Category Archives: Area Studies

Read, Hot and Digitized: More is less? Less is more? Minimal computing in South Asian Lexicography

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.

I had the lucky opportunity recently to catch Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara’s presentation on the University of Colorado’s Digital El Diario project at the UC San Diego Digital Initiatives Symposium wherein she advocated for the use of “minimal computing” to achieve “archival justice.” Deeply inspired by her comments but woefully ignorant of the corpus on minimal computing within DS/DH (what seems a combination of activist- and digital-turn on the “less process, more product” concept in archival work), I took it upon myself to learn more as I struggle with the constant nagging tension between achieving the immediate task at hand (“will a simple Google chart effectively communicate my point?”), exploiting technologies to their fullest extent (“boy, I sure bet I would impress folks if I used a sexy Tableau dashboard”), and justifying resources (“this will cost how much??”).  When, I wondered, is less actually more in DS/DH, when is more actually more, and how should we negotiate those differences?

Way back in 2017, Roopika Risam and Susan Edwards argued (in “Micro DH: Digital Humanities at the Small Scale”) that the fixation of everything “large” is not conducive to justice across our institutions, our staff, nor our data:

“Digital humanities practices are often understood in terms of significant scale: big data, large data sets, digital humanities centers… This emphasis leads to the perception that projects cannot be completed without substantial access to financial resources, data, and labor… While this can be the case, such presumptions serve as a deterrent to the development of an inclusive digital humanities community with representation across academic hierarchies (student, librarian, faculty), types of institutions (public, private, regional), and geographies (Global North, Global South).”

I found their argument compelling and wondered where I had seen these tensions in practice.  As a South Asianist, I had to look no further than the uniquely colonial way of knowing—lexicography–and the uniquely 21st century way of access–digital reformatting. 

For over 20 years, the Digital Dictionaries of South Asia (part of the Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago) has arguably been the gold standard for online South Asian language dictionaries.  Recognizing the inadequacies of OCR tools to convert images of most South Asian scripts to accurate text data, the DDSA has utilized strategies such as “double blind keying” to produce highly accurate digital editions of established and respected dictionaries.  The process is time-consuming and expensive but produces trusted full-text data that can be used and manipulated in a variety of ways, including those beyond dictionaries.  The institutional positioning of the University of Chicago has allowed for many successful grants over the years to fund DDSA, including those from the US Department of Education, the Mellon Foundation, the Association for Research Libraries and others.  The DDSA is truly extensive in scope and in impact.

At the other end of the spectrum is the DigitalRoses project.  In this pilot, an individual researcher, Gil Ben Herut, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, presents another approach to digital dictionary making.  Rather than seeking a fully searchable, text-mineable dictionary, Herut suggests that simple encoding that operationalizes headwords alone (rather than the full-text) for navigation within a dictionary is sufficient for most user applications.  Using target words, the DigitalRoses approach “resolves a common problem in OCR text ingestion through the utilization of manual indexing of the first entry word on each page in physical media, [thereby… ingesting dictionaries at a fraction of the time and cost of full digitization,… streamlining searching by allowing partial, wildcard and fuzzy searches, and maintaining the richness of the printed layout.”

In comparision, then, we have two approaches to the same problem and therefore two solutions.  See, for example, a search for the Kannada word for “book,” Kitaba/ಕಿತಾಬು, in the DDSA version of Kittel’s Kannada-English Dictionary and in the Digital Roses version.

The thoroughly meticulous approaches used in the DDSA model produce a robust and unique digital experience built on fully manipulatable, multiscript data while the simple imaging and only partial inputting of the DigitalRoses project produces a quick digital surrogate to the analog counterpart. 

Turning back to “minimal computing,” these two projects offer up models to complicate our understanding of who gets to do what and how in our technologically informed research.  Grant funding allows for big data and big research at big institutional levels.  Minimal computing allows individuals and less resourced cohorts to also meaningfully contribute to the field.  Both approaches have the potential to positively impact users and the creation of new knowledge. 

I encourage you to consider where you fall on this debate: is less more? Is more more?  And when does it matter?


For more on minimal computing, justice through DS/DH, lexicography, and Kannada, see:

Constance Crompton, Richard J. Lane and Ray Siemens, eds.  Doing digital humanities: practice, training, research (London; New York: Routledge, 2016)

Howard Jackson, ed. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Lexicography / [edited by] Howard Jackson. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022)

Ferdinand Kittel and Mariappa Bhatt. Kittel’s Kannaḍa-English dictionary. (Madras: University of Madras, 1968-1971)

Roopika Risam. New digital worlds: postcolonial digital humanities in theory, praxis, and pedagogy (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2019)

Read, Hot, and Digitized: Adventures in Data-Sitting

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.

It will come as no surprise that I, the English Literature Librarian, was a nerdy little bookworm as a child. I actively participated in the Book It! reading program, a literacy initiative sponsored by Pizza Hut. The premise of Book It! was simple: After completing five books and getting the sign-off from my teacher, I would “earn” a coupon for a personal pan pizza. When I was in 5th grade, I read enough Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books in a single week to earn three pizzas. I felt a tinge of guilt because I had skipped early chapters in each book where the text was reused, word-for-word, from previous books in the series. It was always Chapter 2!

