Students Use Digital Tools to reveal “Hidden” Collection of Pre-Colonial Objects

Nasca bowl with birds

Students in Astrid Runggaldier’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Peru class were tasked with an intriguing project this spring: take a collection of pre-colonial objects that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible, and make it visible using digital tools. Their efforts have come to fruition with a first-of-its-kind online exhibition titled Ancient Coastal Cultures of Peru: People and Animals at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The objects in question are part of the Art and Art History Collection (AAHC) at The University of Texas at Austin, a collection associated with the Mesoamerica Center and the Department of Art and Art History. Consisting of ancient artifacts, ethnographic materials, and historical objects primarily from the Americas, the collection, curated by Runggaldier, spans approximately 5,000 invaluable objects for research and studious exploration. These rare pieces do not have their own dedicated exhibition space, although since 2017, select objects rotate through the Ancient Americas gallery at the Blanton Museum of Art (see “Mesoamerican Artifacts Highlight Makeover at UT’s Blanton”).

Chimu spout-and-handle vessel with human effigy

Long focused on the need for a virtual museum to showcase the AAHC collection, Runggaldier looked to the field of digital humanities to devise a project with a few objectives in mind. “Approaching this project from a digital humanities perspective could simultaneously serve in the stewardship of the collection, create an educational resource at UT and beyond, and provide an opportunity for students to become involved in learning goals and tools of digital scholarship, as well as museum studies approaches to collection management and curation,” she said.

Nasca vase with trophy head

Enter the LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Curriculum Redesign Award. The award provides UT faculty and graduate student instructors with dedicated staff support by LLILAS Benson digital scholarship staff along with a grant of up to $250 to cover expenses incurred in the design or redesign of a course with Latin American, U.S. Latinx, and/or African Diaspora Studies content. Runggaldier applied and received the award, which she used to redesign the Ancient Peru class. For this endeavor, she has worked with Albert Palacios, LLILAS Benson digital scholarship coordinator.

Student’s final project, showing object comparisons

Palacios explains that the goal of the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office is to “introduce digital humanities principles, methods, and special collections meaningfully and with a critical lens” in the redesign of undergraduate and graduate courses. “Through lectures, class activities, individual assignments and group projects, we aim to strike a balance in the knowledge we impart as co-instructors,” Palacios continues, “so that students leave the course with a well-rounded understanding of the subject matter and course content, as well as information literacy and research methods, basic and more advanced digital skills, and knowledge of ethical issues surrounding collection development and use.”

Chimu vessel

First-year student Miguel Belmonte, a neuroscience major, attests to the success of this aim: Before this course, “I had never used or even known about digital scholarship tools. It was a unique experience.”

Nasca objects depicting chile peppers; postcard showing twentieth-century vendor

Students were divided into teams of four for the final project. Each team had to research objects in the UT collection from two different pre-colonial Andean groups—the Chimu and the Nasca. They then had to compare the objects they chose to an object from another museum collection. To provide context for visualizing the environments of Peru, Runggaldier selected images from the Benson’s Hispanic Society of America Postcard Collection, which has been digitized, described, and mapped by School of Information graduate student Elizabeth Peattie, who is the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship and Special Collections intern. Three other indispensable contributors to the success of this project were Brianna Crockett, collections assistant and Art and Art History undergrad, who assisted in the compilation and description of digital assets; Katy Parker, Humanities Liaison Librarian for Fine Arts, who provided research support for students throughout the semester; and Nicole Payntar, doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, who designed assignment grading criteria and rubrics for research and digital project components.

Student slide featuring Chimu objects and thematic postcard

“I truly enjoy seeing the aha! moment in students’ eyes as they figure out how to use open-source digital tools to make their research more dynamic and interconnected,” says Palacios. “For many, the learning curve is steep, so the digital scholarship staff’s role is to help them overcome this. Luckily, we continue to hear that the in-depth and intense experience was worth the challenge!”

Runggaldier and Palacios had originally planned an in-person opening event to celebrate the going live of the online exhibition. Given the current closure of campus due to the covid-19 pandemic, this was not to be. We encourage readers to visit the online exhibition and to share their opinions on social media by tagging @llilasbenson and @UT_AAH and using the hashtag #digitalhumanities.

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More information: Contact Lauren Macknight, Art and Art History, or Susanna Sharpe, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

The Possibilities of Other Worlds: the UT Libraries’ Science Fiction Ebook Collection

By Katy Tuck

Katy Tuck is a graduate student at the School of Information and currently serves as an Ask A Librarian Graduate Research Assistant at the Perry-Castañeda Library.

One defining hallmark of the science fiction genre is its atmospheric world-building. Against the backdrop of a fictitious future, past, or present, set in realities distinct from, yet eerily similar to our own, Sci-Fi plots grapple with the big ideas pressing humanity. Though the setting or the characters may be unfamiliar to us, the underlying exploration of political and social themes in Sci-Fi are universally apropos and fitting for a strange time such as the current moment. While we continue to work and study from home, contemplating the uncertainties and possibilities of the future, now is an opportune time to be transported to these other worlds and dimensions through the PCL’s robust and ever-expanding Sci-Fi collection.

