Category Archives: Area Studies

Spirit of Viche: Black Ancestral Traditions in the Colombian Pacific

by CAMILLE CARR

The Benson Rare Books Reading Room hosts a
student-curated exhibition, funded by an Archiving Black América–Black Diaspora Archive Acquisitions Grant

Spirit of Viche presents scenes of Black life and culture from the Colombian Pacific and features artistry from its four departments—Chocó, Cauca, Valle de Cauca, and Nariño. Its focal point is viche, an artisanal distilled sugarcane drink whose recipe has been passed down from enslaved African women to their descendants for centuries. Viche has medicinal properties, healing general ailments and aiding women during the process of childbirth. Viche is also deeply spiritual, constituting an integral component of everyday life for Black Colombian Pacific communities.

Several glass bottles sit on a wooden table, their contents range in color from orangish to amber yellow to clear. Different bottles have different colored labels.
Bottles of Mano de Buey viche sit on a table. The different labels and colors illustrate the varieties of distilled spirits offered by the brand. (Photo: Camille Carr)

Join us on Feb. 29 for a special exhibition talk with student curator Camille Carr, LLILAS Director Adela Pineda Franco, and visiting scholar Dr. William Mina Aragón, Universidad de Cauca, and Biblioteca Afrocolombiana de las Ciencias Sociales at Universidad del Valle, Cali
Event information here

Black women have created viche from sugarcane for centuries, also producing derivates that are important in spiritual and traditional healing practices of the Colombian Pacific. The first step in the artisanal process involves harvesting sugarcane along rivers and grinding it using a mill called a trapiche. Once ground, the sugarcane stalks release a juice called guarapo, which is fermented and distilled for up to three months. During the distillation process, guarapo is cooked over an open flame until it becomes transparent, resulting in viche puro. Viche makers, or vicheras, then infuse the drink with local herbs, fruits, and spices to create the traditional derivates of viche, known as viche curado and tomaseca. Black Pacific communities use viche curado to heal general ailments and tomaseca to aid women with menstruation, reproduction, and childbirth. As a spiritual and medicinal drink, viche functions as an ancestral technology for Black survival.

A Black woman holds a bottle and faces the camera. The bottle contains greenish-yellow herbs and liquid and has a pink label. There is a batiked cloth tied around the top. The woman's earrings are large turquoise hair combs and her hair is natural, very full, and reddish.
Vichera Mayra (Maja) Arboleda Mina (photo: Camille Carr)

In November 2021, the Ley del Viche (Viche Law) recognized viche as the patrimonial beverage of Black Pacific communities and permitted its commercialization. Presently, vicheras/os aim to protect the drink from cooptation by people outside the Pacific who wish to profit from the efforts of Black communities. With that in mind, this exhibit endeavors to recognize and reiterate this ancestral craft as a practice original to Black Colombian women and their communities.


The materials on display were collected in 2023 by LLILAS master’s student Camille Carr as part of the inaugural Archiving Black América-Black Diaspora Archive Acquisitions Award. The award allowed Carr to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in Cali, the center of Black life and culture in the Pacific region, and build a small archival collection that includes print media, photographs, bottles of viche, artworks, and other materials.

The acquisition of these materials reinforces the Black Diaspora Archive’s mission to document Blackness in the Americas and reifies the presence of Black Colombian culture within the Benson Latin American Collection.

This exhibition was curated by Camille Carr (MA ’24) in collaboration with Benson Exhibitions Curator Veronica Valarino.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Italian Poetry, Translated and Sonorized

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


For most of human history, poetry has been an oral tradition, with poets singing their verses to an audience rather than writing them down and disseminating them in print. Italianpoetry.it, an independent digital humanities project without academic affiliation, aims to share the beauty and lyricism of recited Italian poetry with a wider audience, offering recordings of Italian poems alongside the original text and English translations.

The site, which is frequently updated with new poems, focuses on a simple but very effective content model. Poems are published in their entirety in the original Italian, with the English translation of the text beneath each line. An audio file containing the recording of the poem is embedded at the top of each page. When the audio file is played, the word being read is highlighted in both the Italian and the English translation, allowing users to follow along with the recording and to see how the word order and phrasing in the translation compares to the original text. This allows for a streamlined, user-friendly experience that facilitates appreciation and enjoyment of the original text—both for its sonority and its meaning—regardless of the user’s knowledge of Italian. Each poem also has a brief write-up by the site’s creator at the bottom of the page, providing additional context for the work. A guide to navigating the site is also provided to make it easy for new users to interact with its content.

Screenshot of a poem from the site.
The page for the poem “A una zanzara.”

The site is intentionally simple and, per the author, “unapologetically retro-looking” in its appearance, allowing users to focus on the site content without interference from unnecessary or distracting web elements. Focusing on simplicity is not only an aesthetic choice, though, as it helps make the site more accessible for users with slower or unstable internet connections who may have trouble browsing more complex webpages. The site uses the BAS Web Services set of tools to synchronize the poems’ texts with the audio recordings. The BAS Web Services are provided by the Bavarian Archive for Speech Signals, and provide a broad and valuable set of tools for speech sciences and technology.

Screenshot of a list of poem titles available on the site.
The selection of all poems available on the site, including options to sort by composition date, date added to the site, author, and title.

In addition to the main pages created for each poem, there is also an audio-only podcast version of the poems for those who would like to listen to the audio without the interactive elements of the main site. The site’s creator makes clear that the poems selected are in no way representative of Italian poetry as a whole, and that they were chosen at the author’s discretion. This adds a personal touch to the site sometimes absent from more comprehensive digital projects.

