Category Archives: Area Studies

Welcome Week at the Libraries

The Libraries received a new and returning fall class of Longhorns earlier this month with a series of events designed to connect patrons with resources, services and experts in fun and engaging ways.

Organized by the Arts, Humanities, & Global Studies Engagement Team, Welcome Week 2022 featured opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn more about the UT Libraries’ map, international and zine collections in traditional and cutting edge spaces, all the while participating in activities that taught them about how resources can be used for scholarly and research endeavors.

Color + Geometry in Islamic Art, 9/1

Part math, part art: for centuries, artists in Muslim contexts have used geometry and mathematical principles to create stimulating patterns for architecture, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, and paintings. Attendees at the Fine Arts Library’s Foundry makerspace had an opportunity to build a 3D geometric models, print Islamic tile-inspired window decals, and stamp beautiful designs inspired by Islamic art on fabric or paper. Throughout the event, visitors were rapt by the process of an Islamic sphere coming to life on a 3D printer, all while learning how to use the Foundry to create their own masterpieces.

Kolam Drawing on the Plaza, 9/2

Students from the Longhorn Malayalee Student Association and in the Department of Asian Studies’ Malayalam language courses showed up before sunrise at PCL to create colorfully complex chalk drawings on the plaza amid waves of onlookers making their way to the library at the throughout the day.

You Are Here: Shifting Perspectives, 9/6

The PCL Map Room hosted a gathering to introduce attendees to this incredible resource tucked away in the bottom floor of the Perry-Castañeda Library which houses the physical collection of more than 350,000 items representing all areas of the world. Most of the collection’s maps date from 1900 to the present, and are utilized by faculty, researchers and students from every corner of the Forty Acres.

Welcome to the Libraries…in Arabic, 9/7

The Libraries provided an informational session delivered in Arabic as an introduction to the services offered by the University of Texas Libraries. Visitors to the discipline-agnostic session were provided general information on how to use the Libraries and how to seek help for research and teaching.

Zine Party, 9/8

PCL denizens seemed happily distracted by a zine creation station set up in the lobby where students took a much-deserved break from academic work for some DIY creative therapy. Examples from the Libraries’ Zine Collections, featuring a number of works by BIPOC and LGBTQ creators, were presented for attendees to thumb through and gather ideas.

Alumna Virginia Miller: Fond Memories of UT Austin Prompt a Generous Bequest

Art historian Dr. Virginia E. Miller, a UT Austin alumna, has generously included support for LLILAS Benson in her estate. The bequest designates the creation of two program endowments: Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund in Latin American Art Studies, to support the study of Latin American Art via LLILAS, and Virginia E. Miller Endowed Excellence Fund for the Benson Library, to support any function of the Benson Latin American Collection. 

Dr. Miller completed her master’s in Latin American Studies from LLILAS (at the time, ILAS) in 1973, and earned her doctorate in Art History, also from UT, in 1981. An art historian who specializes in ancient Maya art, she is Associate Professor Emerita of Pre-Columbian and Native American Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Recently, Dr. Miller spoke to LLILAS Benson Communications Coordinator Susanna Sharpe, explaining how a young woman born in London, Ontario, Canada, made her way to Austin, Texas, to study Latin America. 

Photo courtesy Virginia Miller

“I was a French major [in college], but nobody was offering me a glamorous job in Paris when I graduated. But I got a chance to work for the YWCA in Mexico City, so I took it,” recalled Miller. “I had already spent a summer in South America by then.”  

Driven by her interest in learning more about Latin America, her fluency in Spanish, and her desire to study and live someplace warm, Miller applied to a handful of master’s programs in the U.S. She knew very little about the programs she applied to. “Remember, this is before the internet.” A Latin American history professor she knew told her to choose UT Austin if she got in, so she did, although she admits the decision was rather random. “I hadn’t looked at a map,” Miller laughed, “I didn’t know where Austin was; I just knew it was in Texas. I couldn’t understand anybody at all for the first few days!”  