Every devoted Baby-Sitters Club fan knows the text was reused to introduce the characters and the premise of the series. There were over 200 books published in the span of 13 years – of course some of it would be repetitive! But let’s take it a step further. What if we could quantifiably demonstrate the reuse of Chapter 2 text, while also comparing stylistic and narrative changes across multiple ghostwriters and cultural trends? And how would you do this kind of analysis of 200+ novels, spin-offs, and graphic novel adaptations? Well, a feminist collective of scholars called the Data-Sitters Club (DSC) is attempting to do just that. 

Cover art for the Data-Sitters Club, by artist Claire Chenette

The Data-Sitters Club describe their project as “a fun way to learn about computational text analysis for digital humanities”. They created a corpus of Ann M. Martin’s influential young adult series and have analyzed it using a variety of DH methods and tools (Python, R, TEI, Voyant, just to name a few). The Baby-Sitters Club has had a long pop culture shelf-life for Gen X and Millennial readers, with the recent Netflix reboot (which was sadly canceled after two seasons) and the podcasts Stuck in Stonybrook and the Baby-Sitters Club Club. According to the publisher Scholastic, the series has been in print since 1986 and has sold more than 190 million copies. Given the series’ immense popularity and continued pop culture influence, the books are a gold mine for researchers interested in gender, race, class, and sexuality, but, like much of girl culture, the books haven’t been the subject of serious research.

So the Data-Sitters Club saw opportunity for new research, while also making DH more accessible, especially to women and other marginalized groups often sidelined in DH projects. The DSC does this through a series of 16 blog posts on their GitHub site, written to mimic the narrative style of the book series, including titles that riff off the originals. Each blog post covers a use case for the BSC corpus and features a different tool, coding language or technique. Two of my favorites are DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus and DSC #5: The DSC and the Impossible TEI Quandaries. (A running joke throughout the blog is that later posts refer the reader back to “Chapter 2” to explain the corpus and how it was created, an intentional reference to the Chapter 2 in the original series that reused text to explain the series’ premise.)

Cover art for DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus, which parodies an original Baby-Sitters Club book cover that I’m pretty sure I read in 3rd or 4th grade. Image courtesy of the Data-Sitters Club

One thing you won’t find on the DSC GitHub site is the corpus itself. The team scanned print books to create a legal corpus, but as of right now, it’s not available publicly online. The DSC has used the project as an advocacy tool to promote the loosening of ebook copyright restrictions to build literary corpra for private research. In partnership with the non-profit Authors Alliance, they wrote to the Librarian of Congress asking for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to access the full BSC corpus. Of all the DSC blog posts, I found DSC #7: The DSC and the Mean Copyright Law to be the most fascinating – and frustrating.

I would recommend the Data-Sitters Club blog to any emerging DH scholar or librarian looking to try a new tool or method. Much of the content is highly technical, but the fun, approachable tone of each blog post makes the content accessible. I hope they are able to get legal access to the full ebook corpus so we can see more research on the Baby-Sitters Club books and better understand their cultural impact on a generation of women and girls.

You can find print copies of the original Baby-Sitters Club series in the PCL Youth Collection, and I highly recommend the recent essay collection We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-up Readers, available at the PCL.  

New Benson exhibition celebrates “El gaucho Martín Fierro”

The Benson Latin American Collection recently inaugurated Martín Fierro: From Marginal Outlaw to National Symbol in the Rare Books Reading Room. Co-curated by Graduate Research Assistants Melissa Aslo de la Torre and Janette Núñez, this exhibition examines the Argentine epic poem El gaucho Martín Fierro and its legacy on the 150th anniversary of the poem’s publication.  Ryan Lynch sat down with Aslo de la Torre (MA) and Núñez (JN) to talk about their process. 


Related: Listen to “An Argentine Gaucho in Texas” on the Benson at 100 podcast. Escuchar este episodio en español.


You write that the Benson has over 380 copies of El gaucho Martín Fierro and La vuelta de Martín Fierro. How did these books come to the Benson?  

JN: A big part of this collection came from two collections that the Benson purchased. One would be the Martínez Reales Gaucho library, purchased in 1961. That contained about 1500 books, pamphlets, and articles and literature of the Argentine cowboy, and more than 300 editions. The other one was the Simon Lucuix library, purchased in 1963. The collector had over 21,000 volumes on Uruguay and the Rio de la Plata area.  

Portrait of author Jose Hernández from a 1937 Martín Fierro–themed calendar with illustrations by Mario Zavattaro, published by Argentine textile company Alpargatas.

Why do you think Martín Fierro has remained so popular?  

JN: The book was published nineteen years after the Argentine constitution of 1853. In that constitution, there was a government policy that encouraged European immigration as an effort to “clean ” races and also populate Argentina. The gaucho became a representation of this struggle of people who were feeling threatened and feeling the consequences of European immigration. 

MA: [Martín Fierro] was not the only poem that was written in the voice of a gaucho, but one of the differences is that this one really makes the gaucho the hero in a sort of tragic tale. It was therefore taken up by different groups of people as a symbol of someone who stands for freedom, someone who was oppressed by the government, sort of a hero of the people.  

It transitioned from mass popularity to being used by the literary elite to create a political national identity. And in that way, it got really inscribed into popular culture. There are images of a popular tango musician [Carlos Gardel] dressed as a gaucho. These two cultural products [tango and gauchos] are very, very different, but we can see as the gauchos diminished in number, they were used as a symbol of Argentine identity. 