Screenshot of the site's podcast offerings.
The podcast audio files included on the site.

Italianpoetry.it is a valuable resource for those wishing to explore Italian poetry, regardless of their experience with the Italian language or knowledge of its history. While intentionally a personal selection rather than a wide-ranging survey of the Italian poetic tradition, its content offers a great introduction to that tradition that can spur further interest and exploration. It also provides a very interesting and accessible way to explore the relationships between written and spoken text, sonority and textual structure, and translation and original texts.


For more information, please consult the UTL resources below:

Picchione, John, Lawrence R. Smith, John Picchione, and Lawrence R. Smith. Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry : An Anthology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Lind, L. R. (Levi Robert). Lyric Poetry of the Italian Renaissance; an Anthology with Verse Translations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.

Lucchi, Lorna de’. An Anthology of Italian Poems, 13th-19th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922.

Bonaffini, Luigi, and Joseph Perricone, eds. Poets of the Italian Diaspora : A Bilingual Anthology. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

Theory & Practice of Digitization Community Symposium: Projects & Reflections

Throughout fall semester 2023, a cohort of UT Austin graduate students worked overtime to examine the ethics of digitization and create frameworks for approaching their research in a digitizable environment. They took on the  “The Theory & Practice of Digitization Community Symposium” program (co-sponsored by the UT Libraries and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Heritage at the Rare Book School) in addition to their regular coursework and thesis/dissertation research and writing commitments. This program aimed to expand the graduate students’ researcher skill-sets and build reflective approaches to their future professions. The cohort’s efforts culminated in a community symposium that was held on November 9, 2023, in the PCL Scholars Lab, where students, faculty, staff, researchers, and Austin community members came together to learn more about the digitization of cultural heritage.

Each of the students presented on their research, experience in the program, and reflections on digitization of cultural heritage. We have collected their insights to share with you here in the hope that their observations will enlighten the work of others, too.

Saghar Bozorgi (PhD student, Department of Middle Eastern Studies)

I started the Theory & Practice of Digitization program thinking about ethical considerations when in/using archives, but mainly looking to get myself familiar with digital methods and whether they can help my project. By the end of the workshop, I learnt how emphasizing a researchers’ project over the archives can reproduce power relationships and hierarchies between different communities and people, especially between the researchers usually located in the “Global North” and the archives that are assumed to be “waiting” for digitization in the “Global South.” As a result, I am now thinking about going beyond my own project and broadening my horizons and considerations when approaching an archive.

In my letter of interest to attend the workshop I wrote about my near-frustration with “the laborious nature” of data collection and its initial analysis, which for my project translates to an infinite period of data collection, leaving little time for writing. This problem “brought me to the idea of digitization and processing texts using digital methods to speed up the process and broaden opportunities for what can be done.” Using digital methods proved to be way more complicated for a Windows user working with primary sources in Farsi. I learnt that OCR programs work with images rather than pdf, so I changed my approach to using Google Docs, which I had tried before in unsuccessful attempts.

While digitizing parts of Ittila’at Mahiyaneh, I was able to recognize some aspects of archival processes and a tiny bit of “what gets to be archived” or “heard” in my own thought process and decision-making. When selecting samples to show during my presentation, I was conscious about the reason why each piece is important. I was hoping to give voice and power to the material that is less visible or invisible in today’s academic and public discourses. One of the pages that I wanted to show was a page in a 1948 issue dedicated to “Palestine” which was continued in several issues. Nevertheless, I persuaded myself to go with other material in order to protect myself and those around me from possible “trouble” and funding cuts, especially because of a recent scary border-crossing experience and the fact that I was not sure about the costs and benefits in a room with a relatively small (and probably sympathetic to Palestinian cause) audience. I remember a point raised in the very first session of the workshop regarding how the archival process has to be considerate of the communities it is serving today so as to not hurt them by using hurtful descriptions. Thus, I have learnt that digitization is not just about scanning material and making them available, but it is also about how archival material, now empowered with a digitized medium, can be talked about. The contrast between my own self-censorship to show the name of Palestine and the keynote speaker’s powerful discussion of the silencing of archives in Israel makes me wonder not only about “what gets digitized and how it gets digitized,” but also who can digitize.

Marcus Golding (PhD student, Department of History)

The Community Symposium on the Theory and Practice of Digitization has provided a valuable hands-on experience for graduate students in digitizing historical records while fostering critical reflection on these processes. Throughout the four sessions, we learned about the best practices in handling cultural heritage materials and digital tools to explore the materiality of these objects. Our interactions with archivists, librarians, and scholars also delved into the politics behind digitization, power imbalances, access to sources, and the significance of community involvement in such initiatives.

For me, the Symposium offered a chance to delve deeper into the issue of privacy within archival collections. Specifically, the complexities arising from balancing open access to materials from historically marginalized groups with the issues of consent regarding the publication of historical documents originating from these communities. Often, the resolution to this issue is complex. The potential to restore the voices of minority groups can sometimes clash with a community’s desire to shield certain aspects of its history from external viewers. Additionally, the Symposium broadened my understanding of digitization best practices and digital tools. I found the insights into setting up camera stands particularly relevant due to the ongoing digitization projects undertaken by my non-profit organization, the Venezuela History Network, in Venezuela.