It was during an art history seminar during her first semester that Miller began to develop an interest in the field that would become the focus of her career. Once she began the PhD program in art history, things gradually began to fall into place and her focus zeroed in on pre-Columbian and then specifically ancient Maya art.  

Miller remarked on witnessing her own students’ reactions to this material. “A lot of my students were just astonished to learn about [pre-Columbian art]. Even the art history majors. I got a lot of converts from modern and Renaissance art, especially at the master’s level. The best part of teaching was the students’ discovery of these cultures.” 

Although she spent most of her career teaching at UIC, Miller also taught at Oberlin College and Northwestern University. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught in both Guatemala and Mexico. She also took a brief break from teaching to join the Foreign Service, working in the consular office of the American embassy in Madrid.  

She is the author of The Frieze of the Palace of the Stuccoes, Acanceh, Yucatan, Mexico, and an edited volume titled The Role of Gender in Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture, as well as numerous book chapters and journal articles. A forthcoming article, “Heads, Skulls, and Sacred Scaffolds: New Studies on Ritual Body Processing and Display in Chichen Itza and Beyond” (Ancient Mesoamerica), is the product of a collaboration with physical anthropologist Vera Tiesler.  

Fond Memories of UT Austin 

Miller’s memories of UT and of Austin are joyful and positive, and it is clear that the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Collection were a hub for much of her engagement here. 

“UT was really foundational to me—to my professional career, but also to me personally. I really enjoyed my time in Austin. It was wonderful having that fantastic library. There were so many events that had a Latin American focus. There were so many faculty, even in areas I didn’t do, like geography and history, that you had this wonderful climate.” 

Recalling the Benson, she said, “I loved the library. It had every publication. It was amazing. I mean, I would be researching pre-Columbian art in say, Bolivia, and I would find a journal that had two issues published in La Paz in the twenties [laughs] and it would be in the library! I was completely spoiled. Even Dumbarton Oaks in Washington does not match it. I was in the library a lot. Partly to work, partly to hang out with my friends, and partly because back then you browsed the stacks a lot. . . . I would browse the stacks endlessly to find interesting material on a wide range of subjects. It was the amplitude of the library and the accessibility of the material . . . it was just a very good atmosphere there.” 

The inevitable question arose: Did she cross paths with the revered (and sometimes feared) head librarian Nettie Lee Benson? “Oh yeah. She terrified me! [laughs] She was in charge! I also knew Laura Gutiérrez-Witt, and David Block was a close friend of mine in graduate school.” (The beloved Gutiérrez-Witt and the late Block are former head librarians at the Benson.) 

The Latin American Studies master’s degree offered Miller the freedom she needed to explore a wide and diverse field. “I was fascinated that when I arrived, I went to see my adviser because I didn’t know what to take, and he told me I could take anything,” she said. 

It is clear that Dr. Miller’s gift is her way of giving back to a place that helped shape her and enriched her life.  

“I had a lot of fun there. I know that’s not academic, but I really enjoyed my time. Austin is a wonderful memory to me.” 

Latin American Digital Initiatives TEAM Visits Partners in Buenaventura, Colombia

[Español abajo]

Two members of the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team recently visited Buenaventura, Colombia, to work with archivists and community leaders at Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), a grassroots collective of organizations founded in 1993 that is working to transform the political, social, economic, and territorial reality of Colombia’s Black, Afro-descendant, Raizal, and Palenquera communities through the defense and revindication of their individual, collective, and ancestral rights.

View of Bahía de Buenaventura from hotel balcony in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

PCN participates as one of several sister archives with which LLILAS Benson has developed a partnership to support the digitization and description of archival materials. Funded by a succession of grants from the Mellon Foundation, this project emphasizes the post-custodial archiving model.* Digitized materials from PCN’s Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia archive.

Alex Suarez, Digital Projects Archivist, and Karla Roig, former Post-Custodial and Digital Initiatives Graduate Research Assistant, spent a week in Buenaventura to assist PCN with organizing and processing their physical collection. By processing the physical collection, PCN will be able to digitize and create metadata more efficiently. Below, Suarez (AS) and Roig (KR) answer questions about this meaningful visit.