Former UT Library Director Harold W. Billings had a penchant for the Sci-Fi genre and amassed a sizable personal collection over the years. He generously donated this collection to the UT Libraries some time ago, and many of these volumes are still in circulation. In keeping with his mission to expand the Sci-Fi holdings of the PCL, librarians have continued curating and developing this collection over the years. Notably, Humanities Librarian Gina Bastone has expanded the collection to further reflect the diversity of authors and themes across the genre and recently added multiple ebooks to the PCL Sci-Fi Collection. 

If you are looking for a place to  delve into this reading, I  recommend you check out the Science Fiction Library Guide, created by former Ask a Librarian GRAs Adriana Casarez and Victoria Pena in 2018 under the guidance of Gina Bastone, and updated in 2020 to include a fantastic list of Sci-Fi titles now available as ebooks. Included in this ecollection are several complete series to keep you engaged and transfixed by literature all summer. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, I recommend Margaret Atwood’s relevant MaddAddam Trilogy, which includes the Oryx and Crake (1st in series), The Year of the Flood (2nd in series), and MaddAddam (3rd in series) books. After a pandemic sweeps the earth, dramatically altering known reality, survivors must band together and relearn how to navigate life. 

Cover of Margaret Atwood’s speculative, dystopian novel MaddAddam.

I also recommend award-winning author Octavia Butler’s Earthseed: The Complete Series, which explores themes related to social inequality, adaptability, and survival in a dystopian future. The series includes her works Parable of the Sower (1st in series) and Parable of the Talents (2nd in series). Butler was the recipient of several Hugo and Nebula Awards for her writing.

Image of Octavia Butler’s landmark Earthseed series.

From Proto-Sci-Fi to Cli-Fi (climate fiction) to Afro-Futurism to Cyberpunk, there is something for everyone, all accessible from the comfort of home (or beyond!) until we can resume our normal library activities. We welcome any suggested purchases to help us build our collection–just fill out this Suggest a Purchase form. Happy reading everyone.

Find the full list of science fiction ebooks on the Science Fiction library guide.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Get in the Midst for National Poetry Month

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

A poem in its printed form can feel complete and final. What I have learned, though, about poetry as both a reader and writer is that it is never linear. I don’t usually read a book of poems from start to finish – I jump around the book, pull phrases here and there. Writing poetry is even more complicated. A poem may start on a scrap of paper or in the Notes app on my phone. I may rewrite it by hand, then type it out again on my laptop. Drafting is never done in one sitting.

While every writer has their own process, I suspect many poets will admit to a similarly messy approach to drafting. And what if you could witness that process in real time? Poet, artist, and UT MFA student Annelyse Gelman and her collaborator, software programmer Jason Gillis-Grier, seek to answer that question through their delightful new poetry journal Midst.

Midst, which launched its inaugural issue in December 2019, provides readers a time-lapse view of a poem’s drafting process. Readers can watch the entire process from start to finish, or move around the timeline by rewinding or fast-forwarding. Each version of the poem is time-stamped, demonstrating that poems do not just magically appear but rather are the product of weeks, or even months, of work. This peek into the lengthy process of editing is intentional. Gelman and Gillis-Grier state on the journal’s website that they hope that Midst will demystify poetry and make it more accessible by showing the reader the writing process.

An early draft of Jenny Qi’s “When This Is All Over” in the Midst time-lapse web player (top). Compare it to Qi’s final draft (bottom). The Midst web player allows you to move along the timeline of a poem’s drafting process, so you can compare early drafts to the final poem.

Gelman and Gillis-Grier have plans to expand the project with the Midst app, which will allow poets to capture their drafting process and then submit their time-lapse poem to the journal. Right now, featured writers are nominated and invited to submit versions, but with the app, they can open up the journal to a wider audience of writers and readers directly.

And Gelman and Gillis-Grier haven’t limited their creative poetry projects to just Midst. They also recently debuted the web app Relineator, in collaboration with UT English graduate student Zoe Bursztajn-Illingworth and the UT Digital Writing & Research Lab. Relineator allows poets and students to enter poems and see them reformatted with new line breaks.

A fun re-interpretation of William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” reformatted in the Relineator app.

April is National Poetry Month. While this year’s celebration is marked with a more somber tone due to the global pandemic, it also feels fitting to enjoy poetry from home through experimental, interactive projects like Midst and Relineator. If this has inspired you to further explore poetry, April is the best time of year to do it! Take a look at this curated selection of poetry ebooks on the UT Poetry Center’s guide. Once our print collections open again, you can find Annelyse Gelman’s book Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone and many other great collections of contemporary poetry at the Poetry Center’s physical location in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

Digital Preservation and the LLILAS Benson Post-Custodial team

Vea abajo para versión en español / Veja em baixo para versão em português

In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part four in a series of five. Read part one, part two, and part three.