During the Symposium, I worked with two annual reports (1973) from a Venezuelan oil company, Mito Juan Company, and an American firm, The Creole Petroleum Corporation, both of which operated in Venezuela during the twentieth century. I applied OCR to these texts to facilitate textual analysis, identifying silences and points of convergence between these enterprises in the context of the impending state-takeover of the national industry scheduled for 1976. Through this hands-on experience with digitization equipment, digital tool literacy, and critical reflection on historical documents, the Symposium underscored principles that I firmly uphold. These principles revolve around democratizing access to historical knowledge and community engagement in digitization projects. The end result is to help build collections that safeguard the cultural identity and historical memory of various groups or institutions for posterity.

These are the same guiding principles driving our initiatives with the Venezuela History Network. Our organization is currently involved in at least six ongoing or upcoming projects in collaboration with public institutions, private individuals, and NGOs. The Community Symposium on the Theory and Practice of Digitization has highlighted the importance, as well as the nuances, of making historical knowledge openly accessible. This experience will continue to shape my dedication to the preservation of cultural heritage in the years ahead.

Junika Hawker-Thompson (PhD student, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies)

This archival manuscript is from an 1822 court trial titled “Trail of a Slave in Berbice for the Crime of Obeah and Murder” from the Black Diaspora Archive here at the University of Texas at Austin. Broadly, my dissertation project explores how colonial violence shapes race and gender relations within the Demerara region—which is another river region not too far from the Berbice region where this incident takes place. So, when I came across this document, I was interested in thinking through how this colonial document––which is well preserved, clear in its text (meaning, it was instantly machine readable post-digitization), and was bound tightly before my digitization process––plays a role in how law, criminality, and blackness interact within colonial British Guyana.

This case is invested in convicting an indigenous, or Black man, Williem, of murder and “obeah.” The court documents oscillate between calling Willem, “negro” or “native.” For further context, obeah is understood as an African root working, herbal, and spell-casting practice that can impact physical illnesses and metaphysical situations that may require assistance. This practice can be traced back to maroon societies and enslaved people enacting care of each other, themselves, and their larger communities. Obeah can be understood as a practice of agency, liberation, resistance, or care. When considering this brief history, what does it mean for “obeah” to be in a relationship with murder—the worst offense based on Christian morals and law?

I focus on this document because I am interested in how the colonial gaze of this case constructed law and criminality in colonial British Guyana and post-colonial Guyana. I am also interested in what isn’t documented–the dance that allegedly led to the murder of another enslaved woman, the embodied routine of this obeah practice, and obeah being synonymous with murder. While I am not attempting to suggest that murder is correct or should be overlooked, I am more interested in this process of equating a spiritual practice established in maroon societies to murder. I am interested in a practice of witnessing—beyond the colonial gaze—that might highlight the depth of this practice and the presence of ritual.

The future implication of this project is a continued witnessing to honor the complexities of spiritual practice and criminality under colonial regimes.  I also wonder about the limits of digitization. Is it possible to make clear this witnessing of ritual and practice in this technological space? I plan to continue to work with this document with the hope and goal that this manuscript will assist in understanding the intimacies of race and gender formation in Guyana.

Raymond Hyser (PhD student, Department of History)

Pierre Joseph Laborie, a French coffee planter in colonial Haiti, fled the island during the throes of the Haitian Revolution and took up residence in nearby British Jamaica. As a thank you, Laborie used his expertise and experience as a coffee planter to write a book to benefit Jamaica’s British coffee planters. Published in 1798, Laborie’s The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo provides an intimate look at the cultivation and manufacture of coffee in colonial Haiti prior to 1789. Although Laborie’s target audience was the British coffee planters of Jamaica, his work quickly went global. It found its way to Brazil, where its Portuguese translation significantly influenced Brazil’s coffee culture. Laborie’s book also reached Cuba, where a publisher there translated it into Spanish. As the nineteenth century progressed, Laborie’s book spread as far as the British colonies of Ceylon and India. Laborie had written the equivalent of an eighteenth-century New York Times Best Seller.

Because of its fame and widespread distribution, Laborie’s book is readily accessible online and at many libraries. A quick WorldCat search reveals dozens of libraries across the world have physical copies, and most of the editions are fully digitized. However, the 1845 edition, printed in Ceylon, does not share the accessibility of the other editions. There is no digitized version, and I have only been able to find two physical copies. One of them is, coincidentally, at the Perry-Castañeda Library. Boasting torn pages, damaged bindings, and held together with several pieces of Scotch tape, UT’s edition looked every bit like a 175-year-old book that had, quite literally, traveled around the world. After I first discovered the book in the fall of 2019, my form of preservation work was keeping it locked away in my desk drawer, where even I rarely consulted its contents. It was not until the Theory & Practice of Digitization Community Symposium that I gained the knowledge, and the courage, to take concrete steps for the book’s preservation through digitization.

Along with being exceedingly rare, this particular edition perfectly lends itself to digitization because it provides a fascinating window into a globalized network of knowledge circulation from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. The number of editions and their geographical spread allow for a comparative study to trace how Laborie’s work changed, or did not, over time and in different geographical contexts. Using OCR (optical character recognition) and text mining methods on the newly digitized 1845 edition, I uncover the genealogy of knowledge contained within Laborie’s work. I highlight how little that knowledge changed in the approximately 50 years that separated the original from the Ceylon edition. Besides a new three-page preface, three short appendices, and different formatting, the Ceylon edition is identical to the original. Even Laborie’s footnotes from his 1798 edition persist within the 1848 edition. The digitization of the Ceylon edition of The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo increases the accessibility for an otherwise nearly inaccessible work. It also provides a means for scholars to apply digital methods to uncover a global network of knowledge development and dissemination.

