LLILAS Benson colabora en línea para la transcripción y traducción de documentos coloniales

Por Albert A. Palacios, Jenny Marie Forsythe y Julie C. Evershed

Read in English.

Aviso: La colección FromThePage de la Benson estará abierta para la transcripción y traducción colaborativa hasta el domingo 3 de noviembre de 2019. Consulte la lista de documentos y el guía para ver cómo puede ayudar.

El 21 de septiembre de 2019, LLILAS Benson y el Museo de Jazz de Nueva Orleans se unieron para hacer sus colecciones coloniales un poco más accesibles. Las dos instituciones coordinaron un evento conjunto de transcripción que convocó a miembros de la comunidad en persona en el Centro de História de Louisiana, y de forma remota a través de la página de Facebook de la Benson. Colaborativamente, los participantes transcribieron manuscritos españoles y franceses originales de 1559 a 1817, con el objetivo de hacer que estos documentos sean más útiles para profesores, estudiantes, investigadores e historiadores de genealogía.

Interfaz de transcripción de FromThePage, https://fromthepage.lib.utexas.edu/llilasbenson.

FromThePage, una herramienta para la transcripción, traducción e indexación, permitió la colaboración a larga distancia. Durante un período de tres horas, los participantes hojearon la lista de manuscritos en ambos archivos y trabajaron juntos para descifrarlos y transcribirlos en la plataforma digital. Al punto intermedio del evento, el personal del Museo de Jazz nos mostró unos casos coloniales únicos en su archivo, transmitiendo en vivo a través de su página de Facebook, incluyendo una declaración de emancipación montada en tela dada a un hombre jamaicano llamado Santiago Bennet. Siguiendo su ejemplo, el personal de Estudios Digitales de LLILAS Benson (LBDS) compartió a través de la página del evento en Facebook algunos materiales notables de la Benson, incluyendo la colección digital de Relaciones Geográficas de Nueva España.


Personal del Museo de Jazz trabaja con colaboradores de transcripción en el Centro de Historia de Louisiana, 21 de septiembre de 2019. Cortesía del Museo de Jazz de Nueva Orleans.

Al transformar las palabras de los notarios coloniales en formato digital, los estudiantes, investigadores y miembros de la comunidad estaban avanzando una larga iniciativa digital del Museo de Jazz y del Centro de História de Louisiana. A principios de la década de 2010, el Museo y el Centro, junto con muchos otros colaboradores de la comunidad, lograron la increíble hazaña de digitalizar unas 220,000 páginas de registros notariales de Louisiana colonial para crear una colección digital, www.lacolonialdocs.org. Jennifer Long, Michelle Brenner y Jenny Marie Forsythe, administradoras del proyecto “Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana,” seleccionaron de este rico recurso para crear la colección FromThePage del museo, revelando detalles sobre la esclavitud, auto-liberación y rebelión, parentescos, redadas piratas, medicina colonial, fiestas de juego, disputas de herencia, conflictos matrimoniales y mucho más.

Pintura del Pueblo de Tepatepec contra el Corregidor Manuel de Olvera, 1570–1572. Según el relato, el Corregidor Olvera, quien aparece con su vara, no cumplió con las promesas de representación legal a los indígenas de Tepatepec en conflictos sobre diezmos y disputas laborales. El abuso de poder de parte de españoles locales era común en la Nueva España. Colección Genaro García, Colección Latinoamericana Benson, Universidad de Texas en Austin.

Para el evento conjunto, el personal de LBDS creó en FromThePage una colección de documentos escritos por, o sobre, las poblaciones indígenas en México desde los siglos XVI al XVIII en celebración del Año Internacional de las Lenguas Indígenas. El equipo tuvo bastante de dónde seleccionar: la Benson conserva numerosos archivos importantes que documentan la política, religión y cultura durante el período colonial español, incluyendo varios de los primeros libros publicados en las Américas (1544–1600) y los votos de profesión de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1669–1695), por nombrar algunos. Durante el fin de semana, un pequeño pero dedicado grupo de personas contestó la llamada de LLILAS Benson y se unió en línea. Colaboradores de ambas costas de los Estados Unidos y tan al sur como Perú colectivamente ofrecieron más de veinte horas de su tiempo para transcribir catorce documentos en la Benson.