Please describe what you did while visiting Colombia.

AR: We conducted a series of trainings on archival processing, metadata creation, and digitization. We also had the opportunity to learn about the region as well as the city of Buenaventura. The first few days were spent getting to know the collection and to also understand how PCN works as an organization. 

Digital Projects Archivist Alex Suarez works with team members at PCN in Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Together with PCN, we brainstormed how to arrange the archive in a way that reflects how PCN operates and how they envisioned using the archive in the future. We also reviewed digitization and metadata best practices so that PCN materials can be accessible worldwide and researchers can learn about the organization and Buenaventura. 

We were also invited to attend throughout the week three talks titled “Diálogos ribereños,” organized by PCN and the Banco de la República, in which community leaders engaged in conversation with the community around topics of burial rites, economic practices and the environment, and the settlement of their rivers.

Diálogos ribereños meeting, Buenaventura, Colombia. Photo: Karla Roig.

Please share some of the highlights of the trip: the setting, activities, and accomplishments.

AR: I was blown away by the closeness of the community and the work they have accomplished over the last 30 years. Everybody knows each other and have been working toward the same goals. It was so interesting to see the community at work. 

One of the biggest accomplishments was PCN creating their archival processing plan and defining their arrangement plan. Some of my favorite moments were spent drinking freshly brewed coffee around [PCN leader] Marta’s dining room table talking about how to arrange the archive and how they envisioned future researchers using the archive. 

PCN leader Marta Inés Cuervo (l) examines archival material with Alex Suarez. Photo: Karla Roig.


Another favorite moment was attending an interactive exhibit titled Río la Verdad, by Bogotá-based artist Leonel Vásquez, who installed a swimming pool where guests could submerge themselves and hear the sound of the rivers and people singing songs about their history. It was a deeply powerful experience and one that I will never forget. 

Río la Verdad exhibit by Leonel Vásquez. Photo: Karla Roig.

KR: About the setting: On Sunday morning, we met with Marta and she showed us around Buenaventura for the first time. Our hotel was in front of the Malecón, their only public park, where people gather early in the morning to wait for the small boats that will connect them to other parts of the Colombian Pacific coast. Walking around the small coastal city, there were many local stores and street vendors displaying their goods—from fruits and vegetables, clothes and shoes, to home essentials. Right away we could sense the tight-knit community bonds. Everyone we passed greeted us with a “Buenos días” and Marta was often stopped by people she knew to have a small conversation.

View from the Faro – Mirador Turístico (lighthouse) at the malecón (pier) in Buenaventura. Photo: Karla Roig.

We stopped at a small coffee shop with the view of the Pacific Ocean to have a refreshing drink, where we talked about geography, how Colombia is divided into different departments, and how Buenaventura is the biggest municipality in the Valle del Cauca department. We were staying in the urban center of the municipality, which is where one of the major ports in the country that brings in a large percentage of imported goods is located. Seeing the large yellow container cranes was impressive, they spotted the skyline from our hotel view to the right, and to the left, on a clear day, we could see the mountains at a distance. 

One of my favorite memories from our visit was the cultural exchange that happened between us and the PCN team. They taught us about their colloquialisms and their native fruits such as maracuyá and borojó (we tried them too!) and we shared our own vernacular from Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish. It was exciting to find the similarities between our cultures as well as learning about the uniqueness of their own: how their communities are based around their rivers and also how the marimba is one of their traditional music instruments. Definitely the highlight of the entire visit for me was how welcoming and friendly the PCN team was, and how excited they were to engage with us at a professional and personal level. Toward the end of the week, we had a team dinner to celebrate what we had accomplished and to thank them for hosting us. That night we talked at length about the week, and we all shared what we had learned and were grateful for. It was a beautiful moment interspersed with conversation centered on the archive, but also with laughter and familiarity. 