Mercedes Morris (Dual master’s degree student, iSchool & Center for Middle Eastern Studies)

 

I am a student in Middle Eastern Studies and Information Sciences, with a focus on paper preservation. During this symposium program, I worked on digitizing al-Waraq wa al-Waraqun fi al-Asr al-Abbasi, a book on paper in the Abbasid Era. The Abbasid Era is an important era in Middle Eastern history for the rapid increase in written works due to the new technology of paper. There are many myths attested to explain the transfer of papermaking technology from China to Iraq, but these are not verified, and papermakers of the Abbasid Era quickly made this technology their own and quickly built on it, with improvements from these papermakers making their way back to China.

While digitizing this book and reading through it about the history of paper and papermakers in the Abbasid Era, the parallels between the new technology of the Abbasid Era–paper, in this case—and the digitization technology of the present day became clear to me. Paper, like digitization, allowed for increased access and production. Paper, even as a new technology, was cheaper and less labor-intensive to produce than papyrus and parchment, allowing more works to be produced and disseminated. Digitization also allows for greater access for people around the world to physical, written materials today, including rare documents and documents too fragile to be handled.

While written history, recordkeeping, and literary works have been around for several millennia, paper offered both the lightweight quality of papyrus and parchment with the permanence of clay tablets, all of which had been used in the area between modern-day Iraq and Samarkand that became known for paper technology and manufacturing. Clay tablets, while more permanent and also less sensitive to humidity than papyrus and parchment, were cumbersome and heavy. Ink could be easily erased by scraping it from papyrus and parchment, allowing for contemporaneous and much later changes to be made to documents almost invisibly and allowing for the erasure of certain histories. 

Paper often has sizings applied, which are substances applied to paper to change the absorbency. Even with sizings applied to prevent too much ink being absorbed, paper would tear before the ink could be successfully removed, leaving evidence of attempted manipulation. This is because paper, even with sizings, absorbs ink; whereas ink sits on the surface of papyrus and parchment.

Now materials like papyrus, parchment, paper, and anything else that anyone would want digitized, can be subjected to sophisticated digital manipulations that cannot be discerned easily, bringing the issues of papyrus and parchment back to paper. On physical paper, even with the use of graphite, erasures and changes are still often visible. I suggest that perhaps the future of digitization lies in the metaphorical properties of paper that allow changes to be made visible to better track history.

Miriam Santana (PhD student, Department of English)

For this semester, my project has focused on recovering the presence of black people and characters in early Mexican American literature by placing them in critical conversation with colonial archival manuscripts. This was my attempt to imagine Black life as more than what these novels give us access to. Now that’s not to say that these colonial archives don’t come with their own silences and omissions, but my goal is to supplement these novels with other written texts. Where is black life in a Mexican colonial context? Voice? Body? Name? And location? 

I chose manuscripts from the Black Diaspora Miscellaneous folder for their content, but also because they make a reasonably-sized collection. The selected manuscripts are documents by the Spanish crown that required all free people of African descent in colonial Mexico to pay a tax based on their African ancestry. It was the first time I worked with archival material that had yet to be digitized. I wanted, in the span of the semester, to choose something that was feasible and that wasn’t overwhelming. My research process following the following steps:

  1. Digitize the selected manuscripts using a flatbed scanner. The scanner turned the manuscripts into PDF files.
  2. I used Transkribus to apply optical character recognition (OCR) to the PDF. I used a model, created by LLILAS Benson digital scholarship coordinator, Albert Palacios, to perform this OCR.
  3. I took the text and inserted it into a Word document. In that Word document, I removed numbers and corrected for dashes, so that I was only left with the bare text.
  4. I used NameTag. NameTag is an open-source tool for named entity recognition (NER). NameTag identifies proper names in text and classifies them into predefined categories, such as names of persons, locations, organizations, etc.
  5. I took that table of information and entered it into an Excel spreadsheet, which resulted in a dataset of names and locations of people rendered in the manuscripts.

In a future project, I aim to follow the same process, with all of the manuscripts in this collection. I hope that it will result in a large dataset of names and places spanning the 18th and 19th century. I plan to create metadata for this collection and use the dataset to create a StoryMap.  My hope is that this map represents the lasting and enduring presence of black life in these Mexican colonial archives. Below are some lingering questions that I will continue to think deeply and critically about:

  • What are the ethical ways of working with these colonial documents?
  • How do we then think about representation in a way that is ethical?
  • How do I make sense of my own bias and desire to represent?
  • How do I think about consent when the people who are in these collections are not alive to give consent?

Natalya Stanke (Dual master’s degree student, iSchool & Center for Middle Eastern Studies)

In our first symposium session as a cohort, we unpacked the term “digitization” to understand the various facets of the digitization process. Taking an iPhone snapshot or scanning a document in a flatbed scanner can be useful; however, it’s ultimately only one step in the entire process of digitization. It’s important to keep in mind the many layers of labor involved from physical examination, image capturing, file processing, metadata description, repository ingestion, and more. It’s also important to continually learn about how to approach workflows of digitization both thoughtfully and equitably.

For this symposium, I chose one book from UT’s library collections and imagined how I would approach this item in a professional setting for digitization. My book is titled Quitábuca or “Your Book” from the original Arabic. It was written by a Syrian priest living in an Arab diaspora community in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The book is written in Arabic and consists of a collection of personal essays, published articles, letter correspondence, and opinion pieces from a variety of publications around the world. It contains biting commentary on French colonialism in the Levant, personal stories about immediate family members, guest author pieces discussing politics, organizing documentation for civic diaspora groups, and more.

