Reunión “Diálogos ribereños” . Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Cuáles fueron los eventos más destacados del viaje en términos del lugar, las actividades, los logros?

AS: Quedé asombrada por la cercanía de la comunidad y el trabajo que han realizado durante los últimos 30 años. Todos se conocen unos a otros y han estado trabajando hacia unas metas en común y fue muy interesante ver a la comunidad haciendo ese trabajo.

Uno de los mayores logros fue PCN creando su plan de procesamiento de archivos y definiendo su plan de organización. Algunos de mis momentos favoritos fueron bebiendo café recién colado alrededor de la mesa del comedor de Marta hablando sobre cómo organizar el archivo y cómo imaginaban que los futuros investigadores usarían el archivo.

Marta Inés Cuervo (i) examina documentos con Alex Suarez. Foto: Karla Roig.

Otro de mis momentos favoritos fue asistir a una exhibición interactiva que fue instalada en el parque principal durante nuestra estadía. La exposición se tituló Río la Verdad del artista bogotano Leonel Vásquez, quien instaló una piscina donde los invitados podían sumergirse y escuchar el sonido de los ríos y la gente cantando canciones sobre su historia. Fue una experiencia profundamente poderosa y una que nunca olvidaré.

Exhibición Río la Verdad por Leonel Vásquez. Foto: Karla Roig.

KR: Sobre el lugar: El domingo por la mañana nos reunimos con Marta [una líder de PCN] y ella nos caminó por Buenaventura por primera vez. Nuestro hotel estaba frente al Malecón, el único parque público de la ciudad, donde la gente se reúne temprano en la mañana para esperar las pequeñas embarcaciones que los conectarán con otras partes de la costa pacífica colombiana. Caminando por la pequeña ciudad costera, había muchas tiendas locales y vendedores en la calle que mostraban sus productos, desde frutas y verduras, ropa y zapatos, hasta artículos para el hogar. Inmediatamente pudimos ver la cercanía de la comunidad, a todo el que pasábamos nos saludaba con un “Buenos días”, y Marta a menudo paraba a hablar con algún conocido u otro para tener una pequeña conversación.

Nos detuvimos en una pequeña cafetería con vistas al Océano Pacífico para tomar una bebida refrescante en donde conversamos sobre la geografía, cómo Colombia está dividido en diferentes departamentos, y cómo Buenaventura es el municipio más grande del departamento del Valle del Cauca. Nos estábamos quedando en el centro urbano del municipio, que es dónde se encuentra uno de los puertos más importantes del país que trae un gran porcentaje de mercancías importadas. Ver las grandes grúas amarillas de contenedores fue impresionante, se percibían hacia la derecha del horizonte desde la vista de nuestro hotel, y a la izquierda, en un día claro, podíamos ver las montañas a lo lejos.

Vista del Faro – Mirador Turístico en el Malecón. Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Uno de mis mejores recuerdos de nuestra visita fue el intercambio cultural que ocurrió entre nosotros y el equipo de PCN. Ellos nos enseñaron sobre sus coloquialismos y sus frutas nativas como el maracuyá y el borojó (¡también los probamos!) y compartimos nuestro vernáculo del español puertorriqueño y cubano. Fue emocionante encontrar las similitudes entre nuestras culturas, así como aprender sobre la singularidad de la de ellos: cómo sus comunidades se basan en sus ríos y también cómo la marimba es uno de sus instrumentos musicales tradicionales.

Definitivamente, lo que más se destacó de toda la visita para mí fue lo acogedor y amable que fue el equipo de PCN, y lo emocionados que estaban de interactuar con nosotros a nivel profesional y personal. Hacia el final de la semana, tuvimos una cena de equipo para celebrar lo que habíamos logrado y agradecerles por recibirnos. Esa noche hablamos sobre la semana y todos compartimos lo que habíamos aprendido y por lo que estábamos agradecidos. Fue un hermoso momento intercalado con conversación enfocada en el archivo, pero también con risas y familiaridad.

Cena de despedida con miembros de PCN. Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Objetivos para el futuro?

El principal objetivo de la subvención Mellon es continuar trabajando en el acervo físico y organizar los materiales de una manera que refleje la organización.


Nota: La práctica de archivos pos-custodiales tiene que ver con la preservación de archivos vulnerables en su lugar de origen, mientras se crea una versión digital del material para hacerlo disponible a nivel global.

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