Farewell dinner with members of PCN. Photo: Karla Roig.

Any ongoing goals?

The main ongoing goal for LLILAS Benson’s Mellon-funded collaboration with PCN is to continue working on the physical archive and to arrange the materials in a way that reflects the organization. 

Note: Post-custodial archiving is a process whereby sometimes vulnerable archives are preserved digitally and the digital versions made accessible worldwide, thus increasing access to the materials while ensuring they remain in the custody and care of their community of origin.


Lea este artículo en español:

Equipo de Iniciativas Digitales visita socios en Buenaventura, Colombia

Dos miembros del equipo de Iniciativas Digitales de LLILAS Benson viajaron recientemente a Buenaventura, Colombia, para trabajar con archivistas y líderes comunitarios de Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), una colectiva de organizaciones fundada en 1993 que trabaja para transformar la realidad política, social, económica y territorial de las comunidades negras, afro-descendientes, raizal y palenqueras colombianas a través de la defensa y reivindicación de sus derechos individuales, colectivas y ancestrales.

Como archivo, PCN participa en una colaboración con LLILAS Benson para apoyar la digitalización y descripción de la Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia. El proyecto, se está realizando a través del modelo de archivos pos-custodiales* y es apoyado por la Fundación Mellon.

Vista de la Bahía de Buenaventura desde el balcón del hotel enn Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Alex Suarez, Archivista para Proyectos Digitales, y Karla Roig, Asistente Posgrado de Investigaciones para Iniciativas Digitales, pasaron una semana en Buenaventura para ayudar a PCN a organizar y procesar su colección física. Al procesar la colección física, podrían digitalizar y crear metadatos de una manera más eficiente. Abajo, Suarez (AS) y Roig (KR) contestan algunas preguntas sobre la visita.

Expliquen, por favor, las actividades que realizaron durante su visita.

AS: Llevamos a cabo una serie de capacitaciones sobre el procesamiento de archivos, la creación de metadatos y la digitalización. También tuvimos la oportunidad de conocer sobre la región, así como la ciudad de Buenaventura. Los primeros días fueron dedicados a conocer la colección y también a comprender cómo funciona PCN como organización.

Junto con PCN, aportamos ideas sobre cómo organizar el archivo de una manera que reflejara cómo opera PCN y cómo imaginaban usar el archivo en el futuro. También revisamos las mejores prácticas de digitalización y metadatos para que los materiales de PCN puedan ser accesibles en todo el mundo y los investigadores puedan aprender sobre la organización y sobre Buenaventura.

Archivista para Proyectos Digitales Alex Suarez trabaja con miembros del equipo de PCN en Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

También fuimos invitadas a asistir a lo largo de la semana a tres charlas tituladas “Diálogos ribereños”, organizadas por PCN y el Banco de la República, en las que líderes comunitarios conversaron con la comunidad en torno a temas de ritos fúnebres, prácticas económicas y medio ambiente, y del poblamiento de sus ríos.

Reunión “Diálogos ribereños” . Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Cuáles fueron los eventos más destacados del viaje en términos del lugar, las actividades, los logros?

AS: Quedé asombrada por la cercanía de la comunidad y el trabajo que han realizado durante los últimos 30 años. Todos se conocen unos a otros y han estado trabajando hacia unas metas en común y fue muy interesante ver a la comunidad haciendo ese trabajo.

Uno de los mayores logros fue PCN creando su plan de procesamiento de archivos y definiendo su plan de organización. Algunos de mis momentos favoritos fueron bebiendo café recién colado alrededor de la mesa del comedor de Marta hablando sobre cómo organizar el archivo y cómo imaginaban que los futuros investigadores usarían el archivo.

Marta Inés Cuervo (i) examina documentos con Alex Suarez. Foto: Karla Roig.

Otro de mis momentos favoritos fue asistir a una exhibición interactiva que fue instalada en el parque principal durante nuestra estadía. La exposición se tituló Río la Verdad del artista bogotano Leonel Vásquez, quien instaló una piscina donde los invitados podían sumergirse y escuchar el sonido de los ríos y la gente cantando canciones sobre su historia. Fue una experiencia profundamente poderosa y una que nunca olvidaré.