By DAVID BLISS (@davidallynbliss), Digital Processing Archivist, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections @llilasbenson

Over the past decade, LLILAS Benson has undertaken post-custodial archival projects in collaboration with partners throughout Latin America and beyond. Post-custodial archival practice encompasses a range of theory and methodology, built on the premise that digital technologies make it possible for collecting institutions like LLILAS Benson to provide access to archival collections from Latin America without taking physical custody or removing them from their original contexts of creation and use.

The Fondo Real de Cholula digitalization team in Puebla, Mexico. The team creates checksums for all files before sending them to the Benson for processing and preservation.

Through these post-custodial projects, LLILAS Benson staff and partner repository staff work together closely to identify collections of interest, select appropriate digitization equipment, and build metadata collection strategies. The materials are then digitized and described on-site in Latin America by partner repository staff. The digitized collections are then transferred to LLILAS Benson, where they are processed, preserved, and in most cases published online. Because the original collections are often vulnerable or sensitive, frequently touching on delicate human rights issues, long-term preservation of their digital copies is especially important to LLILAS Benson staff and partners in Latin America.

A digital photo of a 1607 document from the Fondo Real de Cholula collection. Digital preservation begins the moment each photo in the collection is taken, to protect the integrity of the digital collection.

In recent years, the LLILAS Benson team has integrated file fixity checks in all post-custodial projects. When launching a project at a partner site, LLILAS Benson staff now teach project team members the basic principles of digital preservation and the importance of fixity checks, which verify that files have not been altered or corrupted over time. The project teams are taught to create and verify checksums prior to transferring a batch of files to LLILAS Benson, using free software available in Spanish or Portuguese.

David Bliss and Dylan Joy, of LLILAS Benson, join scholars, government officials, and others at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla for the launch of the Fondo Real de Cholula digital preservation project. Photo: Revista el Arca de Noé, June 26, 2018.

These checksums now accompany all file deliveries from project sites, and help the LLILAS Benson team identify corrupted or missing files immediately. These checksums speed LLILAS Benson’s processing and preservation work, allowing the files to be published online and preserved long-term more easily. The checksum workflow also encourages each partner to include fixity checks in any future digitization projects they undertake, thus contributing to the partners’ own digital preservation capacity.

Equipo poscustodial LLILAS Benson

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi (@jenniferisve)

@llilasbenson

Durante la última década, LLILAS Benson ha emprendido proyectos de archivo de tipo poscustodial junto con socios a lo largo de América Latina. La práctica de archivo poscustodial abarca una serie de teorías y metodologías basadas en la premisa de que las tecnologías digitales hacen posible que las instituciones colectoras como LLILAS Benson provean acceso a las colecciones de archivos de Latinoamérica sin su custodia física o su eliminación del contexto original de su creación y uso.

A través de estos proyectos poscustodiales el personal de LLILAS Benson y sus colaboradores trabajan en estrecha colaboración para identificar colecciones de interés, seleccionar el equipo de digitalización adecuado y desarrollar estrategias de curaduría de metadatos. Los materiales son digitalizados y descritos en Latinoamérica por parte del personal de cada archivo para luego ser transferidos al equipo LLILAS Benson, quien procesa, preserva y publica los materiales en la mayoría de los casos. Debido a que las colecciones originales son a menudo vulnerables o con contenido delicado, y frecuentemente tocan temas relacionados con derechos humanos, la preservación a largo plazo de sus copias digitales es especialmente importante para el personal y los socios de LLILAS Benson en América Latina.

El equipo de digitalización del Fondo Real de Cholula, en Puebla, Mexico. El equipo crea sumas de verificación para todos los archivos antes de enviarlos a la Benson para su procesamiento y preservación.

En años recientes, LLILAS Benson ha añadido verificaciones de permanencia de archivos en los proyectos poscustodiales en curso. Con el inicio de cada proyecto en el archivo de los colaboradores, el personal de LLILAS Benson enseña a cada equipo los principios básicos de preservación digital y la importancia de añadir verificaciones de permanencia, que verifican que los archivos no han sido alterados o dañados con el tiempo. Los equipos de los proyectos aprenden a crear y verificar sumas de verificación usando programas gratuitos en español o portugués antes de transferir un conjunto de archivos a LLILAS Benson.

Una foto digital de un documento de 1607 del Fondo Real de Cholula. La preservación digital comienza en el momento en que se toma una foto, para proteger la integridad de la colección digital.

Estas sumas de verificación ahora acompañan todas las entregas de archivos desde el lugar de los proyectos de digitalización y ayudan al equipo de LLILAS Benson a identificar archivos dañados o faltantes de inmediato. Esto acelera las tareas locales de procesamiento y preservación en LLILAS Benson y anima a cada colaborador a incluir controles de verificación en cualquier otro proyecto que puedan emprender en el futuro. Esto a su vez contribuye a la capacidad de preservación digital propia de los colaboradores.

David Bliss y Dylan Joy, de LLILAS Benson, en el Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla para el lanzamiento del proyecto de preservación digital del Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junio de 2018.

