Exhibition: Cuban Comics in the Castro Era

Based on exhibition text by Gilbert Borrego

The publishing industry of Cuba experienced a seismic shift in 1959 when Fidel Castro won a revolutionary war against dictator Fulgencio Batista. With this change, underground and subversive media creators of the Batista era became an important part of the new socialist culture. This helped to mobilize the masses in support of the new Castro government and against U.S. capitalistic ideology.

Fidel Castro understood that media and graphic art could guide ideology and could be used as an educational tool because he knew that it had already being used before in Cuba. Castro portrait, “Zunzún” no. 2, 1980. Benson Latin American Collection.

Cuban Comics in the Castro Era examines the art and history of Cuban comics after the successful 1959 revolution, highlighting the creators, characters, heroes, and anti-heroes of Cuba. It also touches on the triumphs and failures of the publishing industry and how Cuban artists today struggle to keep the genre alive.

Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight D. Eisenhower on the cover of “Zig-Zag,” no. 1079, August 1959. Benson Latin American Collection.

These materials are part of the Caridad Blanco Collection of Cuban Comic Books, acquired in 2018. Blanco, a Havana-based artist and curator, collected over 700 examples of stand-alone comics and newspaper supplements created between 1937 and 2018.

The Birth of Cuba’s Revolutionary Comics

Key to the process of planning a new nationalistic government was the cementing of a new socialistic cultural identity in the minds of the Cuban populace. Radio, television, and print media (including comics) helped to mobilize the masses.

A new world opened up for the creators of comics, who now had the singular purpose of supporting their new government while still appealing to their readers. In this early era, many of these readers were children, who continued to consume U.S.-created comic books and the ideals that went with them.

“Historietas de Elpidio Valdés,” Juan Padrón Blanco, 1985. Benson Latin American Collection.

Widespread suspicion held that beloved American comics were imperialistic indoctrination tools for Cuban children. In response, the new Cuban government began utilizing comics as a means to teach values that aligned with revolutionary doctrine.

Julio Mella was among Cuban figures lauded for heroism or espousing socialistic ideals. “[Revolucionarios],” “Mella Suplemento,” no. 60, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.

Cuban-created comics replaced American ones on the shelves. These works appealed to highly literate youth. Mixing adventure, comedy, and the ideological tenets of the new government, they portrayed revolution as necessary and exciting, especially for the country’s youth.

“Jóvenes Rebeldes,” “Mella,” no. 201, 1962. Benson Latin American Collection.

This exhibition was curated by Digital Repository Specialist Gilbert Borrego and is part of his fall 2019 Capstone Experience course in partial fulfillment of his MSIS, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to the physical exhibition, Borrego curated a richly illustrated online exhibition.

About the Curator

Gilbert Borrego is currently the Institutional Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks at UT Libraries. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from Stanford University and will soon complete his master’s in Information Studies at UT Austin. He is passionate about archives, libraries, museums, metadata, and history.


Cuban Comics in the Castro Era will be on view in the Benson Latin American Collection main reading room, December 6, 2019–March 1, 2020.

Read more about the Caridad Blanco Collection of Cuban Comics in LLILAS Benson Portal.

Read, Hot and Digitized: French Revolution Pamphlets

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 French Revolution Pamphlets Digital Initiative, based at the Newberry Library in Chicago, is a large-scale digitization initiative that makes digital copies of over 38,000 documents, mostly pamphlets, accessible online. The documents, which primarily consist of material published between 1780 and 1810, encompass 850,000 pages of text, and the dataset produced by the project, containing OCR and metadata files, is roughly 11 gigabytes. This collection of French Revolutionary materials is among the most comprehensive in the world, and enriches the study not only of French and European history, but casts light on broader concepts of revolution and social transformation relevant to a global audience. The materials are of interest to numerous fields of study, including legal, social, and cultural history and the history of printing and publication.

The homepage for the project, built in Scalar.

The collection gathers materials from a number of the Newberry’s collections, including the French Revolution Collection, the Louis XVI Trial and Execution Collection, and several smaller groups of French Revolution era material. The materials chronicle the political, social and religious dimensions of the Revolution’s history, and include works by a diverse set of authors, including Robespierre, Marat, and Louis XIV. The texts include arguments both in support of and opposing the monarchy between 1789 and 1799, and serve as a firsthand chronicle of the First Republic. The collection includes complete runs of well-known journals, many rare and unknown publications, and about 3,000 French political pamphlets published between 1560 to 1653 that document a period of religious wars and the establishment of the absolute monarchy.