Exhibición Río la Verdad por Leonel Vásquez. Foto: Karla Roig.

KR: Sobre el lugar: El domingo por la mañana nos reunimos con Marta [una líder de PCN] y ella nos caminó por Buenaventura por primera vez. Nuestro hotel estaba frente al Malecón, el único parque público de la ciudad, donde la gente se reúne temprano en la mañana para esperar las pequeñas embarcaciones que los conectarán con otras partes de la costa pacífica colombiana. Caminando por la pequeña ciudad costera, había muchas tiendas locales y vendedores en la calle que mostraban sus productos, desde frutas y verduras, ropa y zapatos, hasta artículos para el hogar. Inmediatamente pudimos ver la cercanía de la comunidad, a todo el que pasábamos nos saludaba con un “Buenos días”, y Marta a menudo paraba a hablar con algún conocido u otro para tener una pequeña conversación.

Nos detuvimos en una pequeña cafetería con vistas al Océano Pacífico para tomar una bebida refrescante en donde conversamos sobre la geografía, cómo Colombia está dividido en diferentes departamentos, y cómo Buenaventura es el municipio más grande del departamento del Valle del Cauca. Nos estábamos quedando en el centro urbano del municipio, que es dónde se encuentra uno de los puertos más importantes del país que trae un gran porcentaje de mercancías importadas. Ver las grandes grúas amarillas de contenedores fue impresionante, se percibían hacia la derecha del horizonte desde la vista de nuestro hotel, y a la izquierda, en un día claro, podíamos ver las montañas a lo lejos.

Vista del Faro – Mirador Turístico en el Malecón. Buenaventura, Colombia. Foto: Karla Roig.

Uno de mis mejores recuerdos de nuestra visita fue el intercambio cultural que ocurrió entre nosotros y el equipo de PCN. Ellos nos enseñaron sobre sus coloquialismos y sus frutas nativas como el maracuyá y el borojó (¡también los probamos!) y compartimos nuestro vernáculo del español puertorriqueño y cubano. Fue emocionante encontrar las similitudes entre nuestras culturas, así como aprender sobre la singularidad de la de ellos: cómo sus comunidades se basan en sus ríos y también cómo la marimba es uno de sus instrumentos musicales tradicionales.

Definitivamente, lo que más se destacó de toda la visita para mí fue lo acogedor y amable que fue el equipo de PCN, y lo emocionados que estaban de interactuar con nosotros a nivel profesional y personal. Hacia el final de la semana, tuvimos una cena de equipo para celebrar lo que habíamos logrado y agradecerles por recibirnos. Esa noche hablamos sobre la semana y todos compartimos lo que habíamos aprendido y por lo que estábamos agradecidos. Fue un hermoso momento intercalado con conversación enfocada en el archivo, pero también con risas y familiaridad.

Cena de despedida con miembros de PCN. Foto: Karla Roig.

¿Objetivos para el futuro?

El principal objetivo de la subvención Mellon es continuar trabajando en el acervo físico y organizar los materiales de una manera que refleje la organización.


Nota: La práctica de archivos pos-custodiales tiene que ver con la preservación de archivos vulnerables en su lugar de origen, mientras se crea una versión digital del material para hacerlo disponible a nivel global.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question

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.


The Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question (IEPQ) is “the first interactive platform entirely devoted to the Palestine question.” Conceived by the Institute for Palestine Studies as part of a joint project with the Palestinian Museum, the IEPQ traces the history of modern Palestine, from the end of the Ottoman era to present days.  

‘Palestine’ and ‘the question of Palestine’ are terms that bear multiple political, historical, geographical, and legal meanings and interpretations. Similar to other ‘national questions’ throughout modern history, the Palestine question pertains to the appropriate status and treatment of the Palestinians, and their right to self-determination. The public debate originated in 1917, with the Balfour declaration and the British Mandate, but the historical events that lead to that point in time, and are now part of the Israeli-Arab conflict (sometimes called ‘the Jewish-Arab conflict’) could be traced back to the second half of the 19th century.

