These Libraries’ are nothing without the folks who keep the ship on course, even in stormy weather.
Meet Meryl Brodsky, Liaison Librarian for Communication, who joined the Libraries in September 2019, just before a storm….
What’s your title, and what do you do for the Libraries?
My title is Moody College of Communication & School of Information Librarian. I work with faculty and students from both of these schools to help them with research and classes. I teach information and data-related classes and workshops, create learning materials, and select materials for our collections.
What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
I am constantly learning, whether it’s about student or faculty research projects or new technology, I get to learn new things every day.
What are you most proud of in your job?
I recently co-edited a book with a former colleague on Data Literacy, that is teaching people to find, evaluate, use and manage data. The ACRL Data Literacy Cookbook will come out in about a year.
What has been your best experience at the Libraries?
My best experiences have all been working with people, whether they are colleagues, faculty, or students. I really enjoy co-creating with others.
Which do you prefer: on campus or remote? Why?
I have a lot of experience in remote work from past employment so I am pretty comfortable with remote, though I also like the energy of being on campus.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I have a keen interest in paper and card making. I’ve been obsessed with something I call paper quilting, that is cutting paper to create quilt patterns.
Dogs or cats?
Cats, though right now, it’s just one, Tigger, who makes an occasional Zoom appearance.
Favorite book, movie or album?
Book: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert? What’s your favorite food or dish?
Breakfast: Coffee!! Though, coffee is good any time.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I hope to be upside down, have mastered a headstand.
THE BENSON LATIN AMERICAN COLLECTION is home to the archive of Mexican politician, writer, and philosopher José Vasconcelos (1881–1959). In this short essay, Diego Godoy describes a man of contradictions, “the personification of both the brightness and darkness” of post-revolutionary Mexico.
One has to admire José Vasconcelos: the young law student who became a leading ateneísta —a member of the intellectual cohort that undid positivism’s decades-long stranglehold on Mexican political, social, and cultural life; the lawyer who was appointed rector of UNAM while still in his thirties; Mexico’s first Secretary of Public Education, who deployed teachers and mobile libraries to poor, rural schools and published affordable editions of literary classics; the mastermind behind Mexican muralism—picture him sitting with José Clemente Orozco, splitting a bottle of tempranillo (Vasconcelos hated distilled spirits), explaining how Orozco and other artists will bring history to the hoi polloi by frescoing colonial edifices; the Culture Czar of the Mexican Revolution.
But one can also loathe him. As the leading theoretician of official mestizophilia, he exalted the Iberian half of the mestizo equation above the Indigenous; if this is not wholly clear in the first part of La raza cósmica, read the accompanying travelogue of South America. Perhaps more egregious was his flirtation with fascism, which reached its highest (or lowest) point when he took the reins of a Third Reich–funded cultural magazine. His love life was similarly troubling: his refusal to fully commit to his mistress, the writer Antonieta Rivas Mercado, inspired her to put a bullet through her heart inside Notre-Dame—with Vasconcelos’s own pistol, no less. And then there was this slight, published in ElUniversal: “Barbarism commences where the consumption of guisos [stews] gives way to that of carne asada [grilled beef];” a jab, presumably, at the stereotypical brusqueness of my own father’s people—northern Mexicans.
Consider Vasconcelos the personification of both the brightness and darkness of the revolutionary project. In this sense, he was not much different from the other protagonists of the first half of Mexico’s twentieth century. Yet his intellectual and cultural impact dwarfed and far outlived that of his contemporaries.
Naturally, there is a good deal published about this maestro de la juventud de América, with the most comprehensive treatments having appeared pre–Moon Landing. More books, chapters, and essays have cropped up since then, many of which grapple with the themes of his work in oblique ways. A new English-language book (it is a largely hispanophone field), perhaps one offering unique focal points and fresh interpretations, would certainly be welcome. And while traditional cradle-to-grave biographies have become academically passé, what is often cold-shouldered by academia tends to be a reliable barometer of mass appeal. Should a researcher engage in such a project, he or she will be glad to know that the José Vasconcelos Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection contain correspondence (and divorce records) between Vasconcelos and his second wife, the pianist Esperanza Cruz. I suspect that many working historians might be dismissive of the man’s personal life. This would be unwise, because clever dashes of detail and anecdote can furnish scholarly writing and lectures with some badly needed flair. Either way, for the Vasconcelos-curious, this collection is the repository of choice.