  • First, current American/English-language standards for describing diverse materials with global interconnectedness are insufficient at capturing the richness of the material reflected.
  • Second, multilingual metadata is the future! Multilingual English/Arabic description (or Arabic/English/Portuguese, in this case) for materials like this book need to be prioritized for institutions seeking to maximize equity of digital dissemination when publishing collections online. I understand this is massively labor-intensive, but limiting the vast majority of rich metadata to the English-speaking world limits the discoverability and accessibility of many relevant materials.

In particular, the interconnectedness of different geographic and cultural regions sparked my curiosity about how to describe this book with useful metadata. When contemplating the description portion of digitization, I ended up with two major (and related) takeaways:

There are organizations building digital collections that serve as great examples of how to approach incorporating multilingual metadata. Two examples that inspired me in particular are the Digitization Project of the Memory of Arab Immigration in Brazil from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at NC State.

Overall, this was a fun exploration for thinking through professional challenges in digitization and how labor-intensive, but important, it will be to include multilingual and multicultural approaches to my future work in librarianship.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Fashion History Timeline — Dress Across the Ages

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

The Fashion History Timeline is an online, open access resource that seamlessly marries dress history with modern technology, offering users an interactive and engaging way to explore the world of art and fashion. Its roots started in art history, when Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) faculty and students developed a pilot project in 2015, aiming to make fashion history accessible to everyone, regardless of background or prior knowledge. This innovative platform boasts an array of features that redefine how we learn about and appreciate costume throughout the ages.

Screenshot depicting both menswear and womenswear in the early 1900’s.

For example, if I were curious about western garments in the early 1900’s, I would simply click on the appropriate time period, which is available in the main drop down menu. The page features an overview of styles worn and when scrolling further, displays recommendations for primary or secondary sources to further my research. The site also offers articles dedicated to both historical dress in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ cultures. Contributors to Fashion History Timeline range from academic professionals and experts within the fashion and art history fields around the world.

Screenshot showing the visual appearance of Fashion History Timeline’s source database.

One of Fashion History Timeline’s standout features is its reliance on and promotion of published writings.  For example, the source database, a curated annotated bibliography wherein users can dive into citations for a vast bibliographic list of textbooks, catalogs, and monographs that span across time and cultures. I found this to be helpful for digital research, with these particular sources being used as foundational pieces in building the database. The visual approach with information transforms the learning experience, allowing users to gain a deeper understanding of the context and significance attributed to each source. In addition, the website also has a Zotero database, where students and researchers can draw information as well as contribute to the wealth of bibliographic information. The sources are organized in a similar manner as the Fashion History Timeline website, emphasizing cohesion as a goal across the indexing.

As a former apparel design student, I would have loved to explore the Fashion History Timeline in my time as an undergrad. I highly recommend researchers, sewists, and anyone who is interested in costuming to utilize it. Comprehensive images and information for fashion history are not always easy to come by and this database fulfills a longtime need for accessible, reliable information about dress.


Want to learn more about fashion history? Check out these resources from the UT Libraries:

Cumming, V., Cunnington, C. W., & Cunnington, P. E. (2000). The dictionary of fashion history (2nd Ed.). Bloomsbury Academic.

Mahawatte, R., & Willson, J. (Eds.). (2023). Dangerous bodies: New global perspectives on fashion and transgression. Springer International Publishing.

Sposito, S. (2021). Fashion – the ultimate history of costume: From prehistory to the present (2nd Ed.). (K. Krell, Trans.). Promopress.

Want to get started on using Zotero? Check out this LibGuide about citation managers.

Libraries Host Filipino Documentary Screening

On October 26, the Libraries hosted an incredible screening of Filipino American film-maker, PJ Raval’s 2023 documentary, “Who We Become: A Story of Kapwa”.

In honor of Filipino History Month, over 50 attendees gathered to watch Raval’s feature documentary about three young Filipina women wrestling with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions. Raval’s work follows the women as they find themselves on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection within their families and communities, finding new meanings of Kapwa.

Multiple organizations across campus worked together to celebrate Filipino and Filipino American culture; bringing film, food, and community into the Perry-Castañeda Library. The event also featured catering from Kapatad Kitchen & Café, the documentary short, Pagtiyagaan (2023), created by Giullian Canlas, a current senior in Asian American Studies and Radio Television Film at the University of Texas at Austin, and an insightful Q&A with Director PJ Raval.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s distribution company, ARRAY, is bringing Raval’s documentary to Netflix on December 1st, and UT librarians, Uri Kolodney and Adriana Cásarez, are acquiring the film for the UT Libraries permanent collection.

This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Asian American Studies at UT Austin, UT Libraries, Radio, Television and Film (RTF), Moody College of Communication DEI, Filipino Students Association (FSA) and UT Asian American Journalists Association (UT AAJA).

Read, Hot and Digitized: Rabbinics, Meet Analytics

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


The E-lijah Lab (text in Hebrew) is a digital humanities lab in the Department of Jewish History & Bible Studies at the University of Haifa in Northern Israel. Among many projects that map the history of Jewish culture, HaMapah (Hebrew for ‘The Map’), founded in 2018 by then PhD students Elli Fischer and Moshe Schorr (now a Rabbi and a software engineer respectively), “aims to bring modern tools of quantitative and geographic analysis to Rabbinic literature[1].” Mapping ‘rabbinic networks’ that are based on responsa (Jewish legal texts written in the framework of questions and answers), the project reveals new data that “shows spheres of influence through time and across space.”