Códice ilustrado de las tierras que pertenecen al Colegio de Tepozotlán de los Jesuitas, circa 1600–1625. Mandamiento virreinal ordenando al “Repartidor de Indios” de Tepozotlán dé libranza al Colegio de la Compañía de seis indígenas, 18 de agosto de 1610. Colección Edmundo O’Gorman, Colección Latinoamericana Benson, Universidad de Texas en Austin.

El fin de semana del 18–19 de octubre, el Centro de Recursos de Idiomas (LRC) de la Universidad de Michigan ofreció algunas de estas transcripciones en su “Translate-a-thon,” un evento comunitario en donde fuentes primarias son traducidas para el beneficio de la comunidad local, nacional e internacional. Algunos voluntarios, uno de los cuales se enfoca en México de la época colonial, estaban encantados de ver documentos de la Benson y abordaron su traducción. Entre ellos estaba el decreto ilustrado, visto arriba, que ordenaba al repartidor de Tepozotlán asignar a seis indígenas para trabajar para los jesuitas, subrayando la importancia de la labor indígena en la construcción figurativa y literal del imperio español, y la propagación de la Iglesia Católica. Dado el éxito y el interés de la facultad de Michigan en este esfuerzo conjunto, el LRC y LBDS piensan continuar su colaboración para ampliar la accesibilidad y el uso de las fuentes primarias coloniales en la Benson.

La Dra. Cinthia Salinas guía a estudiantes graduados en su clase de “Métodos de Estudios Sociales” por de un ejercicio pedagógico utilizando un relato pictórico de Moctezuma y Cortés que se encuentra en la Colección Genaro García de la Benson, 19 de marzo de 2019. Cortesía de Albert A. Palacios.

El siguiente paso para la Oficina LBDS será de incorporar estas fuentes primarias transcritas y traducidas en clases de nivel preparatoria en el Estado de Texas y de licenciatura en la Universidad de Texas en Austin (UT). A principios de este año, LLILAS Benson estableció una iniciativa patrocinada por el gobierno federal con el Departamento de Currículo e Instrucción en el Colegio de Educación para diseñar lecciones de nivel secundaria en historia y geografía basadas en las ricas colecciones de la Benson. Agregando a estos esfuerzos pedagógicos, LBDS traducirá, dará contexto y promoverá el uso de estas fuentes coloniales en clases universitarias y proyectos digitales en UT y más allá.

Para aquellos que no pudieron participar en el evento, ¡aún pueden unirse al esfuerzo! La colección FromThePage de la Benson estará abierta para la transcripción y traducción colaborativa hasta el domingo 3 de noviembre. Consulte la lista de documentos y el guía para ver cómo puede ayudar.

Los colaboradores

  • Greg Lambousy (Director)
  • Jennifer Long (Administradora de Digitalización)
  • Bryanne Schexnayder (Técnica de Digitalización)
  • Michelle Brenner (Administradora de la Sala de Lectura, Museo de Jazz de Nueva Orleans y Centro de Historia de Louisiana)
  • Jenny Marie Forsythe (Co-Administradora del Proyecto “Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana”)
  • Handy Acosta Cuellar (Doctorando, Universidad Tulane; Instructor de Español, Universidad Estatal de Louisiana)
  • Raúl Alencar (Estudiante de Posgrado, Universidad Tulane)

Haga clic aquí para obtener más información sobre los colaboradores del proyecto Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana.

  • Julie C. Evershed (Centro de Recursos de Idiomas, Directora)
  • Traductores de documentos: Zhehao Tong, Marlon James Sales, y Olivia Alge
  • Albert A. Palacios (Coordinador de Estudios Digitales)
  • Joshua Ortiz Baco (Asistente Graduado de Investigación de Estudios Digitales)
  • Transcriptores en FromThePage (nombres de usuario): guillaume candela, Ken, Betty Cruz L, Matt H., Carolina Casusol, and Handy1985

Los autores

Albert A. Palacios es Coordinador de Estudios Digitales de LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos, La Universidad de Texas en Austin. Jenny Marie Forsythe es co-gerente del proyecto Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana Transcribathon. Julie C. Evershed es la directora del Centro de Recursos de Lenguaje, Universidad de Michigan.

LLILAS Benson Collaborates on Remote Translation and Transcription of Colonial Documents

By Albert A. Palacios, Jenny Marie Forsythe, and Julie C. Evershed

Leer en español.