The Vasconcelos Papers: A Closer Look
The José Vasconcelos Papers are divided into five sections. Correspondence contains the aforementioned letters to and from Esperanza Cruz, other relatives, and an array of writers. Among the latter group is Rodolfo Usigli, one of Mexico’s (and, indeed, Latin America’s) foremost dramatists, and Carlos Denegri, the legendarily unscrupulous, hard-drinking, sexist, insert-whatever-“ist”-you-want newsman—a veritable institution at Excélsior for some three decades. Biographical Materials holds photographs, artistic renderings of Vasconcelos, ephemera—conference programs, event invitations, coverage of his death—and a handful of personal items. Writings contains manuscripts and articles on a variety of subjects by Vasconcelos, as well as works by others reflecting on his cultural footprint. Of note is his four-part autobiography and another original, philosophical tract, La estética. Printed Materials includes journal, magazine, and newspaper articles by and about Vasconcelos, as well as books authored by him and those collected by or gifted to him. Lastly, there are two boxes of Oversized Materials: certificates, diplomas, event posters, newspaper clippings, and so forth.
For those who remain uninterested in contributing more pages to the micro library of Vasconcelos Studies, or expelling more breath on the “Great Men” of history, the collection is replete with gems nonetheless. Let’s say that you are interested in the history of education in Mexico, or, perhaps more specifically, the post-revolutionary state’s efforts to cultivate the minds of its citizenry. In that case, digging through issues of the short-lived El Maestro: Revista de cultura nacional will be worth your time. Founded by Vasconcelos as a sort of general culture primer, the magazine aimed to diffuse literary, historical, philosophical, and pedagogical content to educators, children, and lifelong learners. In its pages, Ramón López Velarde garnered his reputation as Mexico’s national poet before his untimely death at 33, and educators found Spanish-language versions of Tolstoy and lessons detailing the “Practical Applications of Geometry.”
A particularly rich vein of material exists for those concerned with “bibliotechology” (as I suspect many reading this are). Vasconcelos’s conviction that “only books will lift this country out of barbarism” spurred the momentous creation of libraries—and the training of competent professionals to steward them—during his tenure as Secretary of Public Education. Under the auspices of his newly formed Department of Libraries and Archives, a young poblana named María Teresa Chávez Campomanes arrived stateside for graduate studies in library science at Pratt and Columbia. Following stints at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, she returned to Mexico. Her sterling intellect (and no doubt her connections) pried open the doors to coveted positions, including the directorships of the Biblioteca Benjamín Franklin and the Biblioteca de México. Yet her greatest legacy rests on having mentored a generation of librarians. As a professor at the Escuela Nacional de Bibliotecarios y Archiveros, a founder of UNAM’s Colegio de Bibliotecología, and the author of definitive guides to cataloguing and classification, she was instrumental in the professionalization of Mexican librarianship. Anyone investigating the history of libraries and cultural heritage institutions, higher education, or the Mexican state’s cultural apparatus will find the six years’ worth of correspondence between Vasconcelos and Chávez Campomanes indispensable.
If you are like me, it is another woman’s name in Vasconcelos’s mailbag that will jump out at you: Pilar Primo de Rivera—the head of the Spanish Falange’s Sección Femenina,an organization whose raison d’être was to reinforce the belief that Spanish women should be seen (preferably in their husbands’ kitchens and bedrooms) and not heard. She was also, very briefly, the would-be Mrs. Adolf Hitler, but the Spaniards’ harebrained scheme to forge a Hispano-Teutonic dynasty was scrapped upon discovery of the Führer’s unitesticularity. Some might consider her a surprising correspondent for a man as erudite and seemingly enlightened as Vasconcelos. But the problem with the erudite and seemingly enlightened is that they, too, can be seduced by truly awful ideas. Indeed, the intelligentsia may be even more susceptible because they can readily perform the mental gymnastics necessary to rationalize intellectually or morally bankrupt positions—look no further than the Twittersphere to see otherwise brilliant people with Ivy League credentials hurl critical thinking out the window.
