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.
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.
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 & 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.
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.
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.
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:
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 & 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.” 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
 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).
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.
TPD cohort session #2 with Brittany Centeno and Kiana Fekette in the Scan Tech Studio.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
One of many t-shirts produced during the summer protests. The text reads “Not right, not left — straight forward!”
With the support of UT Libraries, and the generosity of donors in a recent Hornraiser campaign, I went to Israel on an acquisition trip on behalf of the UT Libraries in June. I have written in the past about the advantages of field work by a subject liaison in an academic library when it comes to curating and developing our collections. Being on the ground, one has an opportunity to acquire unique items that cannot be purchased remotely online. While networking with vendors and individuals in book fairs and book stores, there is a much bigger chance to come across alternative and non-mainstream materials. Moreover, making acquaintances face-to-face is a great way to spread the word about UT and UT Libraries and to make additional contacts.
My experience during this last trip made me realize yet again why acquisition trips are so beneficial to my work. One of the most significant advantages is the unparalleled opportunity to witness historical events in real-time. This allows for collecting ‘limited editions’ of grey literature that is created for or emerges as a result of current events. Throughout 2023 there has been a lot of civil unrest in the streets throughout Israel in reaction to the newly elected administration’s actions. There have been weekly rallies and marches against, and sometimes in favor of, the government and its officials. During my stay in Tel Aviv, I attended a few of those rallies, not only as a spectator, but also as an avid collector of anything that might be a valuable addition to the library’s Israeli collection. I was able to gather all sorts of ephemeral items distributed only during the protests: fanzines, comic strips, stickers, banners, pamphlets, and even t-shirts. I was reminded of the social justice protests of summer 2011, during which I also managed to put my hand on some materials available only then and there. By acquiring these unique items, adding them to and preserving them in our collections, we are able to capture the local zeitgeist while it is being shaped in real time, and thus, make it accessible for future generations of researchers.
Series of fanzines published in limited edition during 2023 protests in IsraelHanding out stickers at a rally.
Beyond ephemera, I had additional serendipitous, one-of-a-kind opportunities for collection development during my trip. While browsing the tables at one of the rallies, I met activists from the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) which led to a visit to their office a few days later, where I managed to acquire some of their publications which are not distributed to the mainstream market. These publications would complement other emerging pockets of distinctive collections at UT Libraries about communism and socialism such as the Socialist Pamphlets collection, Ernesto Cardenal Papers, Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive, and fanzines recently acquired by UTL European Studies subject liaison Ian Goodale at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair.
One night I went to watch a movie at the Herzliya Cinematheque, a 30 minutes ride from Tel Aviv. As it turned out, that venue had a small section where they were offering free of charge publications and DVDs. By mere chance, I was lucky to put my hand on a rare publication about adaptations of Israeli literature to cinema — a perfect and rare addition to our Israeli cinema & film collection. Likewise, while browsing an antique and book market one morning in Tel Aviv, I came across internationally unique programs from Israeli film festivals. Chatting with the vendor, he made the effort to introduce me to other vendors around him, all of whom sell publications related to Israeli cinema. These personal, on-the-ground and face-to-face encounters are instrumental to expanding the network of our vendors, leading to future, distinctive acquisitions.
“Getting adapted in Cinema/to film” – rare publication about copyrights for adaptations of Hebrew literature to film. The title is a pun mixing ‘adaptation’ and ‘to get lost’ – two terms that sound identically in Hebrew.
Due to generous donor support to a Hornraiser campaign for foreign acquisitions trips, I was recently able to travel to Canada to attend the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair and purchase books for the UT Libraries’ collections. In addition to meeting with vendors and participating in the international community of librarians, zine makers, booksellers, and publishers at the book fair, I collected materials that continue to grow the UT Libraries’ collection of Francophone zines and literature, further developing our collection of rare and distinct materials related to global leftist movements past and present.
The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair is North America’s largest anarchist book fair, and has been held since 2009. Attracting visitors from all over the continent, the fair included over 80 vendor tables where attendees could browse and purchase materials and discuss non-commercial publishing and distribution directly with content producers. Vendors ranged from established presses like AK Press and PM Press to individual creators selling their zines and other materials. The book fair also featured a diverse range of speakers and workshops, including offerings such as an introduction to anarchist thought, a talk on Mastodon and federated social media, and a panel discussion about the book Black Metal Rainbows recently published by PM Press.
A small selection of books and zines purchased at the bookfair.
The book fair offered many opportunities to acquire materials we would not otherwise have access to, and to speak directly with publishers, writers, and artists and to learn about the processes and motivations behind why certain books or zines were written and made. A couple of my favorite acquisitions for the UTL library include a global history of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical union founded in 1905 that is still active today, and a zine-bibliography highlighting resources on the transfeminism movement. The trip also gave me a valuable opportunity to build our holdings of Francophone materials from North America, expanding our corpus beyond materials published in Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, thereby making our holdings even broader globally than they already were.
Additional books and zines acquired at the book fair.
Beyond all this, the trip allowed me the opportunity to represent UT Austin internationally to a diverse group of vendors, artists, and colleagues, and I’m grateful that I was able to serve the Libraries in such a capacity. I look forward to continuing to build our distinctive holdings and further expand UT’s collections to include diverse ideas and voices.
Librarian Ian Goodale standing at the entrance to the bookfair.
When I arrived in San Marcos Zacatepec in rural Oaxaca, it was dark outside. A kind Chatino-speaking woman cooked me food: chicken soup with homemade tortillas. Dr. Anthony Woodbury from the UT Department of Linguistics and I had been traveling since early that morning, first arriving in Mexico City from Austin and then Puerto Escondido after a several-hour layover. We had to take a bus for several more hours to get to San Marcos Zacatepec, a town in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains and the first I would visit during my trek. This was the setting for the community outreach and research work I would be undertaking during spring break.