Note: The Benson’s FromThePage collection will be open for collaborative transcription and translation until Sunday, November 3, 2019. Check out the documents list and guide to see how you can help in translation and transcription of colonial documents.

On September 21, 2019, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the New Orleans Jazz Museum joined forces to make their colonial collections a bit more accessible. The two institutions led a joint transcribe-a-thon that convened community members in person at the Louisiana Historical Center, and remotely through the Benson Latin American Collection’s Facebook page. Together, participants transcribed handwritten Spanish and French documents from 1559 to 1817, with the goal of making these records more useful to teachers, students, researchers, and family historians.

FromThePage’s transcription interface, https://fromthepage.lib.utexas.edu/llilasbenson.

FromThePage, a transcription, translation, and indexing tool, enabled the long-distance collaboration. During a three-hour window, participants browsed the compiled list of manuscripts at both archives and worked together to decipher and transcribe them in the digital scholarship platform. At the halfway point, New Orleans Jazz Museum staff gave us a glimpse of unique colonial cases in their archive, including a declaration of freedom mounted on cloth for a Jamaican man named Santiago Bennet, and broadcast it live through their Facebook page. Following their lead, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff shared through their Facebook event page some of the Benson’s notable holdings, including its digital collection of geographical descriptions and paintings, or Relaciones Geográficas, of New Spain.

New Orleans Jazz Museum staff works with transcription collaborators at the Louisiana Historical Center, September 21, 2019. Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

As students, researchers, and community members retraced and rewrote the words of colonial notaries, they were also furthering a long-standing digital initiative of the New Orleans Jazz Museum and Louisiana Historical Center. In the early 2010s, the Museum and Center, along with many other community partners and advocates, accomplished the incredible feat of digitizing some 220,000 pages of notarial records from colonial Louisiana to create a digital collection, www.lacolonialdocs.org. Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Managers Jennifer Long, Michelle Brenner, and Jenny Marie Forsythe culled from this rich resource to create the Museum’s FromThePage collection, which reveals details about enslavement, self-liberation and rebellion, kinship connections, pirate raids, colonial medicine, gambling parties, disputed inheritances, marital strife, and much more.

Painting, Pueblo of Tepatepec (New Spain) against Corregidor Manuel de Olvera, 1570–1572. According to the account, Corregidor Olvera—identified throughout with a corregidor’s staff—did not deliver on the legal representation he promised the Tepatepec Natives over various disputes regarding tithes and labor conscription. Local Spanish abuse of power was prevalent in New Spain. Genaro García Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

For the joint event, LBDS staff curated a FromThePage collection of documents written by or about indigenous populations in Mexico from the 16th to the 18th centuries in celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The team had their work cut out for them: the Benson Latin American Collection preserves numerous significant holdings documenting politics, religion, and culture during the Spanish colonial period, including some of the earliest books published in the Americas (1544–1600) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s vows of profession (1669–1695), to name a few. Throughout the weekend, a small but dedicated group of individuals answered LLILAS Benson’s call and joined online. Collaborators from both coasts of the United States and as far south as Peru collectively volunteered over twenty hours of their time and fully transcribed fourteen documents from the Benson.

Pictorial representation of the lands owned by the Jesuit College of Tepozotlán, circa 1600–1625 (left). Viceregal decree ordering Tepozotlán’s repartidor to provide the Jesuit college with Native laborers, August 18, 1610 (right). Edmundo O’Gorman Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

During the weekend of October 19–20, the University of Michigan’s Language Resource Center (LRC) offered some of these transcriptions in their Translate-a-thon, a community-driven event aimed at translating materials for the benefit of the local, national, and international community. A few volunteers—one of whom had done research on colonial Mexico—were thrilled to see documents from the Benson and tackled their translation. Among these was the above decree ordering Tepozotlán’s royal administrator to assign six Natives to work for the Jesuits, underscoring the importance of Native labor in the figurative and literal construction of the Spanish Empire, and the propagation of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the success and Michigan faculty interest in this joint effort, the LRC and the LBDS Office plan to continue the collaboration to broaden the accessibility and use of the Benson’s early modern materials.

Dr. Cinthia Salinas, chair of the Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, walks Social Studies Methods master’s students through a teaching exercise using a pictorial account of the meeting between Moctezuma and Hernán Cortés, a document from the Benson’s Genaro García Collection, March 19, 2019. Courtesy of Albert A. Palacios.