Equipe pós-custodial da LLILAS Benson

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

@llilasbenson

Durante a última década, a LLILAS Benson empreendeu alguns projetos arquivísticos pós-custodiais, em colaboração com entidades parceiras espalhadas pela América Latina e outros lugares. A prática arquivística pós-custodial engloba uma gama de teorias e metodologias assentadas na premissa de que as tecnologias digitais possibilitam a instituições recolhedoras de coleções, como a LLILAS Benson, disponibilizar o acesso a coleções arquivísticas latino-americanas sem necessidade de obter custódia física ou a remoção das mesmas de seus contextos originais de criação e de uso.

Equipe do projeto de digitalização do Fondo Real de Cholula em Puebla, México. A equipe cria checksums para todos os arquivos antes de enviá-los para a Benson para processamento e preservação.

Por meio desses projetos pós-custodiais, as equipes de profissionais da LLILAS Benson e dos repositórios parceiros trabalham em contato estreito para identificar coleções de interesse, selecionar o equipamento de digitalização adequado e criar estratégias de coleta de metadados. O material é então digitalizado e descrito pela equipe de repositório da entidade parceira em cada local específico da América Latina. Em seguida, as coleções digitalizadas são transferidas para a LLILAS Bensonm onde são processadas, preservadas e, na maioria dos casos, publicadas online. Devido ao fato de muitas coleções originais serem vulneráveis ou sensitivas por causa de referências frequentes a questões delicadas de direitos humanos, a preservação a longo prazo de cópias digitais é especialmente importante para a equipe da LLILAS Benson e entidades parceiras na América Latina.

Uma foto digital de um documento de 1607 da coleção Fondo Real de Cholula. A preservação digital começa no momento em que cada foto da coleção é tirada, para proteger a integridade da coleção digital.

Em anos recentes, os profissionais da LLILAS Benson vêm integrando verificações de fixidez de arquivos em todos os projetos pós-custodiais. Agora, ao lançar um projeto em local parceiro, a equipe ensina às equipes do projeto os princípios básicos da preservação digital e a importância das verificações de fixidez para constatar se os arquivos não foram alterados ou corrompidos ao longo do tempo. As equipes de projeto aprendem a criar e verificar as checksums (somas de verificação) antes de transferir qualquer lote de arquivos para a LLILAS Benson, usando software gratuito disponível em espanhol e português.

David Bliss e Dylan Joy, da LLILAS Benson, no Arquivo Judicial do Estado de Puebla, México, para o lançamento do projeto de preservação digital do arquivo Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junho de 2018.

Essas checksums já acompanham todas as entregas de arquivos oriundos de locais de projetos e ajudam a equipe da LLILAS Benson a identificar imediatamente arquivos corrompidos ou faltando. As checksums aceleram o trabalho de processamento e preservação da LLILAS Benson, permitindo publicar os arquivos online e preservá-los a longo prazo com mais facilidade. O fluxograma de checksums também incentiva cada entidade parceira a incluir verificações de fixidez em qualquer projeto de digitalização a ser empreendido no futuro contribuindo, assim, para a própria capacidade de preservação digital de cada entidade.

Red, Hot and Digitized: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Together with diaries and memoirs in print, audio-visual testimonies are primary sources that shed light on the lived experience of people who experienced the Holocaust.  There are a few institutions around the world that produce, curate, and publish such testimonies;[1] one of them is the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale university. The mission of the Fortunoff archive is to “record and project the stories of those who were there.” Established in 1981, and based on a donation of testimonies previously videotaped since 1979 by The Holocaust Survivors Film Project, the archive works to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.[2]

Fred Alford, professor emeritus of the university of Maryland, researches the way trauma becomes embedded in nations, societies, and groups[3]; upon his research in the Fortunoff archive, he asserted that “testimonies are important [because they] make a historical abstraction real.”[4] Witnesses remind us that the Holocaust was made of people, victims, and executioners. He argues that a proper psychoanalytic interpretation can help us understand not merely the suffering of survivors, but can remind us of an equally important fact: “…. that for every torment there was a tormenter, for every degradation a degrader, for every humiliation one who inflicted it. For every death a murderer……”

He goes on to say that “We listen to witnesses in order to understand their suffering, and we seek to understand their suffering in order to understand better regimes of organized terror and the role they play in our lives……We listen to witnesses in order to remember better that their suffering comes at the hands of regimes that are made of people.”[5]

The Fortunoff archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 36 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

While the database allows for various searching, sorting, and limiting options – using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a form of a common controlled vocabulary – it also has more advanced Digital Humanities tools which were developed together with the Yale DHLab.

Let them speak (LTS) is a digital anthology of testimonies from three different collections – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California (USC VA), and the Fortunoff archive. The anthology includes a search tool that employs corpus query language which allows for more sophisticated searches like Lemma searches. The goal is to demonstrate the value of these linguistics tools for exploring large numbers of audiovisual materials, as well as make a first attempt to bring collections of testimonies into the same digital space. The LTS tool is slated to go live by December 2020.