The Chatino-speaking region of Oaxaca is breathtakingly beautiful. All three communities that I visited are nestled in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. Zacatepec is at the lowest altitude of all the Chatino-speaking communities that I visited, so it can get fairly hot during the day. However, San Juan Quiahije, another Chatino community, is several thousand feet higher up the mountain—cooler during the day and quite cold at night.
Although it wasn’t as lush as San Marcos Zacatepec, there was a beautiful view of the mountains from my balcony in San Juan Quiahije.
I am a dual-degree master’s student in Latin American Studies and Information Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, working to become an academic librarian with a subject specialty in Latin American and Indigenous Studies. I had come to Oaxaca with a clear goal in mind: to teach several workshops on archival access and navigation for the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), a digital archive at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Dr. Susan Kung, AILLA’s coordinator, invited me to take part in a project with Dr. Emiliana Cruz, professor of anthropology at CIESAS–Mexico, and Dr. Anthony Woodbury, professor of linguistics at UT Austin. As part of the project, I spent my spring break in three Chatino-speaking villages: San Marcos Zacatepec, San Juan Quiahije, and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Several local language activists and teachers in the community wanted to be able to use the materials in AILLA to learn Chatino and listen to oral histories and stories in the language.
I agreed to go without hesitation, thrilled to participate in a project that brings together archivists, academics, and Indigenous community members around cultural materials represented in AILLA’s collections. I had hoped that, by getting access to these materials, Indigenous communities might be able to use them for projects related to the revitalization of their language and traditional cultural practices.
The Chatino Language Documentation Project is the subject of this 2015 article in Life & Letters magazine, which features reflections from several linguist researchers.
I soon learned that each town experienced different issues regarding their fluency in the Chatino language and ability to access AILLA. The vast majority of the population speaks a variant of Eastern Chatino, a language represented by several collections in the archive. San Marcos Zacatepec, however, differed significantly from the other two towns: For one, it is a very small village with poor internet access. Secondly, most of the community members no longer speak Chatino. There are only about 300 speakers left in the town and all of them are elderly. In contrast, the language proficiency is strong in both San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. While the primary issue in Zacatepec was access to the internet, there did appear to be a connection between a lack of ability to speak Chatino and the teachers having less interest in accessing the archive to find materials to use with schoolchildren.
San Miguel Panixtlahuaca has educational murals in the center of town. This one shows a rainbow with the names of different colors in Chatino.
Community Workshops & the Technology Gap
In total, I taught five workshops on how to access and navigate AILLA in various spaces for different audiences: one small-group workshop at a community member’s house and another at a middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec; one each at a middle and a high school in San Juan Quiahije; and a final one at a public library in San Miguel Panixtlahuaca. Two of the workshops were conducted by myself and the other three were conducted with Dr. Cruz.
Each workshop had its own dynamic. For the first workshop we conducted in San Marcos Zacatepec, we played a game during which an older speaker would say a word in Spanish and the children had to say the word in Chatino. Some of the kids actually knew more Chatino than I thought they did, but it still felt like older members of the community were more invested in what was happening than the children were. In addition, without an internet connection or access to a space for our projector, it was not possible to demonstrate the use of the archive.
The second workshop in San Marcos Zacatepec was held at a private home with a small group of people. This session included Christian, a ten-year-old who brought his Chatino de Panixtlahuaca writing workbooks with him. Everyone was serious about learning how to use the archive and engaged throughout the session. I even saw one person making a PowerPoint with AILLA instructions as I walked the group through how to register for an account and navigate the Chatino language collections.
I taught Christian how to look at the AILLA collections of many different languages across Latin America.
Unexpectedly, the experience gave me insight on how to effectively organize workshops that connect communities to information resources, a key skill for any academic librarian. Although Dr. Cruz was with me at the middle school in San Juan Quiahije, I taught the workshop at the high school there by myself. This meant coordinating a session with around 40 high school students by myself. This was the first time I had taught a workshop to such a large group of people. It was challenging and I was a little nervous, but the experience was exactly what I needed to become a better information professional.
One issue that became glaringly clear was that technological requirements can be a huge barrier to access for rural Global South communities. In the middle school in San Marcos Zacatepec, there was no internet, so we were not able to actively demonstrate the archive. Although San Juan Quiahije and San Miguel Panixtlahuaca had much better internet, we still experienced technological problems. For example, in San Juan Quiahije, we quickly found out that a majority of the middle school students did not have email addresses, so we had to spend part of the workshop teaching them how to make Gmail accounts. At the high school in San Juan Quiahije, there were issues with power outlets not working. I learned that archivists need to be prepared for anything, be creative, and really reflect on the sort of technology that a community might have access to.
Murals with the names of fruits and vegetables were on the walls at the Chatino Culture Museum in San Miguel Panixtlahuaca.
The Need for Continuity
Despite the numerous technological problems, this project provides us with a positive example of how archives can engage with communities whose materials are represented in AILLA’s collections. As I reflected on my experience, I realized that this cannot be the end of our relationship with the Chatino-speaking community. Rather, to ensure that these efforts are successful, this should be seen as the beginning of many more projects along these lines. The experience vindicated my belief that communities whose materials are represented in archives must have access to them, and that we should do whatever we can to facilitate that access.
LLILAS Benson is a proponent of projects that emphasize horizontal relationships with the communities and organizations represented in its archives and collections. As such, LLILAS Benson’s digital resources and digital initiatives hold a great deal of promise for future collaboration of this kind.
Eden Ewing is a dual-degree master’s student at LLILAS and the iSchool.