Schorr explains that “a true responsum, the answer that a rabbi writes to a query posed by another rabbi, is the basic unit of rabbinic authority. It orders the two correspondents hierarchically; the one asking acknowledges the greater expertise of the one answering, thereby expanding the latter’s influence.” Moreover, “because the hierarchy is … emerging implicitly from the deference of the secondary and tertiary elite, it can tell us more about the dynamics of influence, reputation, and expertise than many other forms of legal authority.”

The metadata of responsa – when they were written, to whom, by whom, from where, and to where they were sent – can be digitally quantified and visualized in different ways. HaMapah examines the effects of national and cultural borders on the spread of rabbinic authority. Data visualization shows the ‘reach’ of Rabbis who lived near one another, either at the same time or in succession, demonstrating rabbis’ authority.

For example, while mapping Noda Bi-Yehuda, a two volume responsa work by Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda HaLevi Landau (1713-1793) who was an influential authority in halakha (Jewish law), the researchers discovered significant differences between the two volumes, as they represent distinct parts of his career.

Volumes 1 & 2 ‘heatmaps’ of Noda Bi-Yehuda (https://tinyurl.com/2pzmv4t7)
Volumes 1 & 2 ‘heatmaps’ of Noda Bi-Yehuda (https://tinyurl.com/2pzmv4t7)

The responsa in volume 1, published in 1776, are scattered across a wider geographic area than those in volume 2 (published posthumously in 1810), even though it contains only about half the number of responsa and was composed earlier. Those in volume 2 are much more densely concentrated in Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary, whereas Volume 1 includes more responsa to Germany and Poland. It seems that the publisher, who was actually Landau’s son, wanted the contents of the book to shape and perhaps geographically expand his father’s reputation. The knowledge gained through visualization leads Fischer to assert that “the implication is that Rabbi Landau had a certain geographic consciousness. He was aware that a greater reach implied greater halakhic authority and had a mental map of his sphere of influence, or at least of the sphere of influence he wished to project to his readers.”[2]

The success of HaMapah has branched out to adjacent projects, including a Searchable Map of Hebrew Place Names, and the comprehensive database of Prenumeranten. Similar to today’s crowdfunding campaigns, the Prenumeranten were lists of readers who presubscribed to books before publication. Those lists were printed in around 1700 Hebrew books published during the 18th-20th centuries. They document almost 10,000 distinct places of Jewish residence, mainly in Europe, as well as the names of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Each subscription – noting a specific person, living in a specific place, buying a specific book in a specific year – is a data point in a vast network of cultural interactions. For example, Fischer used this vast data set to reconstruct the itineraries of three booksellers as they sold subscriptions throughout Europe in the mid-19th century. He also researched the reception of specific authors and their works in various communities, such as that of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (1720-1797), better known as the Vilna Gaon.

“Rabbinic Wanderlust and Cultural Transfer” – a visualization of some of the trips taken by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a collector, dealer, copyist, and publisher of Jewish manuscripts.
Rabbinic Wanderlust and Cultural Transfer” – a visualization of some of the trips taken by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a collector, dealer, copyist, and publisher of Jewish manuscripts.

The HaMapah and Prenumeranten projects effectively combine historical documents and cutting-edge technologies to shed new light on the intersections of travel, book culture, and Jewish history.  While these projects are still in their infancy, I encourage readers to visit the website for conference papers on their early findings and to learn more about these important projects.


Additional reading:

Fischer, Elli and Schorr, Moshe. Analysis of Metadata in Responsa : Methods and Findings. Innovations in Digital Jewish Heritage Studies – the 1st International Haifa Conference. July 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV9N1Zt15Uc (video).

Haas, Peter. Responsa : literary history of a rabbinic genre : Atlanta, Ga. : Scholars Press. 1996.

https://openlibrary-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/books/OL8151172M/Responsa

Freehof, Solomon Bennett. The responsa literature : Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991031462519706011

Flatto, Sharon. The kabbalistic culture of eighteenth-century Prague : Ezekiel Landau (the ‘Noda Biyehudah’) and his contemporaries : Oxford, UK ; Portland, Or. : Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991035983629706011 

Fischer, Elli and Ganzel, Tova. A Glimpse of Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann’s Methods as a Decisor of Halakhah (Hebrew). JSIJ – Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal.

https://jewish-faculty.biu.ac.il/sites/jewish-faculty/files/shared/JSIJ22/ganzel_fischer.pdf

Fischer, Elli. The Prenumeranten Project: Digitizing Pre-Subscriber Lists. Digital Forum Showcases, European Association of Jewish Studies. January 21, 2022. https://www.eurojewishstudies.org/digital-forum-showcase-reports/the-prenumeranten-project-digitizing-pre-subscriber-lists/


[1] Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, is the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing. In academic research, Rabbinic literature includes the Mishnah, Halakha, Tosefta, Talmud, Midrash, and related writings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbinic_literature).

[2] https://blog.hamapah.org/mapping/super-rabbi/

Engaging Digitization and Ethics at the Libraries

In summer 2023, the UT Libraries invited applications from UT Austin graduate students to participate in a community symposium program centered on developing thoughtful and reflective research and digitization practices. The symposium program aims to create a cohort of UT Austin graduate students engaged in critical reflections on collection development, research practices, and digitization, and the potentialities for reparative work within all of these spheres. The program is called “The Theory & Practice of Digitization Community Symposium” and it is co-sponsored by the UT Libraries and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Heritage at the Rare Book School.