A color lithograph by Carlos Alonso depicting the unnamed Black characters who later face violence at the hands of Martín Fierro, from a 1960 edition of El gaucho Martín Fierro y La vuelta de Martín Fierro.

The exhibit focuses largely on the work’s legacy in Argentina. Can you talk about its influence outside of Argentina, such as in Brazil and Uruguay?  

MA: Gauchos existed in the Rio de la Plata area, it wasn’t just these artificial borders—it spanned the entire region. A gaucho in Argentina was very similar to a gaucho in Uruguay. 

One thing that I thought was interesting was that during the period when José Hernández was alive, there was a lot of political turmoil and he was exiled in Uruguay and Brazil; he started writing the poem in Brazil. There was this movement across these borders. 

Who should visit this exhibition?  

MA: Everyone! 

Exhibition curators Melissa Aslo de la Torre (left) and Janette Núñez.

What was the most interesting thing you learned in the course of doing this project?  

JN: For me, it was how heavily the government was involved in spreading the poem. When I found out that we had this poem was translated into over 70 languages, I had an idea that it was really popular internationally, but they were all published in Argentina. Something we’ve mentioned before is how it became so popular. I think it was really a true combination of both the mass public and the government. If either one wasn’t on board with this particular poem, I am not sure it would have been as popular as it was. 

A comic strip adaptation based on a theatrical adaptation of Martín Fierro by José González Castillo from Intervalo, October 1960. Drawings by Miranda.

What is your favorite item in the exhibition?  

MA: One of my favorite items is a version that was written for a juvenile audience that is annotated. I appreciated the annotations because there’s so much gaucho language in the poem that was part of what made it successful, but part of what makes it difficult to understand even if you’re a Spanish speaker. It is interesting, one, because you can see how the poem is taught to young Argentines, and two, it makes it understandable for us as readers. 

We’ve talked a lot about how we chose to frame this and what we chose to focus on. All of it was driven by the holdings, but there are gaps. This is a very masculine, ideal image of this national identity. I would have loved to have more about who were the female subjects in the poem, how they were treated. 

Do you think this experience will inform your careers in archives and libraries in any way? If so, how?  

MA: For me, I think it definitely will. This was my first time creating an exhibition and I really had to think about how there are so many access points to materials in archives and rare books.  

Previously, my work has been in providing reference, so I had to think about instruction in rare books and archives. How do I teach someone about these materials? How do I help tell a story? What kind of framing am I providing to this knowledge? That’s really one of the reasons that I chose this program and that I am interested in for my career—how is cultural knowledge framed by archives and museums, and what is it communicating to audiences? 

JN: I agree. Creating an exhibit is so different from providing reference. It’s putting it out there and then hoping it conveys the messages that we want it to convey. 

Also, it was my first [time] to put my experience of working in libraries and archives and my Latin American academic experience together. I do that when I do reference or processing, but putting an exhibition together is really thinking, what is my previous knowledge of Argentine history and politics? And what are my gaps, and how do I use my background to build on that? 

Another point is working collaboratively. We were able to bring both of our different experiences to put this one project together. Librarianship is very collaborative work—that is what they teach us at the iSchool. Being able to put that on something that wasn’t just a class project was a great experience as well. 


Ryan Lynch is Head of Special Collections and Senior Archivist at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.

Melissa Aslo de la Torre is a master’s student at the School of Information at UT Austin (iSchool).

Janette Núñez is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.

Read, Hot and Digitized: New Era of Post-Pandemic Photo Exhibitions 

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.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

This post was written by Sarth Khare, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.


Josef Koudelka is one of the most respectable names in documentary photography. To many photographers like me, his work is as perfect as it gets. His enigmatic images immortalize the slivers of rare moments, spaces, and events that he witnessed in his extraordinary life. Whether they are of Warsaw Pact troops marching in Prague, of Roma Communities in Romania and Spain, or the large panoramas of landscapes across cities, his photos have the mystical power to transport the viewer into the time and world the photo was taken in.   

Ever since I got to know about his work, I would go online and look for his photos. I would easily spend hours, looking for the shades of grays, the composition, angles and emotive expressions that made his work so rare. But I never got the clarity or satisfaction that one would get by looking at a physical print up-close. The materiality of the paper, the grains shining through and the rich gradience in the tones always seemed to be absent in the digital scans of his work that were available online.  

In the middle of the global pandemic, the National Library of France announced an exhibition “Josef Koudelka. Ruins” which ran from September 15, 2020 to December 16, 2020. The exhibition highlighted panoramic landscapes taken by Josef Koudelka over 28 years across various archeological sites across the world.  

What was most exciting about the exhibition was the accessibility it provided during the pandemic. The physical curation of the exhibit was translated to an online tour using 360° shots. Anyone in the world could access the exhibition and travel through sixty points of view, including, through zooming tools, the ability to look at prints from close and far. One can read the texts on the picture rails along the prints, but more than that, from within the 360° shots itself, viewers can click to view high-resolution scans of the prints.   

This online experience completely changed the idea of exhibitions for me: I could simultaneously experience the detailed nuances of Koudelka’s photographs while  I could also enjoy moving in a world that was designed around them.  