The IEPQ consists of six sections: Chronology (timeline), thematic chronologies, highlights, biographies, places, and documents. The overall Chronology details “the main events that shaped Palestinian history in the realms of war, diplomacy, culture, and economy.” Events are categorized under various terms, such as ‘violence,’ ‘institutional,’ ‘contextual,’ ‘diplomatic,’ ‘legal,’ ‘cultural,’ and so forth. Some of those events are also mapped in the Thematic Chronologies section; for example, “history of the PLO,” or “Colonialism and Palestinian resistance.” Visualizing the events in a chronological order allows for better understanding of the conflict’s development throughout the years. The Highlights section includes detailed articles (with selected bibliographies) about specific topics, events, and organizations; for example, political movements, refugees, demography, and the Nakba. Currently the IEPQ includes 107 biographies of Palestinian “intellectuals, artists, activists, combatants and politicians.” Some include references to selected works of and about the individual. The Documents section includes historical texts, photographs, maps, and charts that support information presented in other sections and mapped back to the Chronology section.  

Thematic chronology of “Military operations and Zionist ethnic cleansing (1946-1949).” https://palquest.org/en/overallchronology?nid=140&chronos[]=140
An example of ‘cultural event’ in the Chronology section: “Ghassan Kanafani publishes first novel, Rijāl fī al-shams (Men in the Sun), in Beirut. https://palquest.org/en/overallchronology?sideid=5568

I find the Places section to be the most compelling one, as it presents “the painful legacy of the past,” mapping 418 Palestinian villages occupied, destroyed, depopulated, or deserted during the Nakba. The main screen of this section shows a 1940s survey map from the British Mandate. Detailed information about each village could be brought up either by clicking on the map itself, or on the village name on the right bar. Clicking on the left corner of the main map would bring up additional layers and overlays of modern maps, as well as satellite imagery. For example, the page of al-Jammasin al-Gharbi (image 1) shows where the village was located until 1948, with information about its size, population, land ownership and use, and a narrative about its ‘before and after’ 1948 status. Some pages include information about the specific military operation in which the village was occupied, mapping it back to the Chronology section. The information in this section is taken from the massive volume titled All that remains, edited by Walid Khalidi, and published in print by the Institute for Palestine Studies in 1992.

al-Jammasin al-Gharbi village page on the IEPQ Places section. https://www.palquest.org/en/place/17021/al-jammasin-al-gharbi

The IEPQ interface is available in both English and Arabic. The current platform was designed by Visualizing Palestine, a portfolio of the independent, non-profit Visualizing Impact innovation lab, that combines data science, technology, and design in similar awareness projects. IEPQ is using British Mandate era survey maps that were digitized and released to the public domain by the National Library of Israel. The digital maps, as well as the additional layers, overlays, satellite imagery, and the geographical metadata, are derived from the Palestine Open Maps platform, also a project of Visualizing Palestine.

The IEPQ brings to mind similar projects that compliment it. For example, the United Nations holds a large online repository of documents on the question of Palestine. The Israeli Zochrot NGO, dedicated to the memory of the Nakba, created a Nakba Map, where one could see the overbuilt area of villages on a current map of Israel.