The main interface for the project was built in Scalar, a free and open source web authoring platform from the The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at USC. The Scalar site links to the digital copies of the pamphlets, hosted on archive.org, as well as translations of select pamphlets. The sites also includes a number of other valuable resources, including data downloads, digital pedagogy materials, and pages designed for librarians interested in working with the digital collection.

The digitized pamphlets on archive.org.

To help support scholarship using the collection, the Newberry has funded an open data grant to support researchers working with the project’s large data set. The recipients of the first grant, Joseph Harder and Mimi Zhou, are conducting a sentiment analysis of the French Revolution materials, assigning numerical values to word-use in order to code for positive and negative tone across the data. By applying sentiment analysis to both the popular press and propaganda, Harder and Zhou hope to find trends in public opinion throughout the French Revolution, and to see how those trends shaped the revolution’s political outcomes.

The project’s data on GitHub.

The project serves as an important contribution to digital scholarship in European Studies. The sheer volume of the project’s digitized materials alone is impressive, but the variety of the resources it encompasses makes it particularly distinctive. Its venture into funding research using an open data grant—and the fact that its data set is openly available to anyone who wants to download it—is especially exciting, and I look forward to seeing the scholarship that results from making these materials freely accessible online. For those interested in exploring French Revolutionary materials in the UT Austin Libraries, I recommend looking through our extensive holdings on the subject, including our collection of pamphlets, both in print and on microfilm.

Appreciating Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was a pioneering computer scientist and mathematician of the 19th century. Since 2009, on the second Tuesday in October individuals around the country and globe gather to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day by commemorating her life and raising the profile of women and LGBTQ+ persons in the STEM fields. To honor her legacy, a group of librarians at UT planned and facilitated a daylong Wikipedia Edit-a-thon scheduled for October 8, 2019. 

Beginning in earnest in mid-August, four librarians including Gina Bastone, Roxanne Bogucka, Lydia Fletcher, and myself sat together at a table in the Physics, Math and Astronomy Library to brainstorm ideas and organize what would turn out to be an amazing experience and very meaningful event. The event drew more than 45 participants from across campus to learn about the Wikipedia editing process and get inaugural edits under their belts. 

To organize a successful Edit-a-thon event requires considerable planning in addition to forethought and purpose. Some of the initial goals were to improve the visibility of women in STEM fields, to teach first-time editors the quirks of Wikipedia editing, and to democratize the process of editing Wikipedia, which itself is largely contributed to by cis white men. Creating an accessible and drop-in event where folks could learn something, grab some food, and edit in between classes was also a priority. Starting the research process, identifying useful Wikipedia-friendly sources on top of creating content was a high order to meet in addition to orienting participants to the editing process. Reflecting on our cumulative past experience it was agreed that structuring the event to be largely self-guided was the best approach. Recognizing that the average participant may spend about an hour between classes at the Edit-a-thon, librarians identified pages that required editing and organizing sources ahead of time, focusing specifically on local women in STEM. We reached out to campus groups such as Women in Physics, Gender & Sexuality Center, and CNS-Q, who proved helpful by enthusiastically providing support in word of mouth and extra sustenance on the day of the Edit-a-thon.

One of the event organizers guides a participant through the structure of a Wikipedia article.

We organized the day through a system of Google Drive links and physical sticky notes to ensure that only one person would be editing one article at a time, while retaining the ability to have more than one contributor to each article on the day. Using this system of sticky notes to identify topics for editing, each person would grab a note with a unique scientist’s name off the board, hold on to it while editing that topic and then return it to the board if the entry still needed further edits. The Google Drive folder contained supporting material for our selected topics in addition to a wealth of curated training documents. Many of these training documents were reused and can be reused again in the future. These tools allowed us to plan and coordinate an event without having a required time for a formal demonstration. 

Three of the event organizers standing in front of the whiteboard used to organize topics.

The Edit-a-thon was wildly successful and drew participation from many first-time editors in the College of Natural Sciences. While the turnout was better than we had expected, the true success was in the feedback. All of the respondents to our survey agreed that they had learned about editing Wikipedia and the construction of articles at the event, and 87% said that they plan to continue editing into the future. The goals of the planning group had been met and exceeded, encouraging us to run further events teaching the ins and outs of contributing to Wikipedia.