The next step at the LBDS Office is to incorporate these primary sources into Texas high school and UT Austin undergraduate curriculum. Earlier this year, LLILAS Benson initiated a Department of Education Title VI–funded partnership with the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction to design World History and Geography lesson plans around the Benson’s rich holdings. Building on these pedagogical efforts, LBDS staff will be translating, contextualizing, and promoting the use of these Spanish colonial documents in undergraduate classes and digital scholarship projects at UT and beyond. 

For those who missed the event, you can still join the effort! The Benson’s FromThePage collection will be open for collaborative transcription and translation until Sunday, November 3. Check out the documents list and guide to see how you can help.

Project Participants

  • Greg Lambousy (Director)
  • Jennifer Long (Scanning Manager)
  • Bryanne Schexnayder (Scanner)
  • Michelle Brenner (New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center, Reading Room Manager)
  • Jenny Marie Forsythe (Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Co-Manager) 
  • Handy Acosta Cuellar (PhD Candidate, Tulane University; Instructor of Spanish, Louisiana State University)
  • Raúl Alencar (Graduate Student, Tulane University)

Click here for more information on Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Collaborators.

  • Julie C. Evershed (Director)
  • Translation collaborators: Zhehao Tong, Marlon James Sales, and Olivia Alge
  • Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
  • Joshua Ortiz Baco (Digital Scholarship Graduate Research Assistant)
  • FromThePage collaborators (usernames): guillaume candela, Ken, Betty Cruz L, Matt H., Carolina Casusol, and Handy1985

About the Authors

Albert A. Palacios is Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin. Jenny Marie Forsythe is co-manager of the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project. Julie C. Evershed is Language Resource Center Director at the University of Michigan.

Read, Hot and Digitized: The Istanbul Urban Database project

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 Istanbul Urban Database project, headed by Nil Tuzcu (MIT), Sibel Bozdoğan (İstanbul Bilgi), and Gül Neşe Doğusan Alexander (Harvard), seeks to preserve collective memory and the urban cultural heritage of Istanbul by becoming the most comprehensive online archive of Istanbul’s urban history. The project is based on a digital corpus of maps of Istanbul, aerial imagery, photographs, and geographical features. The project combines this wide range of historical data on a sustainable platform that can be integrated into other projects. The project does not stand alone; there is, in fact, an API in development for serving and exporting the various layers of the information it contains.

With the Istanbul Urban Database, users can select a variety of maps, photos, and other imagery to superimpose over one another, or compare. You can examine one historical map at a time, superimpose them with adjustable transparency, and overlay georeferenced features on the maps. The side-by-side tool allows users to compare maps from two different time periods (currently limited to the 19th and 20th centuries). Uniquely, the project draws on Ottoman and French maps, primarily from the Harvard Map Collection. This allows the user to get a sense of both the internal and external views of Istanbul in the early 20th century.

The map comparison tool.

In terms of infrastructure, the Istanbul Urban Database’s transportation layer hosts information drawn from a 1922 map on ferry, train, and tramway lines. The project organizers decided to present major roads separately because of their impact on city growth. The ferry, train, and tramway lines, and the roads, were drawn by Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative researchers––a quite labor intensive process from which                                                                                                  users benefit immensely. Users also will enjoy having access to Henri Prost’s master plan archives, which have had significant effect on the development of the city of Istanbul. Lastly, users can peruse photographs of everyday life at different points in Istanbul’s history. Examples include beaches, casinos, movie theaters, and patisseries; snapshots of lives well-lived so long ago, in some cases in places that no longer exist.

Looking at spaces of everyday life, including beaches and the spaces of Beyoğlu.

The Istanbul Urban Database project is significant for its combination of resources on an accessible platform with potential for applications in other projects. Istanbul is a difficult city to navigate, let alone understand, today, and so attempting to imagine its past lives might seem rather intimidating for researchers. The Istanbul Urban Database project streamlines access to crucial 20th and late-19th century resources to facilitate research on the growth, structure, and development of the city of Istanbul.

Using the comparison tool between 19th century maps.

I encourage readers to explore all of the tools available, especially the comparison tool that allows you slide two maps right and left to compare time periods. I also suggest looking through the photographs of everyday life that are exhibited through this project, and examine whether or not these places still exist today by zooming into the base satellite map. Readers who are interested in maps of Istanbul and Turkey more broadly would benefit from visiting the UT Maps Collection. The maps of Turkey and specifically Istanbul are extensive and of interest for those piqued by the Istanbul Urban Database.