The Collection metadata dashboard is a visual representation of the collection descriptions, as it allows filtering by various parameters, such as date (birth year and recording year), birth place, subject, gender, language of testimony, and affiliate programs from which testimonies were received. One could access each testimony directly from the dashboard. A useful functionality is the ability to search for subject headings in the dashboard and limit the results further by additional parameters. For example, a search for the term “childbirth” would reveal five subject headings related to the term; clicking on “childbirth in concentration camps” would bring up 98 testimonies.

The Testimony citation database shows data on cited testimonies, publications that cited them, and the authors of those publications. Some authors’ names are linked to the author’s website, their page on the OCLC WorldCat Identities database, or their authority file on the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) database. Searching for Fred Alford, the scholar cited above, one would realize that he has made 60 citations to 26 testimonies in 5 publications. These testimonies and publications are linked from the results page.

The Fortunoff archive is open to any student or researcher either on site, or online through an ‘access site.’ Currently there are 84 access sites around the world in academic libraries, museums, and research centers. The University of Texas Libraries has joined the project as an access site in summer 2019. The archive is accessible to UT affiliates both on and off campus, as well as to non-UT walk-in visitors on campus. All users would need to create an account with Yale’s Aviary, the archive’s digital access system. Searching and browsing is done through that personal account. There is no cost involved. UT affiliates could also access their Aviary account, and the archive, through a proxy connection to UT and/or a VPN.

The UT Libraries holds 390 items (in print and online) that deal with personal narratives and testimonies of holocaust survivors. Most of these items are autobiographies or diaries, while others are audiovisual materials, research and analysis of personal narratives, and collections of individual testimonies. The Fortunoff database itself is also accessible through the library catalog.


[1] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), The Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, The British Library (London), and The University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation.

[2] https://fortunoff.library.yale.edu/about-us/our-story/

[3] https://gvpt.umd.edu/facultyprofile/alford/c-fred

[4] Alford, C. Why Holocaust Testimony is Important, and how Psychoanalytic Interpretation can Help…but only to a Point. Psychoanal Cult Soc 13, 221–239 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2008.16

[5] Ibid.


Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

I’m excited to share these diverse adaptations of classical literature in our library collection, especially since they hold a special significance for me as a Latina who completed her undergraduate work in Latin and History here at UT Austin.

The study and teaching of Greek and Roman Classical Civilization has largely been a white and male tradition. As there are increasing calls for diversity in academia, Classics has made some strides, but largely from students and early career scholars, raising the questions about just who is Classics ‘for’?

Red Figure Kantharos, a large drinking vessel. In the style of the Penelope painter, classical period, mid 5th century BCE. From Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope with art by Avery Lawrence.

A new online exhibit, “Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature” showcases items from the UT Libraries collection of original classical Greek literature in translation and contemporary adaptations created by a more diverse authorship than usually discussed. UT Libraries contain a depth of diverse adaptations but showcased here are works of authors from Latinx & Latin American, African & African Diaspora, Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities.

Variety of adaptation is also highlighted in the form of plays, novels, visual art and in a wide array of translations and scholarly approach. The collection and themes presented in this exhibit on diverse adaptations are intended to encourage those, especially people of color (POC) and LGBTQ+ folks, who may not have historically felt included in conversations related to classics or classical literature. For those already engaged in classics, they can see the evolution of translation studies and how classical antiquity draws parallels to the contemporary realities of diverse communities.

The Land of the Lotus Eaters, 1977, Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on fiberboard, 36 x 48 inches. From Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.

These adaptations are fantastic in their own right but also showcase the illuminating perspectives and unique takes on classical literature. Everyone loves a good Simpsons take on the Odyssey, but there is something novel about reading an adaptation of Medea that includes culturally familiar dialogue of English mixed with border Spanish. These types of perspectives elevate the original work.

Production poster from Arizona State University MainStage production of The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, directed by Dora Arreola, 2014.

In highlighting diverse publications, this exhibit also calls attention to the issue of diversity in the field of Classics itself. This showcase also challenges us to grapple with questions around structural issues such as the lack of retention of those from underrepresented backgrounds in the academy. It will take a combination of entities and systemic efforts to transform a field that historically does not include POC or LGBTQ+ scholarship. This exhibit asks us to redefine who Classics is ‘for’ by delving into how the ancient world has been received and recontextualized by diverse adaptations engaging with classical literature.  As such, it is but one effort to illustrate a fresh and more nuanced face of a field that is no longer just for an exclusive class, gender or color of people.

