All posts by adrianacasarez

Hidden in Plain Sight: Seeking Out Forgotten Treasures with The Public Domain Review

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

As we enter a more digital workspace, the copyright of content we reuse in presentations or projects has become a more pressing question in our public facing work. While there are ways to search for resources by their Creative Commons licenses or by digging through the public domain, the results are not always satisfying. Enter The Public Domain Review, an online journal of scholarly essays and curated collections of material from the public domain.

Front page of The Public Domain Review.

The public domain refers to creative content in the United States that is no longer protected under copyright law. Every January 1st, works published before a certain year are released from copyright protection. 2021 welcomed material published in 1925 into the public domain. The first day of 2021 also saw The Public Domain Review celebrate its 10th anniversary of curating and publicizing interesting and obscured content from the public domain, related to history, art and literature. The digitized items and collections are gathered from 134 cultural heritage institutions and platforms across the internet, including the Smithsonian, Wikimedia and the Library of Congress. What separates The Public Domain Review from just another list of curious findings on the internet is the academic commentary on the relics by scholars, archivists and creatives in its Essays section. The collections on the site are mostly western-centric with a few global works included and are organized by theme, time period and medium. The pieces featured in the Review are not just images but also include film, books and audio. The level of organization and tagging make the unique compilations and essays easy to delve into on the site through its Explore page.

The project was developed ten years ago by history scholars and archives enthusiasts Adam Green and Jonathan Grey. The goal of The Public Domain Review has been to inform and highlight relics often forgotten or buried so deep that it would be difficult to come across serendipitously. The projects’ keen eye for the intriguing, supplemented by its expert commentary are what keeps me coming back to the site, either through the Review’s monthly mailing list or when I need an image for a presentation. The project’s editorial board selects collections and welcomes contributors to submit proposals that feature hidden cultural heritage materials.

The Public Domain Review is teeming with potential for digital scholarship endeavors and while there is no active portion of the project engaging with those scholarly methods, there are traces. The project site itself was built by UT Austin graduate, Brian Jones, a historian and web developer. In the retired series, Curator’s Choice, a guest writer from the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums), would spotlight digital collections or digital scholarship projects from their own institutions. See notable digital humanist, Miriam Posner on anatomical filmmaking here and read how scholars at The British Library are using digital technology to recreate a medieval Italian illuminated manuscript from fragments here.

The site also encourages reuse and remixing through its PD Remix section, holding caption competitions or gif creation challenges using works from their public domain highlights. Although a not-for-profit, they do have a Shop, selling prints, mugs, bound collections of Selected Essays, with the profits used to keep the lights on in this scholastic and engaging corner of the internet.

The public domain itself is a treasure trove of cultural artefacts often hidden by the complexities and rules in copyright law. Luckily, The Public Domain Review exists to spotlight these relics and even shows you how to find your own out-of-copyright gems. Below are some of my favorite exhibits and essays from The Public Domain Review.

Collection: Japanese Depictions of North Americans (1860s).

Collection: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life (1900).

Collection: Hopi Drawings of Kachinas (1903).

Essays: Emma Willard’s Maps of Time.

Collections: The Surreal Art of Alchemical Diagrams.

Find out more about the public domain in UT Libraries collections and guides:

-Still not sure what the public domain is or want to know more about copyright and fair use? See the library’s Copyright Crash Course guide.

-Take a look at the list of works that entered the public domain in 2021 on UT Austin’s Open Access blog here.  

-Fire insurance has never been more exciting than when depicted in the colorful, aesthetically pleasing Sanborn Fire Maps from the PCL Map Collection.

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.

Quantitative Criticism Lab, or What Happens When a Classicist and a Computational Biologist Walk into a Bar

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 Quantitative Criticism Lab (QCL) was formed in 2014 as a collaboration between humanists, computer scientists and computational biologists. The project’s unique combination of expertise informs its innovative approach to the computational analysis of Latin literature. And I’m not just saying that as a research assistant for the project!

The lab is led by Pramit Chaudhuri, an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Joseph Dexter, a computational biologist and Neukom Fellow at Dartmouth. They recruited me before I knew what digital humanities was, though I was certain that I wanted to do something more with my Classics undergraduate degree other than teaching fifth graders “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Latin (“Caput, umeri, genua and pedes”, if you were wondering). 

This digital Classics project uses machine learning, natural language processing and systems biology to study Latin literature and its influence. QCL uses a computational approach to explore the traditional study of “philology”, or the development and history of language in text. The lab’s first development was its tool, Fīlum (Latin for the thread of a web), an apt name given the tool’s purpose to reveal relationships amongst Latin texts by identifying intertextual references in Latin literature. 

For an example of intertextuality, in the epic poem the Aeneid, Vergil uses the phrase “immane nefas”, meaning “huge wrongdoing” to refer to the unspeakable horrors of the underworld. Years later, the author Lucan, in his epic, the Pharsalia, references and adapts that phrase to “commune nefas”, or “collective wrongdoing”, to blame an entire community for the horrors of civil war. Fīlum aids scholars in discovering, tracking, and discussing such connections. 

So, what makes Fīlum better than a ctrl+f approach? In the example above, a scholar would have to search many texts to even possibly discover Lucan’s reference; with Fīlum, they can search many texts simultaneously. Furthermore, Fīlum can even detect phrasing similar to the search query. 

QCL’s computational approach tabulates similarity, using the concept of “edit distance”, or the number of character changes through additions, deletions or substitutions in two words or phrases. For example, the edit distance of “kitten” and “sitting” has an edit distance of 3. You substitute “k” with “s”, “e” with “i”, and add a “g” – three changes in total. 

What if you have a feeling the phrase you want to use in Fīlum, might be in a different word order? With “Order-Free” searching, the tool searches for any arrangement of the words in a phrase. This is an especially valuable feature since Latin often refuses to follow a regulated pattern of word order.

With its search phrase, edit distance and order free option, Fīlum searches through a selected text or a user-selected corpora of Latin literature from the site. With a free account, users can create a search corpus from a library of texts or upload their own. 

The output cleanly displays results distinguished by each text’s author, work, and highlights the relevant words in each result. For added context, when selected, each result displays the previous and following lines from the text for context.

I have enjoyed both working on Fīlum and using the tool for my research. As QCL continues to improve the tool, I hope other classicists will appreciate not only its value but the interdisciplinary method that built it. 

If you are interested in the project and its study, please stay tuned to information about an upcoming QCL sponsored conference in April, here on the UT Austin Campus:

Digital Humanities Beyond Modern English: Computational Analysis of Premodern and Non-Western Literature https://qcrit.github.io/DHBME/

For further reading on topics like digital classics and text analysis, please see below:

Digital classics outside the echo-chamber teaching, knowledge exchange & public engagement / edited by Gabriel Bodard and Matteo Romanello.

Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature by Matthew L. Jockers.

Critics, compilers, and commentators : an introduction to Roman philology, 200 BCE-800 CE / James E. G. Zetzel.

Philology : the forgotten origins of the modern humanities / James Turner.

UT Library Libguide on Text Analysis by European Studies Librarian, Ian Goodale