Celebrating Open Access Week

This October 21st-27th marks the tenth instance of Open Access Week – an international event providing the academic community with opportunities to learn more about Open Access (OA), to share existing OA knowledge with others, and to encourage greater engagement with OA principles and practices. Building on a decade of global action, this year’s theme of “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge” calls for participants around the world to interrogate the motives, efforts, and outcomes associated with the Open Access movement and to posit solutions toward building a more equitable and inclusive scholarly environment.

Over the years, UT Libraries has made strong efforts toward widening access to scholarship. Just last year, we celebrated 10 years of Texas ScholarWorks, our institutional repository providing open, online access to the products of the university’s research and preserving these works for future generations. This digital portal allows users from all walks of life to engage with scholarly materials and to be aware of groundbreaking research developments free of cost.

While Texas ScholarWorks has been and continues to be a kind of backbone in our Open Access initiatives, it’s by no means the only work we’re doing in this critical area. More recently we’ve discussed our Latin American post-custodial archiving projects and the role they play in access to and preservation of valuable information relating to human rights violations. LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives, in partnership with El Salvador’s Museum of the Word and the Image (MUPI) and with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is preparing to publically release an online, digital collection “of remarkable embroidered testimonies created by refugee Salvadoran peasant women in Honduras during the civil war.” The opportunity to highlight the struggles and resilience of historically disempowered communities, in close collaboration with individuals from those communities, is a beautiful example of the kind of work that is possible in Open Access.

One of the most pressing and widely addressed issues in Open Access discussions is the rising cost of library subscriptions for online journal and database access. Last year, UT Libraries spent roughly $14 million on library resources to support students, faculty, and staff at the university. In the below Sticker Shock visualizations for annual subscription costs in 2018 and 2019, you can see just how much some already high fees have risen in only a single year.

In order to continue providing high levels of scholarly access and research support, libraries have had to be very thoughtful in their purchasing process, and they’ve also had to make sacrifices. With flat budgets and increasing costs, where libraries choose to spend their money can quickly become a matter of inequity. When you only have so many dollars to spend, whose scholarship is considered “worth it” and whose is not? One way UT Libraries seeks to alleviate this issue of rising costs while supporting a more sustainable and equitable system of publishing and access is through our Open Memberships fund. By financially supporting open infrastructure projects, we seek to encourage greater innovation and equity in the scholarly communications ecosystem.

If you’re interested in learning more about Open Access at UT Libraries, please join a few of our librarians for Open Access Week Trivia in the Perry-Castañeda Library lobby from 2-4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd and check out our Open Access blog. If you want to keep track of Open Access Week news happening outside of UT, you can follow the official event hashtags on Twitter (#OAWeek and #OpenForWhom).

Field Notes Photography Exhibition Showcases Student Research in Latin America

Each fall, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections invites graduate and undergraduate students from all departments and disciplines across the university to submit photographs to the Field Notes student photography exhibition. Thirty images are chosen for display in the Benson Latin American Collection. Through these images, student photographers document moments from their research on Latin America or US Latina/o communities.

In addition to showcasing student research, the exhibition awards prizes of $250 to two student photographers. The winning photos are chosen in a blind competition by a panel of faculty and staff.

Fall 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the photography show, originally conceived by Adrian Johnson, librarian for Caribbean studies and head of user services at the Benson. In this Tex Libris post, we give a glimpse of this beautiful and varied exhibition, and invite readers to visit the Benson to view all of the photos.

The announcement for Field Notes 10 used “La limpia,” show in the Field Notes 9 show, and taken in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, by LLILAS PhD candidate Nathalia Ochoa.

Through her research with Mexican migrants in Austin, prize-winner Maribel Bello created the Facebook page Rancho Querido, which she calls “an emotional-visual-exchange bridge” for sharing of images showing everyday activities in Mexico. Her winning photo shows children playing hide-and-seek. Bello is a master’s student in Latin American Studies at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS).

“Yo mejor me escondo,” by Maribel Bello, was taken in La Cueva, Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his untitled prize-winning photo (below), Arisbel López Andraca, a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, depicts a religious procession in Havana, Cuba. López has been researching the visuality of “daily religious practices” in the streets of Havana, noting the considerable increase in the circulation of “dressed dolls” or “spiritual dolls” as representations of orichas, spiritual entities, or eggungun.