Additional selected resources:

Amar-Dahl, Tamar. Zionist Israel and the Question of Palestine : Jewish Statehood and the History of the Middle East Conflict / Tamar Amar-Dahl. München: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2016. Digital. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991057960839006011 

Bashir, Bashir, and Leila Farsakh. The Arab and Jewish Questions : Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond / Edited by Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh. Ed. Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. Digital. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991058189874306011

Khalidi, Walid. All That Remains : the Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 / Editor, Walid Khalidi ; Research and Text, Sharif S. Elmusa, Muhammad Ali Khalidi. Washington, D.C: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992. Print. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991055971519706011

Lenṭin, Ronit. Thinking Palestine. Edited by Ronit Lentin. London : Zed Books, 2008. Print. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991057925283506011

Said, Edward W. The Question of Palestine / Edward W. Said. New York: Times Books, 1979. Print.https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991036311349706011

Zochrot Remembering booklet series at the UT Libraries – https://tinyurl.com/ysduujp5 

Zochrot Nakba maps at the UT Libraries – https://tinyurl.com/bd4dpkrw

Latin Americanists Worldwide Unite to Decipher the Benson’s Spanish Colonial Archive

By Albert. A. Palacios, PhD

It is no secret that the Benson Latin American Collection preserves one of the most important Spanish colonial archives in the United States. Within the pages of hundreds of volumes and archival boxes in its stacks are countless historical gems documenting the lived experience of colonized people, colonizers, and everyone in between. However, these perspectives are largely inaccessible: archaic penmanship and obscure writing conventions encode these histories on brittle paper.

Detail of a document listing the instances in which Mixquiahuala’s corregidor, the district’s royal administrator and judge, defrauded the Tepatepec Pueblo, circa 1570–1572, Genaro García Manuscript Collection.

For years, the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office has been experimenting with digital technologies to transform this “unreadable” Spanish colonial archive into accessible humanities data for scholars. However, we tried something new this past year and reversed the equation: We convened colonial Latin Americanists online to transform handwritten words on pages into digital text that they could then use to make the digital humanities (DH) more accessible. This resulted in the “Spanish Paleography and Digital Humanities Institute,” a free online program that provided scholars with practical training in the reading and visualization of 16th- to 18th-century manuscripts in Spanish. The program’s syllabus and logistics were designed by Abisai Pérez Zamarripa, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in history, and myself. Anyone with advanced Spanish-reading proficiency was invited to apply.

“I found this institute thoughtful, generative, and inspiring. The coordinators made every effort to show the participants relevant tools and encourage our progress. It was uniquely helpful to identify DH methods and tools that would make sense in an early modern context and to discuss questions that relate to our field.”Fall 2021 participant

Geographic distribution of 2021–2022 institute participants

Colonial Latin Americanists from all over the world applied. While we were only planning to lead one institute, the overwhelming response to our call for applications prompted us to offer two, one in the fall (November–December 2021) and another in the spring (January–March 2022). In all, we accepted 60 participants, including 35 graduate students, eight junior faculty, eight tenured professors, five archive and library professionals, and four independent researchers. By the end of the academic year, we had trained scholars in 11 countries and 18 U.S. states who had varying experience in Spanish paleography and the digital humanities.

“The facilitators were very supportive, and the workshop itself was an invaluable opportunity to meet scholars from across the U.S. and Latin America despite not being able to travel, and to experience a variety of digital humanities tools relevant to our work.”Dr. Mallory E. Matsumoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

Various Early Modern Spanish handwriting styles represented in the Benson Latin American Collection

One of our main objectives was to help participants obtain and hone Spanish paleography skills. We invited experts from Germany, Portugal, France, and Mexico to provide introductions on specific colonial institutions and their records to expose students to specialized writing conventions and abbreviations. Each Friday, we would break the cohort into groups so that they could collaboratively read and transcribe the week’s case study in a shared Google Doc, which enabled us to give them live feedback and corrections on their transcriptions.

“The group transcription sessions every Friday were invaluable as they allowed us to decipher and discuss doubts with colleagues throughout the [transcription] process, while learning from those with greater knowledge.” — Spring 2022 participant

The spirit of collegiality during these sessions was truly inspiring. We witnessed how scholars, especially those with advanced Spanish paleography skills, actively supported each other in deciphering the texts. After the institute ended, some commented that they considered this group work as “one of the most enriching experiences from the institute.”