The Rebirth of PubMed

2020 is certainly the year of change, and UT Libraries staff is working hard to keep users and each other as up-to-date as possible so that we can all weather these changes and come out the other side stronger than ever. One of these efforts is a newly published Research Guide outlining and explaining upcoming changes to the highly used database, PubMed.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is transitioning to an updated interface and search algorithm in PubMed. This version will be the sole option for using PubMed when the legacy version is decommissioned. New PubMed, or PubMed Labs as it’s sometimes known, provides the same PubMed content to users with an updated design to correspond more closely with modern users’ expectations of the database functionality. Additionally, PubMed is seeking to create a responsive design system with ongoing user feedback, added features and a regular maintenance schedule. While this is a great undertaking by NLM, UT librarians wanted to show users where and how to do the things they’re familiar with in Legacy PubMed in the New PubMed

With this in mind, the UT Libraries Systematic Reviews Interest Group created a Research Guide illustrating common processes in PubMed. The Research Guide features side-by-side instructions, with accompanying screenshots of Legacy PubMed and New PubMed, to walk users through the changes to the resource. 

Digital Preservation and the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America

Vea abajo para versión en español / Veja em baixo para versão em português

In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part three in a series of five. Read part one and part two.

By SUSAN SMYTHE KUNG, PhD, Manager, (@SusanKung), and RYAN SULLIVANT, PhD, Language Data Curator, (@floatingtone), Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America @AILLA_archive

At AILLA, we are developing guidelines for language researchers and activists that are intended to facilitate the organization and ingestion of their collections of recordings and annotations of Indigenous, and often endangered, languages into digital repositories so that these valuable digital resources can be preserved for the future. One of the areas of focus for these guidelines is on the importance of using open and sustainable file formats to increase the likelihood that digital files can be opened and read in the future. To help explain these ideas, we produced a short animated video that is available under a Creative Commons license on YouTube at https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Screenshot from AILLA. 2018. Sustainable File Types , https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M, CC-By license.

Many digital documents are produced using proprietary software, and future users will need to have the same, or similar, software to open the files or read their contents. While documents in proprietary formats can be put into a digital repository so their bitstreams (all the ones and zeroes) are preserved well into the future, the exact copy of the file a user downloads years from now may be impossible to use if the proprietary software it was made with is no longer available. Documents preserved in these non-open and non-sustainable formats then end up like cuneiform tablets: objects whose marks and features have survived a long passage through time but can only be read by a small number of people after considerable effort and study.

A group of Cañari leaders leaving a meeting in which they discussed the formation of cooperatives to buy land. Cooperativa de San Rafael, man reading: José Zhinin, secretary, law, Antonio Guamán Zhinin president. Man in the door, José María Pichisaca. Front left, Paolo Guamán. photo right, in blue, Francisco Quishpilema; in red Manuel Guamán. Ecuador, 1968. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259974 Photo © Preston Wilson.

Choosing sustainable open formats helps ensure that materials are not just preserved but are accessible and usable into the future, since open-source applications can be more easily built to read files stored in non-proprietary formats.

Archivo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi

@AILLA_archive

En AILLA (por sus siglas en inglés), estamos desarrollando pautas para lingüistas y activistas con la intención de facilitar la organización e ingesta de sus colecciones de materiales de documentación de idiomas en repositorios digitales para que estos valiosos recursos digitales puedan conservarse para el futuro. Una de las áreas que resaltamos en estas guías es la importancia de utilizar formatos de archivo abiertos y sostenibles para aumentar la probabilidad de que estos archivos digitales puedan ser abiertos y leídos en el futuro. Para explicar estas ideas hemos producido un video animado corto que está disponible con licencia de Creative Commons en Youtube: https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Captura de video de AILLA. 2018. Tipos de archivo , https://youtu.be/SuAUGDzKTol, licencia CC-By.

Muchos documentos digitales se producen con software propietario y se necesita el mismo software (o un software parecido) para abrirlos o leer su contenido. Es cierto que se puede meter documentos en formatos propietarios en un repositorio digital y sus bitstreams (todos los unos y ceros) serán preservados hasta el futuro, pero cuando el usuario del futuro lo descarga, no existe garantía de que aquella copia fiel sea accesible porque es posible que el software necesario ya no exista. Los documentos así preservados en formatos no abiertos y no sostenibles entonces terminan como tableta escritas en cuneiforme cuyas marcas y figuras han sobrevivido tras el tiempo pero solo son legibles por un pequeño conjunto de personas muy especializadas.

Niels Fock con dos hombres cañari en Tacu Pitina, Ecuador, 1974. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259355 Foto © Eva Krener

Escoger formatos sostenibles y abiertos ayuda a asegurar que los materiales no solo permanezcan sino que estén accesibles y útiles en el futuro ya que será más fácil crear una aplicación de fuente abierta para leer archivos almacenados en formatos no propietarios.