“Untitled,” by Arisbel López Andraca, taken in Havana, Cuba, shows a woman carrying a dressed doll in the procession of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.

LLILAS PhD candidate Ricardo Velasco looks at “cultural initiatives for memory and reconciliation in the context of Colombia’s current transitional justice conjuncture.” He conducted ethnographic research in Comuna 13, he says, to inquire about “how youth visual culture has contributed to the transformation of what once was one of the urban epicenters of Colombia’s armed conflict.”

“Comuna 13, Medellín,” by Ricardo Velasco. The photo depicts the built environment of Medellín as seen from Comuna 13.

Pablo Millalen Lepin, a LLILAS PhD student, studies public policies toward indigenous people in his native Chile. His photo reflects the meaning of ranching and livestock ownership for Indigenous Mapuche families, for whom “the possession of an animal can be interpreted as part of the local economy, and/or the promise of future work, principally in the area of agriculture.”

“El pequeño toro solitario / The Lonely Little Bull,” by Pablo Millalen Lepin, taken in Lof Mañiuko, a Mapuche community in the South of Chile.

To see and enjoy all of the photographs, visit the exhibition in the first-floor corridor of the Benson Latin American Collection during library hours. Exhibition runs through December 2019.

Feature image, top, taken in Boyacá, Colombia, by Sofia Mock, undergraduate in Plan II.

Read, Hot and Digitized: This is Not an Atlas

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. 

This Is Not an Atlas is a continuation of a book of the same name, subtitled “A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies.” Critical geography proposes that maps are never neutral, but rather reflect views of the map maker, often those in power. Counter-mapping, or creating counter-cartographies, refers to the use of maps to reframe the world in such a way as to challenge dominant power structures and to articulate alternative, progressive and even radical interests (Kitchin, et al., 2011).

In the spring of 2015, kollektiv orangotango, a self-described network of critical geographers, friends, and activists who deal with questions regarding space, power, and resistance, sent out a call for maps in English, German and Spanish. Overwhelmed by the response and realizing that many of the maps submitted are dynamic, they decided to create a website to, not only highlight projects from the print edition, but also to “continue to share maps, struggles, projects, texts, and inspirations online.” Here I highlight a counter-mapping project that successfully deals with the politics of in/visibility, as described in Emancipatory Mapmaking: Lessons from Kibera.

Map Kibera was initiated after a group of geographers attending a mapping conference in Nairobi, Kenya noticed that Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements, was not mapped. In fact, they discovered that authorities had labeled and designated the Kibera Slum as a forest. How could a community with an estimated population of 250,000 people be omitted from official maps of Nairobi? Two geographers who were also interested in open source mapping decided they wanted to change this. In October 2009, Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen started the Map Kibera project to address “the glaring omission of roughly a quarter-million of Nairobi’s inhabitants from mass communications and city representation and policy decisions” (Hagen, 2011).

Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.

Kibera is too densely populated to rely on satellite data for mapping. Maron and Hagan knew they would need to map it from the ground. They recruited a dozen young residents to be “mappers,” gave them GPS devices, and sent them to collect data by creating “traces,” a GPS-enabled process that tracks and records your physical location. The mappers interviewed residents and collected observational data, such as the names of clinics, schools, and businesses, locations of water pumps, public baths, and other “points of interest” along their routes as well. The team then added the data to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a crowdsourced world map that relies on user-generated content to create geographic data that is relevant and available to everyone. And within three weeks they had created an incredibly dense map of Kibera for the world to see. But more importantly, a map of Kibera that was extremely useful to residents.

Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)
Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)

The project did not stop there; they immediately created, printed, and distributed maps of clinics and schools within the community. And a security map of Kibera warning of areas to avoid and illustrating places to get help. And have since formed the Map Kibera Trust, created the Voice of Kibera, a platform for citizen reporting, and replicated their model in other marginalized communities in Nairobi.

Map Kibera is just one counter-mapping project highlighted in This Is Not an Atlas. Visit the site to discover situational maps defending traditional territories of the Amazon; a documentation of human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas; an anti-eviction mapping project that started in the Bay Area and has expanded its scope; a crowdsourcing project that helps people locate public toilets in an Indian megacity; and many more counter-cartographies.