A right-wing analogue can be found in 1930s Latin America, when many of the region’s prominent literati, not the least of whom was don José, were among the torchbearers of an emergent “clerical and hispanophile right-wing nationalism,” as Pablo Yankelevich put it. But exactly how does one go from cultural revolutionary to reactionary? What explains a broadly liberal humanist’s descent into a regressive Catholic conservatism? And not your grandfather’s variety of conservatism either, unless he happens to be a porteño with a curiously German accent. Perhaps Vasconcelos’s faith in democratic principles dissipated after the events of 1929, when his presidential hopes were dashed. Coupled with a battered ego and festering resentment, this is a compelling explanation. So is the company he kept during his post-election exile, notably Leopoldo Lugones, the Argentine poet and accomplice in José Félix Uriburu’s corporatist military regime. No doubt Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles’s ferocious anticlericalism, and comparable atrocities perpetrated by Spanish anarchists and communists, also accelerated Vasconcelos’s rightward shift.
Some of the flesh for these bones may be found in Vasconcelos’s correspondence with the Spanish writer José Manuel Castañón. Hailing from Asturias, Castañón ran away from home at 16, but not for the usual reasons that teenagers flee. He aspired to join the ranks of Franco’s soldiers, and did just that in 1936. Five years later, he volunteered for the so-called Blue Division in order to fight alongside the Wehrmachton the Eastern Front. Castañón would eventually grow disillusioned with Francoism and publish accounts of his political 180 from his exile in Caracas.
Vasconcelos’s communication with compatriota Manuel Gómez Morín, however, might just yield more grist. An admirer of Miguel Primo de Rivera and the French protofascist thinker Charles Maurras, Gómez Morín wore many hats: law professor; university rector; banking czar; corporate lawyer; and most importantly, opposition party founder. His disenchantment with the post-revolutionary state began in the 1920s with President Álvaro Obregón handpicking Plutarco Elías Calles as his successor, Calles’s subsequent anti-Catholicism, followed by Vasconcelos’s failed presidential campaign, for which he served as unofficial treasurer. The 1930s proved no better for him and the politically like-minded, as President Lázaro Cárdenas’s progressive reforms clashed with major national and transnational companies, some of which counted on Gómez Morín for legal counsel. Fed up with the state of affairs, Gómez Morín founded the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) in 1939. Many of its earliest followers and official candidates ran the gamut of right-leaning ideology, from Jesuit activists to sinarquistas, members of a Guanajuato-based, Nazi-founded political organization whose rallying cry was “Faith, Blood, Victory.” These days, the PAN is more synonymous with drug-warrior presidents, conservative middle-class voters (the party’s lifeblood), and fake-news-peddling, rosary-clutching middle-aged women. But its early quasi-fascist ties cannot be forgotten.
Spending a few minutes eyeing the finding aid—and Googling unfamiliar names, texts, and organizations—will reveal the remarkable research and teaching potential of this collection. Whether one is concerned with some understudied facet of Vasconcelos’s life or career, or seeks to investigate such disparate topics as Mexican librarianship or transatlantic fascism, the José Vasconcelos Papers will provide unique and unmatched sources.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of, and future creative contributions to, the growing fields of digital scholarship.
The Texas Freedom Colonies Project (TFCP) was founded in 2014 by Dr. Andrea Roberts as a multimodal research and social justice initiative to document and preserve Texas’ historic Black settlements. Affiliated with Texas A&M University, the TFCP is a unique digital scholarship project that highlights the resiliency of Black communities in Texas through GIS mapping, archival research and community outreach.