I felt elated with this experience—that galleries and curators alike are striving to reproduce a similar sense of awe online. The push towards this novel approach was two-fold. Firstly, the need of making the exhibition reach people during the pandemic, and secondly, the current tools and technologies that can make this dematerialization of space possible across the internet. 360° virtual tools have been used in real estate and architecture for a while now but have only recently become sophisticated enough to get realistic renderings of spaces. Overlaying such 360° visualizations with high-resolution scans of the static images was a missing piece of the larger puzzle—and what makes this tour so engaging and memorable. 

Although the tour mimics the exhibition in all mannerism, and I believe it is one of the most perfect renderings yet, I can’t say that it was ideal in all means. To physically be in a space with such larger-than-life panoramic images and seeing their juxtaposition is an extraordinary experience. It teleports the viewer from the gallery into the space of the image and has the power to change the viewer. 

 Traveling within the computer screen, however, can become repetitive. But these are current limits of our technology. Within these limitations, this digital exhibition is a milestone. With the growth of virtual reality, I feel that future reproductions that build on this exhibition would become more integrated and holistic.   

I witnessed the exhibition, from my home in India, without having to go to France, and experienced the details and depth of the work of a master whom I truly admire. I must have already spent more than 10 hours roaming digitally along the exhibition spaces of the National Library of France. And I continue doing so now: long after its physical counterpart has ended the digital exhibit is still on display.  

I invite everyone reading this to click on the link below and experience this extraordinary event themselves.  http://expositions.bnf.fr/koudelka/  

UT Austin is also very lucky because the Harry Ransom Center is the home to about 200,000 original prints of Magnum Photos. Magnum Photos is the world’s most influential international photographic cooperative of which Josef Koudelka is a part of. One can access their archives and see the collection details at the following link:  https://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00502

One can also access Koudelka’s photobooks at the Fine Arts Library here at UT Austin. All of his major publications are available here including the forementioned project “Ruins” – https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991058227980106011

His seminal work “Exiles” can be found here as well- 
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991021857199706011 

Tower to Shine a Light on Benson Latin American Collection Centennial

On the night of March 24, 2022, the UT Tower will be lit in honor of the centennial of a crown jewel of our campus—the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Established as the Latin American library on campus in 1921, the collection is beloved by students and faculty, and visited by scholars from all over the world.

Benson Latin American Collection, with Olmec head replica

The collection was named in 1975 upon the retirement of revered head librarian and historian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who served as its director for thirty-three years, retiring in 1975. The stewardship of Mexico-born historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda from 1927 to 1943 was similarly indispensable in the library’s earlier years. In 2011, the Benson joined forces with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) in a partnership known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. This partnership has allowed for an expansion of the Benson in the areas of digital scholarship, post-custodial archiving and archiving of Indigenous languages of Latin America.

Carlos E. Castañeda (right) examines a manuscript in the Latin American library, n.d.

This short video highlights the Benson

To honor the Benson Centennial, The University of Texas at Austin has invested in an interior redesign of the Benson’s main reading room—the first since its construction in 1971. The newly refurbished 6,734-square-foot room is the main entrance to the library and the heart of a place frequented by thousands of visitors each year.

Nettie Lee Benson, undated archival photo

The Tower lighting on March 24 coincides with the grand opening of this beloved space, renamed the Ann Hartness Reading Room, in honor of former head librarian Ann Hartness, whose thirty-eight-year tenure at the Benson enriched Brazilian studies and collections at the university. Its naming was made possible by a gift from Hartness’s son and daughter-in-law, who have also established the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the collection in the field of Brazilian studies. Graham and Ulmer have dedicated the remaining portion of their gift to create the Ann Hartness Benson Collection Matching Fund.

Ann Hartness in the Benson Reading room, 1971

The Benson Centennial Tower lighting is a moment for hope—that this jewel of the University of Texas Libraries may continue to open its doors to the university community and beyond for many years to come, that we may continue to pursue digital projects that make our collections available worldwide through open access, and that support for the richness of this collection will be a means to continue its growth, its inclusiveness and its accessibility to an ever-expanding audience.

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Support the Benson’s next century with a donation to the Drs. Fernando Macías and Adriana Pacheco Benson Centennial Endowment. To explore giving opportunities for the Benson Latin American Collection, contact Hannah Roberts at h.roberts@austin.utexas.edu.

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Jeannette Okur

In observation of Open Education Week, UT Libraries is proud to spotlight a few of our talented faculty members who are on the forefront of the open education movement as open educational resource (OER) authors! Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March. 

We’re continuing the series today with Dr. Jeannette Okur (she/her/hers). Dr. Okur coordinates the Turkish Studies program in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and teaches a variety of courses in language, literature, film, and cultural studies. She completed her doctoral degree in German Language and Literature at Ankara University in 2007, in a department known for its engagement in the field of comparative literature. Dr. Okur is interested in approaches to teaching ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in the foreign language classroom, approaches to teaching critical reading and writing skills, and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of literature and film. Her Turkish textbook and online materials for Intermediate level students of Turkish, titled Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar, were published this past year by the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL). Her current literary research explores the relationships between perpetrators and victims of political violence portrayed in transnational novels by Turkish- and Iraqi-Kurdish writers in exile. 

Dr. Okur graciously shared her experiences developing and sharing OER in the interview below.

Do you recall how you first became aware of open educational resources (OER) or the open education movement more broadly?