The book is as beautiful as the website; visit the UT Libraries to see it in person. If you’re interested in learning more about critical geography and counter-mapping, I highly recommend Rethinking the Power of Maps and the Map Reader. Map Kibera initiators, Erica Hagen, and Mikel Maron later founded the Ground Truth Initiative. Visit their project page to find out about other counter-mapping projects they are working with, such as Grassroots Jerusalem.

Whit’s Picks: Take 6 – Gems from the HMRC

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

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

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4, Take 5

Parts & Labor / Stay Afraid

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor droned and thrashed in somewhat obscurity for exactly one decade (2002-2012), but left behind an impressive slab of noise pop albums in the vein of early Hüsker Dü, or a more song-oriented Lightning Bolt. Stay Afraid pushes the faders all the way up with its scorched earth feedback and fuzz, its electronica squeal and hyper-manic drumming, but those sugar-sweet vocal hooks are still up there in the mix (somehow!) front and center. 

Sid Selvidge / A Little Bit Of Rain

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Selvidge, the late great Mississippi Renaissance Man (songwriter/anthropologist/radio producer/record label owner), graciously bequeaths us this collection of Americana classics, with a couple of topnotch originals to boot. His protean vocals moan and yodel on country standards such as Long Black Veil and Swannanoa Tunnel, then growl and screech on old-time rocker Real Thing. Recorded in his adopted hometown of Memphis with gorgeous and understated production by the legendary Jim Dickinson, the songs drip with Delta sincerity, simultaneously breaking the heart while nurturing the lovesick soul.

My Brightest Diamond / Bring Me The Workhorse

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Avant pop singer-songwriter Shara Nova (previously Worden) simply sparkles and shines as My Brightest Diamond. Utilizing her classical voice training from the University of North Texas, Nova served as guest/backup vocalist for the likes of Sufjan Steven, The Decemberists, Laurie Anderson, and David Byrne. But on her debut studio album, Bring Me The Workhorse, she combines these masterful vocals with a slightly skewed, shadowy songcraft that presents something uniquely her own. The etherealness of Kate Bush; the edginess of PJ Harvey. A Goth pop instant classic.

Marc Cary Focus Trio / Live 2009

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

NYC pianist and McCoy Tyner acolyte Cary leads his Focus Trio (bassist David Ewell, drummer/percussionist Sameer Gupta) into jazz hinterlands on this mesmerizing concert recording. A droning intonation of Monk’s classic ‘Round Midnight starts things off, then the trio lets things unravel artfully with intense originals. Cary’s piano beseeches us to hear those notes between the notes while his rhythm section hard bops like a most welcome punch in the gut. Gupta’s classical Indian tabla is highlighted on KC Bismillah Khan, and audio of Malcolm X and Dr. King speeches weave their way in to the mix (Runnin’ Out of Time, and Slow Blues for MLK), adding a historical gravitas to what is already a truly heavy experience. Metaphysical, moving, and masterful.

Soledad Brothers / Voice of Treason

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

The Soledad Brothers were White Stripes garage rock fellow travelers back in the day (guitarist Johnny Walker taught Jack White how to play slide, while White produced their debut album). Having said that, the Ohio natives became more Sticky Fingers than Seven Nation Army. Their third album, Voice of Treason, finds them not only stomping and hollering tried and true swaggering blues, but also mellowing out on tracks such as the sweet and soulful Muscle Shoals-inspired Only Flower In My Bed, or the acoustic Delta-tinged Sons of Dogs. Dig that warm analog tape sound captured by UK producer Liam Watson.  

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

Art History Prof Shares Black Press Collection

Friend of the University of Texas Libraries and Art History Professor Eddie Chambers has curated a collection of publications for a display in the reading room at the Fine Arts Library.

Chambers’ exhibit — “Recognizing the History of Black Magazine Publishing in the US” — features selections from his personal collection that represent the burgeoning of an independent press which spoke to the experience of African Americans in the late 20th Century, and includes examples from the period of the publications Ebony, Ebony Jr!, Jet, Black World, Negro Digest and Freedomways.

The exhibit is on display during regular Fine Arts Library hours through the fall semester.

Selection of Jet magazines from the late 20th century.

What motivated you to curate the display?

Eddie Chambers, Professor, Art History: I have over the years collected, for research purposes, various magazines and journals, going back a number of decades. These magazines and journals have particular relevance to African American history, culture, politics, identity, and so on. Some of these I’ve assembled for the current FAL display. I am always attracted to vintage, archival items such as these as they enable us to get a direct feel, not only of the graphics and aesthetics of the times during which they were published, but in reading their texts, we get a direct sense of arguments, reportage and opinions, again, from the respective times.