Settlements founded by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War up until the 1930s were known as “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. These rural communities were established by Black Texans as self-sufficient colonies and offered refuge from the treacherous systems of debt bondage and sharecropping in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Although 557 Freedom Colonies are known to have existed, the project notes that “Freedom Colony descendants’ lack of access to technical assistance, ecological and economic vulnerability, and invisibility in public records has quickened the disappearance of these historic Texas communities.” 
That’s where the Texas Freedom Colonies Project’s Atlas comes in. The project’s interactive map displays Freedom Colonies’ physical locations alongside records of the settlement’s history documented in primary and secondary sources, community websites and other media. So far, the project has mapped the points of 357 colonies in Texas and has documented all known 557 colonies in its Atlas database.
Built with ArcGIS StoryMap, the atlas utilizes dynamic GIS layers to show current development and ecological threats to surviving communities. The project’s use of external datasets as custom map layers distinctly illuminates the power and significance of this digital mapping project by revealing the interconnected history and present of Texas Freedom Colonies.
For example, the “Texas Harvey Affected Counties” layer shows Texas counties that were affected by hurricane Harvey in 2018. The TFCP notes that 64% of Freedom Colonies were located on land that FEMA designated as disaster areas (!). Viewing the Atlas with this particular layer is a striking visual reminder of how vulnerable these communities are as they were often founded on land prone to natural disasters.
The TFCP is also a testament to the power of grassroot activism, harnessing the knowledge of living communities, descendants and volunteers. One way the public can be active participants in the preservation of Freedom Colonies is through community mapping. “Community mapping” or “participatory mapping,” is an application of critical cartography that emphasizes the importance of community knowledge as markers of place and belonging. Users can submit details of Freedom Colonies like locations and photos of cemeteries, churches and schools through a crowdsourcing form built on ArcGIS Survey123. This documentation helps preserve communities that may not be physically apparent on a map and actively counters presumptions by the state of what history is worth preserving.
The Atlas is an impressive showcase of the combined efforts of volunteers, scholars and living communities to assert the history and resilience of communities that have not often been recognized and financially supported. You may notice that the project logo depicts a Sankofa, a bird frequented in traditional Akan art that symbolizes the importance of reflecting on and reclaiming the past to build a better future. And that is exactly what the Texas Freedom Colonies Project project is doing.
Interested in volunteering for the Texas Freedom Colonies Project? Click here to learn more about the research community of practice dedicated to locating freedom colonies and information about freedom colonies.
Whit’s immersion in local music history and performance qualifies him as an authority as he explores and discovers some of the overlooked gems in this massive trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.
Hardly a proponent of the 1960’s peace and love movement, underground guitarist Davie Allan melded surf music with psychedelic fuzz to create and inhabit a menacing motorcycle rock milieu. Think grungy, not groovy. Hell’s Angels instead of hippies. Gaining notoriety from his Blues Theme (featured in Peter Fonda’s The Wild Angels)Allan and The Arrows dove deeper into the mayhem on this collection, and stretched the noisy boundaries of what a recording studio at that time could produce. A huge influence on guitarists as disparate as Eddie Van Halen and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.
Practically unknown outside of his home country, Aussie Bernard Fanning enjoys rock star status Down Under from his years fronting the band Powderfinger. This, his first solo record, is a fourteen track tour de force of Americana songcraft. Country rock more in the vein of the Stones vibing in Muscle Shoals, or CSN & Y, except more melodically pop than rock and roll. There are a few almost-raucous moments (Which Way Home?, Sleeping Rough) but by and large, it’s Fanning’s wistful lyrics, moody vocals, and acoustic instrumentation that set the table here to provide this folkie-inspired feast.
The pride of Bloomington, Indiana, Mysteries of Life deftly mix pop hooks with roots rock and indie folk on their charming third album, Distant Relative. Set free from major label hassles, husband and wife team Jake Smith and Freda Love Smith take their own sweet time cooking up tasty musical layers and slathering on overdub icing. Jake’s lead vocals edge oddly close to Joe Jackson’s on occasion, while Freda’s bare-boned drumming keeps everything nicely grounded in a no-nonsense heartland kind of way. Massive pop stars these two would certainly be in an alternate (and smarter) universe.