Yes, I learned about COERLL and OER textbooks through a presentation given by Dr. Fehintola Mosadomi about her multimedia OER project, Yorùbá Yé Mi, which was later published in 2011.  I remember her talking about the dearth of materials available for teaching Yoruba culture and language and how she sought to rectify that problem by creating online materials that would be affordable and accessible to the small, scattered groups of students learning Yoruba. This idea of an alternate route for publishing curricular materials for a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) stuck with me; and after my first option for publishing Turkish language materials via a traditional copyright failed, I turned to COERLL to find out more.

Cover of the open textbook Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar, by Dr. Jeannette Okur

Last year, you openly published Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar! Can you tell us a little about this resource? What was your primary motivation for developing it?

Sure, ​​Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar is a set of openly licensed curricular materials designed to facilitate Turkish language learners’ progression from the Intermediate-Mid to the Advanced-Mid proficiency level. Informed by the “Flipped Classroom” and “blended instruction” models, these online and print-on-demand materials encourage learners to use language to investigate, explain and reflect on the relationship between contemporary Turks’ socio-cultural practices, products and their perceptions of family, love and marriage, environmental issues, art, film, and politics.

Website homepage: Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar

The Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar curriculum is composed of multiple components which exist over several platforms. All components are accessible on COERLL’s Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar project page.  There, instructors and learners can access and use the media-rich textbook, the student guide, the teacher guide, and the WordPress/H5P site. Quizlet sets, YouTube videos, and other linked audio, video and print materials are built into the textbook itself. The primary organization of the course is through the Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar textbook and the WordPress site, which houses interactive, auto-correct exercises and activities, built in H5P and organized in modules that correspond to the four units’ lessons. The textbook is downloadable for free in PDF or adaptable Google Docs format and is also available for purchase as a print-on-demand book from Lulu.com and Amazon.com. 

Excerpt from open textbook Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar

My initial motivation for developing it stemmed from frustration with the existing teaching materials for the Intermediate level, which did not speak to the interests of my students or meet their practical learning needs, much less match the broader learning objectives I’d envisioned for my second-year Turkish language courses. Over time, I realized that my approach to scaffolding texts and facilitating vocabulary/grammar practice might appeal to other North American teachers of Turkish as well. From the beginning to the end of the project, I sought to create units that would do the following:

  • Introduce learners to culturally and socially significant phenomena in Turkey today and hone their cultural analytical skills through tasks that foster reflection, comparison, and articulation of findings.
  • Introduce learners to a variety of authentic print, audio and audio-visual materials aimed at native Turkish audiences and guide them to use (and reflect on) the reading, listening, and viewing comprehension strategies needed to understand these Advanced-level texts.
  • Engage learners in active recognition and repeated practice of new vocabulary and grammar items.
  • Guide learners through meaningful practice of oral and written discursive strategies specific to the Advanced proficiency level.

Why was it important to you to license your work openly? 

Most teachers of LCTLs in North America spend countless hours creating and revising their own curricular materials and assessments each year, without ever being able to publish them, because no traditional publisher will ever make a profit off of their sales.  As a result, much of these individuals’ life-long creative work disappears when they retire from the field – and is rarely shared with others along the way. Hence, it was important for me to license my work openly in order to be able to share it professionally (at all). I believe strongly that OER projects bring wider visibility to pedagogical work and facilitate professional development among the community of educators who engage in critical reflection of educational resources. Much attention has been paid to the student end of the equation, for it is certainly true that OER materials increase access to educational materials for a wider range of learners, especially those underserved by traditional educational opportunities. They help students, districts, and educational institutions save money; and because they often include more diverse perspectives and representation and can be updated or adapted quickly for specific learner groups, they improve student performance and satisfaction. Their accessibility also attracts informal learners; thus, they can serve as a gateway from informal learning to formal educational programs. But I think the innovative professional communities being built thanks to Open Educational Practices (OEP) are just beginning to be discovered. Just as open scholarly resources foster more scholarly research, open pedagogical resources foster pedagogical exchanges that are more detail-oriented and can yield practical, sharable outcomes.

What has been the biggest benefit of using OER?

That’s a good question, to which I don’t yet have a data-driven answer, because I’ve only just started using the materials in their published form in my classroom this year. I’m sure that the current published materials are 100 times more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing than their predecessor pilot-versions, which involved hundreds of Word docs housed on Canvas and interactive exercises housed on a more antiquated auto-correct platform. Thanks to Nathalie Steinfeld Childre, COERLL’s graphic designer and web developer, the materials are now beautiful, seamlessly integrated via the media-rich textbook and the WordPress/H5P site, and much easier for my students to navigate, both in and out of the classroom.  

However, I would like to learn more about other instructors and learners’ experiences with the materials. To my knowledge, Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar! is currently being used (at least in part) in second-year Turkish language courses at five universities and one university consortium in the United States. To learn more about how these users are implementing the materials and how satisfied they are with them, I hope to conduct a qualitative survey and/or interviews with instructor and student users in the next several months. I hope that this survey and interview data will give us better insight into how well the OER has met its goals.

What was the most challenging part of producing your own textbook?