As with so many things that carry an ‘African American’ prefix, we can perhaps trace the establishment of the Black press to a reluctance by the white-dominated media to pay proper and respectful attention to the agendas of African Americans. Magazines such as Ebony were important for a wide range of reasons including the readership’s ability to keep apprised of the ins and outs of Black celebrity lives, the ins and outs of the struggle for civil rights, going back many a decade, and the ins and outs of stories and issues that lay at the heart of African American existence. With the spectacular growth of the internet, the publishing media is in general, in various levels of retreat. This applies also to the Black press and the display points to the ways in which magazines published weekly or monthly were such an important and necessary means by which African Americans gleaned a wide range of information. And in Ebony magazine, the adverts are as entertaining as can be! It’s not hard for us to be inclined to the view that contemporary issues are different from those people thought about and acted on in decades gone by. Seeing magazines such as these, we might think, or realize, that issues we are concerned with or interested in at the present time, go back years, and decades.

Where are the materials from? 

EC: I have collected the materials over the course of a number of years. Most of the material relates to some or other aspect of my research. For example, I recently acquired a copy of an Ebony issue that trailed on its front cover a feature on the quest for a Black Christ. Sourcing this came about because I am editing a volume – the Routledge Companion to African American Art History – which contains a text by a scholar, looking at visualizations of Christ and Christianity by African American artists. I wanted to double-check quotations by her, from this Ebony issue, in her essay. Material such as these magazines and journals are not frequently available to researchers and scholars, without considerable effort, so I find myself constantly sourcing such material. Having acquired items, I am always keen to share the material, which is why I periodically undertake displays such as this, in the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Right now, I have different archival material loaned out for exhibits that are currently on view at both the Blanton Museum and the Christian Green Gallery, here at UT Austin.

Copy of Ebony Magazine with Jackie Robinson on the cover.

What do you see as the major impacts of the selected publications? 

EC: The types of materials on view represent some of the sources African Americans had to turn to, in order to read stories that reflected themselves. Television was of course very poor at offering anything that was not considered of primarily mainstream (i.e. white) interest. Black publishing — and the adverts it carried — offered a vital route through which African Americans could source hair care products or, more generally, see adverts that featured people who looked like them. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

These magazines were also an environment that stimulated and gave work to Black journalists at a time when the mainstream media was frequently reluctant to. Photographers, typesetters, journalists, sub editors, layout artists, etc., all professionally benefitted from the Black press. We might think that in the modern age, people’s attention spans might be somewhat skewed or compressed, but the stories presented in some of these Black magazines enabled substantial, engaged, complex stories to be told, as well as the lives, loves, and ups and downs of Black celebrity life, to be digested. Of course, a pocket-sized magazine such as Jet offered its readers information in decidedly bite-sized chunks.

The perpetual, systemic framing of African Americans within the white dominated media was one of them as being ‘problems’. African Americans tended to realize that the framing of them as having problems was but a short hop skip and jump away from them being problems. The formidable perception, framed and maintained by the white controlled media, of America having first, Negro, then Afro American, then African American problems was more than enough to persuade African Americans of the need to maintain, for their own sense of self, a Black press that respected the multi-dimensionality of their selfhood. The Black press enabled African Americans to see themselves not as cardboard cutout problems, but as complex human beings who existed in the round.

Of course, it must be added that African Americans relied on the Black press to carry nuanced, informed analyses of the problems they had. In this sense, a profound manifestation of empathy existed between the Black press and its clientele.

Selection of Ebony, Jr. magazines.

How did this era of the Black press influence the representation of African Americans in modern media? 

EC: Modern media is of course vastly different from publishing in decades gone by. One of the biggest influences is perhaps the ways in which white-controlled media has diversified, to an extent, its content. Quite rightly, we expect the New Yorker, the New York Times, and a slew of other media to carry stories that speak to the country’s diversity, including of course, that of the African American demographic. Diversified media content has in its own way perhaps worked to lessen the impact and importance of a distinctly African American branch of publishing. 

There is of course still huge amounts of work to be done, but at the present time, the wholesale exclusion of African Americans from mainstream media, as was the case in decades gone by, is arguably less of an issue at the present time.