Little sister to celebrated troubadour brothers Charlie and Bruce Robinson, Robyn Ludwick is a Texas-sized talent of a singer-songwriter in her own right. As the album title might suggest, Too Much Desire ultimately breaks the listener’s heart with its small town longing and despair. Sparse and gorgeous poetic lyrics have life breathed into them by Ludwick’s sultry alto voice, as Austin roots guitar hero Mike Hardwick provides six-string grit and warm high-end production. Cinematic in sound scope, close-up in the personal narrative, these hard-luck story songs satisfy with a soulful simplicity.
Isaac Freeman and the Bluebloods / Beautiful Stars
This legendary bass vocalist was not only a giant in the gospel music world, but throughout his storied career he worked with and influenced many a pop and rock star alike. Alabama-born, Midwestern-bred, Freeman achieved fame with The Fairfield Four and other singing groups. His lone solo record, Beautiful Stars, is American Music 101 and should be required listening for all tax-paying citizens. Backing band the Bluebloods bring their downhome grooves, and the album as a whole is part revival, part nostalgic introspection. For believer and skeptic alike, this collection is a cause for celebration.
Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. A celebrated poet, he is the longtime guitarist for the indie rock band Cotton Mather, and his solo projects include the lo-fi bedroom pop Daily Worker, as well as the retro funk GERVIN.
Dr. Luisa Nardini is an Associate Professor of Musicology and the Division Head of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin. In Fall 2021, she was selected as a participant in the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” instructor learning community hosted by the Open Educational Resources (OER) Working Group to promote the UT Libraries ideals of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). Ten instructors from across disciplines came together to learn about and apply efforts to reduce the cost of required materials in their courses. Over six weeks, Dr. Nardini and her colleagues discussed a range of topics including finding and evaluating OER, enhancing the accessibility and cultural responsiveness of course materials, and integrating other open education practices into their teaching.
Dr. Nardini shares her experience in the learning community with us.
Q: What motivated you to apply to join the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” learning community?
A: My initial motivation was to do exactly what was indicated in the course title: to explore Open, Free, and Affordable Course Materials for a new class titled “Global Music Traditions ca. 700-1400.” I started teaching this class in the Spring of 2021 to move from the primarily Eurocentric focus of my previously taught course “Advanced Studies in the History of Music: Medieval” toward the global perspective of the current version. One of the main challenges for this course was to find scholarship that covered a variety of topics not generally included in college and university textbooks (or certainly not in a single book), but that could be nonetheless manageable and coherent. My main concern was to center course content and materials around notions of diversity, globality, and multilingualism, while considering affordability and OER. Not only it was difficult to find available scholarship, but it was even more complicated to locate works by authors from under-represented communities.
Q: Has affordability always been something you consider when evaluating course materials? How have you seen cost impact your students?
A: I have always considered affordability in all my courses and generally opted for inexpensive or free publications in my classes. This led me to adopt less costly textbooks or to use library materials whenever possible. Although coming with no additional costs to students, many library resources are only available through library subscriptions, though, which means that they become unavailable to students after graduation. The model of open educational resources is very appealing to me and certainly more equitable because it allows for larger learning communities without the limitation of institutional affiliations. University students benefit from this model not only because they can have materials available to them after the completion of their degree, but also because of the amplified learning communities deriving from OER. For example, a student can discuss with individuals with no academic affiliations through social media, blogs, and so on, thanks to the unrestricted availability of resources.
Q: Your teaching often centers on medieval music, and you focused on locating materials for these classes in the learning community. What makes it so important to include a variety of resources in this course?