Eight UT graduate students were selected to participate in the program cohort. The students–in MA and PhD programs–are studying in the African & African Diaspora Studies, English, History, and Middle Eastern Studies departments, as well as in the UT iSchool. They have a variety of experiences with research in libraries and archives, with digitization, and with publishing scholarship, all of which they bring to their cohort discussions. However, they are united to realize the goals of this symposium program, which include reading about, discussing, and creating approaches for research and collection development in a digitizable environment. The latter can be described with the question: what does it mean to create or select print and electronic content in an environment in which digitization is possible and high quality; in which there is support for the applications of machine-readable text; and in which the materials are stewarded by libraries and used by researchers outside of the materials’ region of origin?

The Theory & Practice of Digitization cohort, with Dale J. Correa and Beth Dodd.

Cohort participants are encouraged to engage with existing writing (scholarly and popular) on these topics in thoughtful and critical ways, with the end goal being to create a sense of belonging to the conversation. What gets digitized and how it gets digitized are decisions that affect everyone, but most of all, marginalized communities that have been historically disadvantaged from participation in scholarship and the building of library collections (even, and especially, collections for which they are the subject). As part of this program, cohort participants are trained in the basics of scanning, OCR, and outputs/applications with a material selection of their choice, so that they have insight into the hands-on processes of digitization and how to use this technology for their goals. The program’s culminating public symposium puts the cohort’s theoretical and practical experiences in conversation with a digital cultural heritage scholar and engagement with the audience in order to realize new approaches to digitized resources.

I developed The Theory & Practice of Digitization Community Symposium Program as the final project for my Mellon Fellowship for Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Heritage at the Rare Book School. As fellows, we are asked to put together a community symposium at our home institution that advances understanding of cultural heritage, archives, and/or special collections and allows us to promote aspects of our collections to broader publics and communities. With the development of the new Scholars Lab at the Perry-Castañeda Library, and considering my own interests in reparative and restorative practices in librarianship and scholarship, I wanted to create an opportunity for graduate students to expand their researcher skill-sets and build reflective approaches to their future professions. We are incredibly fortunate to have a wide range and depth of expertise at the UT Libraries, and it is from this well of experience and insight that this program has drawn.

Our first session, held at the end of August shortly after the semester began, featured a conversation with Rachel E. Winston (Black Diaspora Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection) and Beth Dodd (Curator at the Alexander Architectural Archives) on defining terms for our work in this program through their experience with digitization as archivists at UT. Rachel and Beth presented on the process of selecting and adding items to the archives, including when, how, and why they make decisions around digitization. Their experiences with a variety of collections––from donors or vendors; recent or older; created in the U.S. or around the world––gave them insight to respond to students’ questions regarding the ethics of archival digitization and stimulated the students’ engagement with crucial concepts by providing real and tried examples for them to consider.

TPD cohort session #1 with Rachel E. Winston and Beth Dodd in the PCL Learning Labs,

The program’s second session introduced students to the basic principles of handling cultural heritage materials and digitizing them. My colleagues from the UT Libraries’ Stewardship department, Brittany Centeno (Preservation Librarian) and Kiana Fekette (Head of Digitization) led the students through a review of best practices for handling paper materials such as books, periodicals, and personal archives. The session was held in the new Scan Tech Studio in the Scholars Lab, which functions as a self-service facility for independent researcher digitization, image processing, and text recognition-based scholarship. Brittany and Kiana brought sample materials so that the students could get a sense of what to do for for different preservation situations, such as a book with a broken spine, brittle and flaking paper or leather, bent or misshapen items, and materials that are tightly bound. They also demonstrated how to use a diffuser light set up, which can be particularly useful for items with a difficult-to-capture sheen (such as different types of photographs) or for mobile applications when traveling for research.

In our third session, we met with Allyssa Guzman (Head of Digital Scholarship Services) and Ian Goodale (European Studies Librarian) for a survey of, training with, and discussion of tools that the students might use for their research with digitized materials. Allyssa covered how to get started with digital scholarship, including project planning/management and tool selection. She created an excellent LibGuide for the cohort to refer back to as they move forward with their work. Ian reviewed a number of tools that we recommend and regularly use here at the UT Libraries for transcription/OCR correction and text analysis, including some that he has developed himself.

TPD cohort session #3, with Allyssa Guzman in this image.

The cohort’s efforts will culminate in a community symposium on November 9, 2023, 5 – 7 PM in the PCL Scholars Lab Data Lab. This event is free and open to the public: everyone is invited and encouraged to attend. The symposium is an opportunity for the UT, Austin, and greater central Texas communities to learn about the digitization of cultural heritage through the experiences of the student cohort members. It’s also an opportunity to hear from a respected scholar of digital cultural heritage, Dr. Raha Rafii, who will be giving the keynote address. Her lecture, titled, “Navigating the Ethical Landscape of Manuscript Digitization,” will look at recent examples of digitized forms of cultural heritage and the impact on their origin communities in order to think through complex issues of ethics, and to determine the lines between academic researcher priorities and digitization as an extension of colonial and imperialist practices. For more information on the community symposium, please see the UT Libraries’ Events page.

Highlighting Diverse Collections: Hispanic Heritage Month 2023

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed September 15 through October 15 and celebrates Hispanic Americans’ contributions to our nation and society. Before this observation comes to a close, let’s look at some poets who have enriched America with collections accessible at UT Libraries.