A corrected document transcription in FromThePage

After the collaborative transcription sessions, participants continued to hone their paleography skills through assigned weekly homework. Each scholar transcribed two to four pages in various handwriting styles using the University of Texas Libraries’ instance of FromThePage, a platform that enables collaborative transcription work and version tracking. Once they were done with a page, Abisai and I reviewed and corrected the transcriptions, which FromThePage documented and showed, as seen above, to further the students’ understanding of the scripts and abbreviations. 

Published institute transcriptions in the Texas Data Repository

Besides learning how to read the archaic penmanship, scholars were simultaneously helping us enhance the accessibility of the Spanish colonial collection. One the one hand, the cohorts transcribed, and consequently made intellectually accessible, over 90 documents (1,000+ pages) preserved in the Benson Latin American Collection. We are currently publishing them in the Texas Data Repository and will soon ingest them in the University of Texas Libraries’ Collections portal with the images of the original materials to broaden access.

Training of a handwritten text recognition model for a Spanish colonial handwriting style in Transkribus

On the other hand, participants also helped us leverage machine-learning technologies to automate this work in the future. As part of the “Unlocking the Colonial Archive” NEH-AHRC grant project, we are reusing these transcriptions to train handwritten text recognition (HTR) models for each of the handwriting styles we commonly find in Spanish colonial documentation. We are then running these models on untranscribed materials at the Benson and in other digital archives to obtain usable automatic transcriptions. To see a list of participants who made a significant contribution to this effort, visit the project website.

Annotation of the “Genealogy of the descendants of Nezahualcóyotl,” circa 1550–1580, Ex-Stendahl Collection, in Recogito (https://recogito.pelagios.org/document/yere0vydklv9s4/part/1/edit)

With transcriptions in hand, students then used them to learn several free and open-source digital humanities tools. Each Monday, we demonstrated how to extract, visualize, and analyze data from these transcribed texts in different platforms, including Recogito, Voyant-Tools, ArcGIS, and Onodo. As a capstone experience, we asked participants to develop and present a pilot digital humanities project using these tools and texts relevant to their research.

“I honestly did not know what to expect going into this institute. My focus was to improve my paleography skills with the digital programs as a benefit. Now, not only am I more confident in my paleography skills, but I have a plethora of digital tools to use for my projects.”Spring 2022 participant

Network visualization developed by a spring cohort member, Francisco Javier Fernández Rivera, Universidad Iberomexicana de Hidalgo, who considered the DH workshops “a great opportunity to learn about our documentary past through technological advances.”

Given the positive reception and subsequent demand for such training, we will be leading another round of institutes this fall, August 15–September 30, 2022, and next spring, January 23–March 10, 2023. So if you are interested, check out the call for applications and join the collaborative “unlocking” of the Spanish colonial archive!

“I think it is a very complete and ambitious program. You taught me many tools that changed my way of doing history, of thinking about the social sciences and the humanities. I am very grateful to you. I hope you continue to be very successful and that this project continues to grow.”Fall 2021 participant

These institutes would not have been possible without the support of these individuals:

  • Dr. Manuel Bastias Saavedra, Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany)
  • Dr. Berenise Bravo Rubio, Researcher-Professor at the National School of Anthropology and History (Mexico)
  • Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian, UT Libraries
  • Dr. Guillaume Gaudin, Researcher-Professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (France)
  • Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Researcher-Professor at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (Mexico)
  • Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Kelly McDonough, Associate Professor at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, The University of Texas at Austin (United States of America)
  • Dr. Patricia Murrieta-Flores, Professor in Digital Humanities and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at Lancaster University  (United Kingdom)
  • Dr. Javier Pereda, Senior Researcher at the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at Liverpool John Moores University (United Kingdom)
  • Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Miguel Rodrigues Lourenço, Researcher at the Center of the Humanities, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal)
  • Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator, UT Libraries (United States of America)
  • Krissi Trumeter, Financial Analyst, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)

This initiative was generously sponsored by:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (United States of America)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom)
  • LLILAS Excellence Fund for Technology and Development in Latin America

Albert A. Palacios, PhD, is the Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

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.

______________________________________________

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.