A: It is absolutely crucial that students see the complexity of the medieval world, which was much more diverse and interesting than we tend to think. For instance, in my course students learn that women often held positions of power and were spiritual leaders as well as artists, intellectuals, and scientists. Depending on place and time, societies were highly diverse and some of the most advanced intellectual circles were truly ‘international,’ to use a modern term. People, but most importantly their work, travelled around the globe. Web-based resources help diversify not only the content of the course, but also the representation of authors and learners.
Q: Did you find any OER or otherwise freely available resources that you’re excited to use in your classroom?
A: Yes, I did find many. My main goal for the class was to develop two modules on notational and theoretical systems, two topics that students find particularly challenging. These are difficult subjects because of their technicalities and because of the large variety of notations and musical theories developed over the course of several centuries throughout the world. In doing my research for the OER course I found this article on Guqin notation (a Chinese stringed instrument) by Eric Hung, that I am certainly going to use because of its clarity, but also because it belongs to a larger resource that is tackling issues of decanonization and decolonization of the music curriculum (see for instance Kunio Hara’s article on Madame Butterfly). Another resource that was not new to me, but that I am certainly going to use in class is this Youtube video that one of my students created as a final project for a previous class. In the video, Aruna Kharod compares the European model of the Eight modes with the system of Indian Ragas. The video is excellent because Kharod is an expert of Indian music and learned about the eight-mode system in my class. The video is not only accurate, however, but also very effective in terms of length, visual impact, and musical examples (she did her own singing).
Q: What topic in the learning community did you find most interesting or surprising?
A: I found it particularly useful to learn about the different kinds of licensing, which has clarified many aspects of OER for me, and also about online textbooks resources. For the latter, unfortunately, I could not find much content that was relevant to my own course, but I am sure I will use the materials for other classes. The module on licensing has allowed me to understand what can and cannot be done with OER.
Q: What advice would you offer colleagues who are interested in integrating open and affordable materials into their courses?
A: As academics we are generally very busy and might, therefore, refrain from undertaking tasks that seem very demanding on our own time. I would, however, encourage everyone just to start working on OER, maybe taking advantage of the extraordinary resources and staff at the university library. In addition, like with any other new directions we undertake in our pedagogy, we can do things in stages, adding something new or tweaking old resources and tools at each new iteration of a course. We don’t need to have everything in place at once, but we should certainly move away from the costly textbook model. It is not only inequitable, but often pedagogically limiting.
If you are interested in exploring open, free, or low cost course materials, get help by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (email@example.com).
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce Héctor Rodríguez III’s donation of materials pertaining to his comic series, El Peso Hero.
The series was launched in 2011, when Rodríguez saw the need for more Latino representation in graphic novels. The titular superhero, whose name is Ignacio Rivera, fights to uphold justice and morality in the border region. In some issues, Rivera can be seen helping migrants safely across the border. In others, he fights corruption and drug traffickers. Now celebrating a decade of issues, El Peso Hero will debut on the silver screen in the near future. While Rivera is the protagonist of the series, perhaps it’s his creator who is the real hero.
Héctor Rodríguez is a bilingual north Texas elementary school teacher by day and a comic book creator by night. His commitment to the genre goes beyond his own production: he’s also the creator of Texas Latino Comic Con. The mission of his independently owned Rio Bravo Comics is to give the people a “humble hero,” someone who is relatable to the audience, some of whom are his students. His inspiration comes from his family as well as his life as a Chicano in Texas. Rodríguez, who was born in Eagle Pass and grew up in College Station, uses El Peso Hero as a means to tell stories about the borderlands, from its hardships to its beauty.
For the author, that beauty is found in the multiculturalism that flourishes in the region, where El Santo comics are read while watching lucha libre, and English and Spanish are often spoken in the same sentence. It is for this reason that Rodríguez intentionally has El Peso Hero only speak in Spanish, while the series itself is bilingual. For Rodríguez, it is important that El Peso Hero transcends the U.S.–Mexico border linguistically and culturally to solidify his representation of transnational communities.
The donation features single issues, posters, stickers, storyboards, and a coloring book. One of the many highlights is a rare, signed first issue of the series.
Daniel Arbino is Head of Collection Development at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.