The Carrying: Poems

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991047777739706011

From (the first Latina) US Poet Laureate, Ada Limon, comes a collection of poetry that won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award. “Vulnerable, tender, acute, these are serious poems, brave poems, exploring with honesty the ambiguous moment between the rapture of youth and the grace of acceptance.”

Slow Lightning: Poems

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991034096259706011

The first Latino Yale Series of Younger Poets award winner, Eduardo C Corral seamlessly braids English and Spanish and hurtles across literary and linguistic borders toward a lyricism that slows down experience. He employs a range of forms and phrasing, bringing the vivid particulars of his experiences as a Chicano and gay man to the page.

Loose Woman: Poems

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991006576279706011

Sandra Cisneros is the bestselling author of The House on Mango Street and winner of the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. A candid, sexy and wonderfully mood-strewn collection of poetry that celebrates the female aspects of love, from the reflective to the overtly erotic.

Every Day We Get More Illegal

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058175747406011

In this collection of poems, written during and immediately after two years on the road as United States Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera reports back on his travels through contemporary America with the multiple powers of the many voices and many textures of every day in America.

Postcolonial Love Poem

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991058037948506011

Written by the first Latina to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry, Postcolonial Love Poem is an anthem of desire against erasure. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness.

Unaccompanied

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991045914909706011

Calling into question the concept of the American Dream, Javier Zamora reimagines home, fusing music and memory to address the quandaries that tear families apart and—if we’re lucky—inspire the building of lives anew in this debut poetry collection.

The Woman I Kept to Myself

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991057019529706011

works of award-winning poet and novelist Julia Alvarez are rich with the language and influences of two cultures: the Dominican Republic of her childhood and the America of her youth and adulthood. They have shaped her writing just as they have shaped her life.

Visit the Highlighting Diverse Collections LibGuide.

Remembering a Legacy through the Sharir Collection

A graduate costume design class recently visited the Fine Arts Library to learn more about library resources. I was thrilled to be able to share with them excerpts from performances by Sharir+Bustamante DanceWorks, projecting video clips such as 2001’s Automated Body Project on our media wall. To everyone’s delight, we then had the chance to view the actual physical costumes seen in the video footage, examples we now understand as early explorations in wearable technology.

Wearable Technology. Photo by Mark Doroba

It was exciting to witness the students engage with these artifacts, thoughtfully analyzing form and function through the lens of design; posing insightful questions; and drawing connections to their course material, ongoing discussions, and personal experiences.

This interactive instructional opportunity was only possible through the generous donation of Dr. Yacov Sharir, who gifted his archive to the Fine Arts Library in 2016. Sharir came to Austin in 1978 to start the American Deaf Dance Company and became faculty at UT shortly thereafter. In 1982, the Sharir Dance Company became the professional company-in-residence at the UT Department of Theatre and Dance. (The company later took the name Sharir+Bustamante Danceworks in 1998, acknowledging José Luis Bustamante as co-artistic director). Sharir was an early innovator in the area of dance and digital technology, and his work has had a profound impact not only on the University, but on the Austin modern dance community as a whole.

Sharir Dance Company, Wise Heart (1988). Photo by Jon Leatherwood

Sharir passed away on September 29, 2023, at the age of 83, leaving behind a rich legacy as an artist, educator, and mentor. As we remember, honor, and celebrate this legacy, the gift of his archive takes on a deeper meaning, an enduring offering for many more groups of students and researchers to come.

Sharir Dance Company. Cyber Human Dances (1996)

I encourage you to explore the Sharir and Sharir/Bustamante Dance Collection which includes videos, photographs, programs, press materials, art, costumes, and virtual reality equipment. It features the choreography of Sharir and Bustamante through the 2007 final season of S+BDW and beyond, along with the work of many guest artists and collaborators. Owing to the combined efforts of former Theatre and Dance Librarian Beth Kerr, research assistant Katie Van Winkle, and many folks in UT Libraries’ Digitization Services, a large portion of the collection has been digitized, and is openly accessible to the public on Texas ScholarWorks.

View the Sharir and Sharir/Bustamante Dance Collection on Texas ScholarWorks.

For access to the complete archive, contact Molly Roy.

Notes from FILUNI

Benson Director Melissa Guy recently attended La Feria Internacional del Libro de las Universitarias y los Universitarios 2023 (FILUNI), a transnational book fair and conference that was held at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City August 29-September 3.

UT Austin became the first university from the United States to participate as the guest of honor at this prestigious event. The gathering attracted over 35,000 participants from 10 different countries, and featured over 50 roundtable discussions, research symposia, live podcasts, musical performances, film screenings, and exhibits, covering a wide range of topics.

The UT delegation was comprised of more than 130 faculty members, graduate students, performers, staffers, campus leaders, and alumni representing 20 of the University’s colleges, schools, and units. The University of Texas Press, a long-time FILUNI participant, showcased 600 of its titles, with more than 1,100 books available for purchase at the fair’s on-site bookstore.

While in attendance, Guy had the opportunity to talk with regional media, and was featured in several publications:

“Colección Nettie Lee Benson, joyas latinoamericanas en EU,” El Universal

https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/cultura/coleccion-nettie-lee-benson-joyas-latinoamericanas-en-eu/

“Los tesoros mexicanos en la Universidad de Texas en Austin,” El Economista  https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/arteseideas/Los-tesoros-mexicanos-en-la-Universidad-de-Texas-en-Austin-20230903-0047.html   

“Guarding Latin America’s Literary Treasures: An Interview with Melissa Guy,” Voices of Mexico

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16vbmG-2WCduB9z5WULAiA5qxnzdGDSgP/view