There is definitely a learning curve to understanding how the various open licenses relate to each other, and what can and cannot be used in your work due to the particular license you’ve chosen. Beyond that, I sometimes found it very difficult to find written texts that were level-appropriate, interesting and openly sourced; and so I spent a lot of time seeking permission from newspaper columnists, editor-in-chiefs, and other authors to use their copyrighted material in this educational project. The concept of OER is not well-known in Turkey, beyond the realm of academia that is. Convincing some authors or institutions that their work would receive a wider audience and contribute to international language learners’ knowledge and understanding of Turkish culture and society (without detracting from their existing published status or profits) was a difficult task. In some cases, I succeeded, received written permission, and was able to integrate fantastic pieces of original work into the textbook; in other cases, my request was rejected. More often than not though, I simply got no answer – which COERLL and I decided to interpret as a “no”. Producing an openly sourced foreign language textbook requires persistence and patience and the ability to “think outside the box” when one cannot at first find exactly what one is looking for. It’s really a labor of love, I think.

How have your students responded to the material? Did you notice a change before and after using OER? 

My students have responded positively to the material, and certainly like the fact that it is free.  I have only been teaching with the materials in their current published form since August, and so haven’t been able to detect a huge difference in students’ response to the materials, although I think that the integrated nature of everything makes for easier navigating. I can say, however, that some of the content has already started to get old – and may be speaking less to students, especially undergraduates, who always want the latest and freshest examples of “culture”. That is an issue I will have to address in the next 2-3 years by updating and replacing some parts of the textbook.

What would you say to an instructor who is interested in OER but isn’t sure how to get started?

If they are foreign language instructors, I would advise them to attend the annual Language OER Conference hosted by the University of Kansas Open Language Resource Center and UT’s COERLL, because it offers them a convenient forum to learn about a variety of OER projects being developed by foreign language educators.  In particular, they can learn a lot about why individuals have chosen particular technologies or platforms to house and organize their material. I would also advise interested foreign language instructors to work through COERLL’s Introduction to OER for Language Teachers, a series of modules on searching for, licensing, attributing, remixing, revising, creating, publishing, and sharing OER, or to start small by participating in COERLL’s FLIITE Project, through which they can learn to build OER lessons.  

Also, since many instructors have questions about how “fair use” of copyrighted materials squares with OER, I recommend that anyone interested in authoring an OER read the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources: A Guide for Authors, Adapters & Adopters of Openly Licensed Teaching and Learning Materials. Finally, any UT instructors thinking about going open should talk with you, Ashley, and check out the UT Libraries OER LibGuide!

Want to get started with OER or find other free or low cost course materials? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu)

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Daniel Bonevac

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Daniel Bonevac, who was nominated by his students in PHL 325L (Business, Ethics, and Public Policy) in the Department of Philosophy.

Dr. Daniel Bonevac, Department of Philosophy

Dr. Bonevac is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He works mainly in metaphysics, philosophy of mathematics, semantics, and philosophical logic. His book Reduction in the Abstract Sciences received the Johnsonian Prize from The Journal of Philosophy. The author of five books and editor or co-editor of four others, Dr. Bonevac’s articles include “Against Conditional Obligation” (Noûs), “Sellars v. the Given” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), “Reflection Without Equilibrium,” (Journal of Philosophy), “Free Choice Permission Is Strong Permission” (Synthese, with Nicholas Asher), “The Conditional Fallacy,” (Philosophical Review, with Josh Dever and David Sosa), “The Counterexample Fallacy” (Mind, also with Dever and Sosa), and “The Argument from Miracles” and “Two Theories of Analogical Predication” (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion). He was Chairman of the Department of Philosophy from 1991 to 2001.

In all his courses, Dr. Bonevac actively seeks opportunities to minimize costs for students. In addition to completely eliminating required purchases for Business, Ethics, and Public Policy, he’s also found opportunities to significantly cut costs in two other courses (UGS 303: Ideas of the Twentieth Century and PHL 356D: History of Christian Philosophy) by identifying individual readings that can be linked or uploaded to Canvas. Student nominators expressed gratitude and relief at not having to worry about textbook costs for this course, on top of the other financial and academic stresses many have been experiencing during the pandemic.

But there are pedagogical benefits to the approach of selecting diverse readings, too. Dr. Bonevac tells us, “I’ve become shocked, and horrified, by the rising cost of textbooks—and I’m an author of several!—and have been seeking alternatives. I used to use a textbook in this course, and it was quite good. But it was also expensive. It included far more than I needed for a single course. And the case studies were old, often from decades ago. The attraction of putting together readings on my own was not only to eliminate costs for students but to allow me to shape the course exactly as I want it, to adapt the readings every semester, discarding ones that don’t work so well, adding new readings to keep everything up to date, and being able to respond quickly to issues that emerge in business ethics in the real world.”

His student nominators also praised Dr. Bonevac’s choice to incorporate videos he created himself into the course to expand on challenging topics. Philosophical readings can be dense and hard to grasp, and the content he created helped students understand key concepts. It seems that making course content accessible from day one on Canvas may have facilitated greater student engagement, too. Dr. Bonevac has observed more class and office hours participation as well as better outcomes in student papers and assessments, though it’s difficult to disentangle these results from the course modality changes we’ve all adapted to in the last two years.

If you’re an instructor who is interested in making the switch to more affordable or cost-free materials, Dr. Bonevac encourages you to try it! “There are many advantages. It’s now easy to compile sources for use on Canvas. Organizing the course into modules, with readings online, makes it easy for students to follow along and do the readings. It’s easy to keep the course on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the field. And it’s easy to improve the course semester by semester as you see which topics and readings work well and which flop…. I haven’t seen any downsides so far.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Sean Gurd

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Sean Gurd, who was nominated by his students in CTI 301G (Introduction to Ancient Greece) in the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts & Ideas

Dr. Sean Gurd, Department of Classics

Dr. Gurd is a Professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. His active research interests include the areas of ancient theatre (especially tragedy), ancient music, and any part of intellectual culture that interfaced with the concept of art (or techne). He is also the director of the Ancient Music and Performance Lab, which is dedicated to exploring innovative ways of integrating arts practice with humanities scholarship.