Arquivo dos Idiomas Indígenas da América Latina

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

@AILLA_archive

Na AILLA, estamos desenvolvendo diretrizes para pesquisadores linguísticos e ativistas com o objetivo de possibilitar a organização e inserção de suas coleções de gravações e observações em idiomas indígenas (muitos em perigo de extinção) em repositórios digitais para que esses valiosos recursos possam ser preservados para o futuro. Uma das áreas de enfoque para essas diretrizes é a importância de utilizar formatos de arquivo abertos e sustentáveis para aumentar a probabilidade de que esses arquivos digitais possam ser abertos e lidos no futuro. Para ajudar a explicar essas ideias, produzimos um vídeo curto com técnica de animação, que está disponibilizado sob licença da Creative Commons no YouTube, em https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Captura de tela de AILLA. 2018. Organizing for Personal vs Archival Workflows , https://youtu.be/iZVACb_ShiM

Muitos documentos digitais são produzidos utilizando software proprietário. Assim sendo, o usuário do futuro terá que ter o mesmo software ou similar para poder abrir os arquivos ou ler seus conteúdos. É viável armazenar documentos criados em formatos proprietários em repositório digital, para que seus bitstreams (todos os uns e todos os zeros) sejam preservados por muitos e muitos anos; por outro lado, é também possível que a cópia exata do arquivo baixado pelo usuário daqui a muitos anos seja impossível de utilizar, se o software proprietário que o criou não esteja mais disponível. Documentos preservados nesses formatos não-abertos e não-sustentáveis podem acabar como as táboas de escrita cuneiforme: objetos cujas marcações e funcionalidades sobreviveram uma longa passagem pelo tempo mas só podem ser lidos por um número pequeno de pessoas após considerável esforço e estudo.

Transcrições de histórias tzeltal na Coleção Terrence Kaufman. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:257561 Foto © Gabriela Pérez Báez

A seleção de formatos abertos e sustentáveis ajuda a garantir que certos materiais sejam não só preservados mas também acessíveis e utilizáveis no futuro, considerando que é mais fácil construir aplicações de código-fonte aberto capazes de ler arquivos armazenados em formatos não-proprietários.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Wish you were here! Early Postcards from India

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

The Indian subcontinent gained independence from Britain in 1947, ending centuries of colonial influence and rule, thereby creating the nation states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Bangladesh was East Pakistan until 1971).  Like elsewhere, the “colonial project” in India took many forms and could be readily observed through examples such as the built environment, changes in civil infrastructure, and ultimately in ways of documenting and “knowing.”  Contemporaries in the colonial period noted (and in some cases celebrated) these changes in many ways too, leaving traces such as official documents and reports, personal narratives including diaries, and even ephemera.  As students of history, we desperately need these primary sources to nuance our awareness of what happened in the colonial period and of how people understood the events at the time.   We need documentary mnemonics.   In this post, I highlight a social media project that encourages us to look closely at postcards as sources to inform our understandings of both what was considered as important (the visuals on the cards themselves) as well as how information traveled and gained collective traction (the sending and receiving of the cards, not to mention what might be written on them). 

As I write this from a scenic spot in Austin on a lovely spring day, I see many folks with their cell phones out, ready to take pictures.  I’m not sure why they’re feeling compelled to take the pictures—maybe to help them remember this pleasant day, maybe to document things they haven’t seen before, maybe to share with friends and family later, inviting them to imagine Austin along with them.  Whatever the reason, this now ubiquitous phenomenon of quick, easy and cheap photo sharing feels simultaneously both very “natural” and very “21st century.”

Hindu Woman on a Bike

Delightful digital projects such as the “Early Postcards from India,” however, challenge my assumption that an ephemeral capturing and sharing images is a particularly “contemporary” activity.  As School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) visual anthropologists Stephen Hughes and Emily Stevenson explain,

“For anyone who has lived through the recent emergence of the Internet, social media, camera phones, and digital-printing technologies, it is perhaps all too easy to assume that the rapid and large-scale circulation of photographic images is a uniquely twenty-first-century phenomenon… A growing body of literature demonstrates that since its invention, in the mid-nineteenth century, photography has always circulated, moving among different spaces, discourses, and material forms.. Of the various nineteenth-century photographic innovations, the humble picture postcard was the most widely traveled of them all.”(1)

In “Early Postcards from India,” Hughes and Stevenson build on the success of their earlier physical exhibits of postcards as historical documents.  They creatively exploit Instagram’s social media platform to reintroduce and redistribute the visual memories captured in and on early postcards from India.  The chosen platform is unpretentious in layout, openly accessible to anyone with an Instagram account, and constantly growing–they have a new image and related provocative or didactic post daily.  Their use of Instagram, one of the most widely adopted and therefore “traveled” image innovations, to continue the circulation and consumption of these images, is a simple but highly effective stroke of genius.   

Metro Cinema, Kolkata

The content in “Early Postcards” is wide-ranging: it includes images of monuments, of municipal infrastructures, of “anthropological types.”  As such, the images evoke feelings of nostalgia, of curiosity, of unease, and perhaps, of collective regret.  Thanks to Hughes and Stevenson for sharing these images so we can all collectively participate in the critiques and (re)writings of history.

Those interested in further exploring the history of postcards, of visual representation(s) and of colonial India might find these helpful starting points:

Akbar, Sohail, “An Exploration of the Early History of the Nation through Personal Photographs.” photographies 6:1 (2013): 7–15.

Jhingan, Madhukar, Post Card Catalogue of India and Native States (New Delhi: We Philatelists, 1979).

Khan, Omar, Paper Jewels: postcards from the Raj (Ahmedabad, India: Mapin Publishing, 2018).

Mathur, Saloni, India by Design : Colonial History and Cultural Display (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Nenadic, Stana, “Exhibiting India in Nineteenth-Century Scotland and the Impact on Commerce, Industry and Popular Culture” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 34.1 (2014): 67–89.

Pinney, Christopher, Camera Indica : the Social Life of Indian Photographs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Ponsford, Megan, “Photographic Reportage and the Colonial Imaginary,” Sport in Society 22:1 (2019): 160–184.

Seth, Vijay, and J. R. Nanda. Centenary of Indian Airmails, 1911-2014 (New Delhi: Indian Aviation Research Foundation, 2014).

Notes:

(1) Hughes, Stephen and Emily Stevenson, “South India Addresses the World: Postcards, Circulation, and EmpireCirculation 9:2 (2019).

Ernesto Cardenal Is Dead at 95: The Nicaraguan Poet, Priest, and Revolutionary Chose the Benson Collection for His Archive

Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan poet, priest, and revolutionary, died in Managua on Sunday, March 1. He was 95.

Ernesto Cardenal, undated photograph.

Admired and controversial, Cardenal was a towering figure in Central American culture and politics. As Nicaragua’s minister of culture under the Sandinista government, which took power in 1979, he oversaw a national program that taught poetry to Nicaraguans of all ages and all walks of life. 

Ernesto Cardenal Papers, Benson Latin American Collection.

As a priest, ordained in 1965, Cardenal defied the Vatican of Pope John Paul II by embracing liberation theology and joining the Sandinista revolutionary armed conflict. His priestly authority was revoked by Nicaragua’s bishops in 1985. Pope Francis absolved Cardenal of “all canonical censorships” in February 2019.

Ernesto Cardenal Papers, Benson Latin American Collection.

Cardenal’s long and rich life can almost be said to be several lives rolled into one. His spiritual path would take him in the 1950s to Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in Kentucky, where he met and befriended monk and writer Thomas Merton. In the 1960s, he founded an artistic and spiritual community in the Solentiname archipelago in Nicaragua, where he taught literature and painting. He fought in the Nicaraguan Revolution to depose dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and serving in the Sandinista government, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and became highly critical of President Daniel Ortega.

Ernesto Cardenal. Photo: by Sandra Eleta.

In 2016, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Ernesto Cardenal Papers, an extensive archive consisting of correspondence, writings by Cardenal, newspaper clippings and writings by others related to Cardenal, photographs, biographical materials, and audiovisual materials. 

Cardenal during his 2016 visit to the Benson. Photo: Robert Esparza.

“We are honored that Ernesto Cardenal chose the Benson Collection as the permanent home for his personal archive. Already, students and scholars from around the globe have been able to consult the materials for their research. We know this accessibility was important to Father Cardenal, and we are committed to the preservation of his life’s work,” said Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Collection.

Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and professor of history and religious studies, knew Cardenal personally and has long been inspired by him. “Ernesto Cardenal was a fighter: for justice, against dictatorship, for equality, for his faith, and for the power of art and beauty to shine light in a dark world. He was tireless in this lifelong struggle, striving until his final days for a better Nicaragua and true justice for all people. LLILAS Benson is proud to help to carry on his legacy,” Garrard said. (LLILAS Benson is a partnership between the Benson and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, or LLILAS, established in 2011.)

Cardenal reads his poetry to a packed house at the Benson. Photo: Travis Willmann.

Cardenal visited the UT Austin campus in November 2016 to celebrate the opening of his archive with a poetry reading before a packed house. During his stay, he was also able to view some of the Benson’s archival treasures and visit with students in a more intimate setting. In honor of the Cardenal archive, and of LLILAS Benson’s emphasis on Central American scholarship and collections, Garrard established Cátedra Ernesto Cardenal, which sponsors a yearly symposium on a topic relating to Central America, and funds research visits to the collection.

Cardenal’s connection with the Benson opened the door to unprecedented access to the man himself, and he granted an interview to former Benson librarian José Montelongo in spring of 2016. Excerpts of the interview, in Spanish with English subtitles, can be viewed at Interview with Ernesto Cardenal.

In 2017, LLILAS Benson published Spanish and English versions of a poignant essay by Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante, who discusses the impact of Cardenal’s writings on him as a young man growing up during the Chilean dictatorship. (Read “Cardenal in Hard Times” / “Cardenal en tiempos difíciles.”)

Warhol-inspired libro-disco cover. Caracas, 1972. Benson Latin American Collection.

“It is an extraordinary gift that Cardenal’s papers arrive at the Benson Latin American Collection, in Austin, Texas,” Cárcamo-Huechante wrote. “And it is likely that once again, Cardenal’s writings, and the ethical, political, spiritual, poetic, and human voice that resonates in them, will accompany us at these latitudes of the planet, in the hard times that seem to be upon us.”

For more information, contact Susanna Sharpe, ssharpe@austin.utexas.edu, 512-232.2403.

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