He has authored four monographs: Iphigenias at Aulis: Textual Multiplicity, Radical Philology; Work in Progress: Literary Revision as Social Performance in Ancient Rome; Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece; and The Origins of Music Theory in the Age of Plato. Dr. Gurd is currently writing a book on the NY area poet and performance artist Arman Schwerner, and a book on Music, Physics, and Theology in Hellenistic writers from Aristoxenus to Philo of Alexandria. He is an editor of Tangent, a scholar-led imprint of punctum books dedicated to publishing innovative books and projects that touch on classical antiquity. All of the imprint’s books will be free to all (open access) on the web six months after their publication. 

Like many instructors who select open and free course materials, Dr. Gurd is motivated by a desire for students to guide their own learning with immediate access to high-quality materials. In his Introduction to Ancient Greece course, that means enabling them with texts to which UT Libraries subscribes, available to students at no cost. Importantly, he has also found that these materials support his pedagogical goals. “Often in a large undergraduate class the instructor decides what’s important and assigns readings or texts on that basis. In this class, I want people to discover ancient Greek culture by exploring it themselves; and I want their explorations to be based on what matters to them, not what matters to me. This course is designed to let students do this: they start by identifying a big theme or issue that matters to them, and then they look for ancient Greek texts that address that theme, so that by the end of the semester they have built a small personal anthology of ancient texts. It’s an amazing feeling to be teaching to a large undergraduate class and to know that every single student will finish the class with knowledge that reflects what they individually care about,” says Dr. Gurd. Further, he’s observed a higher level of student engagement that may be partially attributed to the availability of diverse subject matter in the resources available to students. 

His students clearly appreciated the cost savings and also noted the ways in which the course material choices enhanced their learning experience. As one of his student nominators shared, “Not only did Professor Gurd save his students money, he did it in a way that actually contributed to the overall education of the class. The translations we used are actually known in the classics world as some of the best translations, but they’re normally quite expensive, but we were able to access them for free” (Freshman, Classical Languages major). They also highlighted the specific database that facilitates access to the course texts, Loeb Classical Library, as fundamental to facilitating both cost savings and the best possible learning experience: “This class is heavily reliant on Greek plays and dramas, which can be expensive, especially for accurate translations, but Professor Gurd had us use UT provided translations from the Loeb Classical Library for the class, which is great! They’re awesome translations, plus they’re free.”

And Dr. Gurd’s personal commitment to openness is not limited to course materials. At each step of the research cycle, he seeks out tools that are available openly. He tells us, “I do most of my writing in a free text editor (Atom), I manage my bibliography using free database tools (Zotero and Bibdesk), and I prefer to finish documents in an open source typesetting system (LateX). I energetically proselytize for this way of doing things, and will show my tools to anyone who asks (and sometimes even to people who don’t ask!).”

We asked Dr. Gurd what advice he might offer to other instructors who are considering making the switch to open, free, or affordable course materials. He shared this wisdom: “When I’m selecting materials, I try to ask myself: what do I want out of this course? How do I imagine the various parts—assignments, class time, reading and research—working together to create a positive experience for students? I feel lucky when I’m able to get everything working together; if it happens that I am able to do it while passing no additional cost to the student, then I really feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. My advice would be to let your goals tell you what the course needs, and to consider nothing sacred (including the tradition of assigning a textbook for purchase) in meeting those goals.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Restoring a Neglected History: The Black Diaspora Archive

What is the Black experience in the Americas?

It’s a question that has not gotten due consideration, and one that helped to initiate the development of an archive focused on collecting and preserving resources that hold the history and experience of the African migration to the Americas.

A collaborative project between Black Studies, LLILAS Benson and the University of Texas Libraries, the Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) was conceptualized in 2013 to collect documentary, audiovisual, digital and artistic works related to the Black Diaspora of the Americas and Caribbean, focusing on people and communities with a shared ancestral connection to Africa. The archive encompasses historical publications, contemporary records, personal papers and rare material produced by and/or about people of African descent — including scholars, professionals, community groups, activists and artists.

While the geographic collecting area for the Black Diaspora is global, this collection is currently focused on materials documenting experiences from within the Americas and the Caribbean. Recognizing the broad potential in a partnership, Black Studies approached LLILAS Benson with the idea of creating an archive devoted to resources related to the Black Diaspora. Since its founding in 1921, the Benson Latin American Collection has actively collected Latin American materials that document communities and people of color, but it had never done so in a deliberate way. Principals in each unit recognized the common objectives and shared vision between them, and the mutual benefit of developing a dedicated archival holding of material related to the Black Diaspora. With additional support from the Libraries and the Office of the President, the Black Diaspora Archive came into being, and in the fall of 2015, Rachel Winston was named as its inaugural Black Diaspora archivist.

Thematically, the collection seeks to reflect art and art scholarship of the Black Diaspora, slavery in the Americas, ethnoracial empowerment and advocacy, and the personal archives of scholars and thought leaders. These types of records can include historical works, prints, digital and born-digital content, and other rare material.

Although the scope of the BDA’s acquisitions strategy can be categorized neatly into these simplified groupings, a brief overview of some of the resources included in the collections underscores how much is needed to be done in preserving and studying the Black experience and its historical impact on our culture and society. From documents on the slave trade in the Black Diaspora in New Spain, to oral history collections like that of the Shankleville freedom colony in East Texas, to the papers of influential Black intellectuals and activists like Edmund T. Gordon, John L. Warfield and Brenda Burt, to collections of art and art history, the BDA has just begun to scratch the surface in preserving and making accessible resources for beginning to examine the role of the Black Diaspora and Black scholarship in the Americas.

In addition to collecting, the BDA works to promote collection use and research through scholarly resources, exhibitions, community outreach, student programs and public engagement.

“As the primary manager of the Black Diaspora Archive, my ultimate charge is to provide a fuller understanding of the Black experience throughout the Americas and Caribbean with primary sources,” says Winston. “In the most traditional sense, this necessitates the acquisition, collection, preservation, and accessibility of archival records.”

“However, as our communities become more connected and technologically advanced, information access and information needs continue to evolve in ways that are increasingly less traditional,” continues Winston. “User needs of today, for example, live largely in the digital realm. In facilitating access to online content, the archivist has more of a responsibility to perform outreach and promote information literacy skills in an effort to preserve the integrity of our collections and meet user needs.”

“I am so excited for what we have been able to achieve so far and just the general sense of support on campus for this project that I am confident we will move forward, in order to move forward and achieve what’s possible, we need all of this outside support we can get.”


Consider supporting the Black Diaspora Archive with a gift.

Read, Hot, and Digitized: OCR/HTR for all with eScriptorium

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.

A perennial issue for digital researchers in non-Roman-script languages (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, or Ancient Greek) is the availability and utility of tools for automatically transcribing digitized text. That is, how can researchers make their print and handwritten materials, or digitized print materials, machine-readable, full-text searchable, and ready for numerous digital scholarship applications? Although emerging a little later than their Roman script peers, such tools have been under development for some time for non-Roman languages––and often with marked improvements over their digital brethren. One of the most remarkable tools developed to date is eScriptorium, an open-source platform for digitized document analysis. It makes use of the Kraken Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine, which was developed to address the needs of right-to-left languages such as Arabic.

While the purpose of eScriptorium is to provide a holistic workflow to produce digital editions, the first step in the process is the transcription of primary sources, and this is where the project has been focused until recently. Researchers can train the tool to machine-transcribe texts according to their needs. It has been designed to work with books, documents, inscriptions––anything that has been rendered into a digitized image. Adding such images to eScriptorium is the first step in the transcription process. As more and more libraries and archives make digital surrogates of printed and handwritten texts freely available on the Internet, researchers have ever-increasing opportunities to explore texts and create useful data for their research. eScriptorium has been designed to work especially well with handwritten texts, which means that it generally will work even better with printed texts. eScriptorium, as a tool, has the added benefit of working with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). This means that researchers can access images at a variety of institutions around the world directly and without the necessity of downloading and hosting those materials themselves. IIIF also facilitates the automatic import of available metadata with images, which can be a big time-saver.

The second step in eScriptorium’s transcription process is line detection. eScriptorium can be used to annotate images of documents, show where lines of text are, and which areas of a page or image to transcribe––all as customized by the researcher. Researchers create examples of what they want the computer to do, and the tool learns from those examples. It then automatically applies its learning to other images. eScriptorium has a default system that can detect the basic layout of pages, and––thankfully––researchers can modify the results of the default line detection in order to improve the final result of transcription.

Once the lines have been identified, researchers move on to the transcription itself. Researchers define the transcription standards (normalization, romanization, approaches to punctuation and abbreviation, and so on). The tool learns from transcription examples created by the researcher and applies what it learns to the added texts. With eScriptorium, researchers can type the transcribed text by hand, import an existing text using a standard format, or copy and paste a text from elsewhere. After creating enough examples (an undefined number that will differ for each researcher’s needs), the tool learns from them and then can transcribe the remaining texts automatically. Some correction may be needed, but those corrections can then be used to train the tool again.

Of note is how eScriptorium has been selected for an essential role in the Open Islamicate Texts Initiative’s Arabic-script Optical Character Recognition Catalyst Project (OpenITI AOCP). It will be the basis of the OpenITI AOCP’s “digital text production pipeline,” facilitating OCR and text export into a variety of formats. eScriptorium encourages researchers to download, publish, and share trained models, and to make use of trained models from other projects. OpenITI AOCP and eScriptorium-associated researchers have published such data, including BADAM (Baseline Detection in Arabic-script Manuscripts). Researchers can even retrain other trained models to their own purposes. This can help researchers get going with their transcription faster, reducing the time needed for creating models by hand.

I encourage readers to consider using UT Libraries’ own digital collections (particularly the Middle East Studies Collection) as a source of digitized images of text if they want to give eScriptorium a try. UT Libraries also has worked closely with FromThePage, a transcription tool for collaborative transcription and translation projects. The crowdsourcing and collaborative options available with FTP will be useful to many projects focusing on documents too challenging for the capabilities of today’s OCR and HTR tools. Don’t forget to share your projects and let us know how these tools and materials have helped your research!

Dale J. Correa, PhD, MS/LIS is Middle Eastern Studies Librarian and History Coordinator for the UT Libraries.