Category Archives: Global Studies

Harvesting Hardboiled Literature

Sricharan Navuluri.
Sricharan Navuluri.

The UT Libraries has been busy working on our role in national collaborations for deepening and diversifying South Asian collections while simultaneously making them more accessible. One of these efforts exemplifies our multi-pronged approach, namely the growing — albeit idiosyncratic — niche collection in popular and pulp fiction in regional South Asian languages. The various projects associated with this collection have harmoniously united to form a synergy of resources for scholars of South India.

On a brief acquisitions trip to South India last year, Mary Rader, the South Asia Librarian and Global Studies coordinator, obtained a treasure trove of popular and pulp fiction novels to jumpstart our efforts. These novels were primarily in Telugu, the chief language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and third most spoken language in India.

“Abhiśāpaṃ” by Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi.

Popular and pulp fiction literature gained popularity across India during the 1950s and 1960s — a time of tremendous social activism in the subcontinent. For example, after India gained independence in 1947, many social reformists and their movements sought to encourage women to learn to read and write. As a result of these efforts, women writers across the socioeconomic spectrum took advantage of the medium of popular and pulp fiction to address contemporary societal dilemmas. The issues these women wrote about included problems they faced personally as well as those issues that permeated throughout Indian culture. Thanks to these movements, the 1960s were dominated by female writers who wrote fiction that subtly critiqued social issues while piquing the interest of the common reader with imaginative storylines and exuberant characters. In this vein, pulp and popular fiction presented a very raw and realistic take on life, which allowed the middle class to see elements of their lived experiences within the confines of these beautifully illustrated, modest books.

“Kālakanya : saspens, miṣṭarī thrillar” by Madhubābu.

These popular and pulp fiction authors also had close connections with the movie industry, aside from writing for popular cinema magazines. Another one of the authors whose works we have acquired — Yaddanapūḍi Sulōcanārāṇi — wrote sought-after fiction that was frequently used as the plot of many successful Telugu movies.  Her love stories and dramas were popular for younger generations and directors such as K. Viswanath adapted her stories into extremely popular films that addressed a wide array of social issues.

“Sampeṅga podalu” by Si. Ānandārāmaṃ.

Another set of contemporaneous novelists replicated the detective novel literature that was popular in the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s. Proliferous authors like Sāmbaśivarāvu Kommūri, Madhubābu, and Rāmmōhanarāvu Sūryadēvara produced dozens of novels providing quick entertainment while still addressing contemporary social issues in a more informal context.

"Ekkavalasina Railu" by Dwivedula Visaalakshi.
“Ekkavalasina railu” by Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi.

As we continue to develop this distinctive niche collection, we are also working to make our Telugu materials more accessible.  As part of the South Asian Language Journals Cooperative Table of Contents Project (SALToC), we have been annotating Telugu journals within the Libraries’ collection.  As we worked on the annotations, unique parallels with our pulp and popular fiction emerged.  Our first contribution to SALToC was the creation of a table of contents for Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, a 200+ issue weekly cinema magazine that included short stories by amateur authors. In the early 1960s, weekly and monthly journals like Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika flooded the market with editors who eagerly encouraged women to write. Many of the short stories written by these women gained critical acclaim. In particular, a short story called “Sampenga Podalu” or Tuberose Vines, written by C. Ananda Ramam in Āndhrasacitra vārapatrika, jumpstarted her career as a successful popular fiction novelist. Similarly, another of the authors whose works we have acquired – Dvivēdula Viśālākṣi – had the beginning of her career founded in a short story she wrote for another one of these popular journals.

We have a lot more annotating, researching, and acquiring to do and we have started work in other regional languages like Tamil and Malayalam. In the meantime, check out the amazing resources we are compiling.

Written by Sricharan Navuluri — South Asia Library Assistant working with Global Studies Coordinator Mary Rader.

A Hunting Trip to Tel Aviv

A bookshop in Tel Aviv.
A bookshop in Tel Aviv.
Uri Kolodney.
Uri Kolodney.

As the UT Libraries bibliographer for Hebrew, Jewish, and Israel studies, one of my favorite parts of my job is the selection and acquisition of resources for our collection. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to shape and enhance our holdings, as other librarians did before me, so that current and future patrons would benefit from a strong and valuable collection. Whereas most of this activity is done at my office, communicating online with local and international vendors, once a year I have the opportunity to go on an acquisition trip and get my hands dirty.

A bookstall.
A bookstall.

Acquisition trips are important because they make possible the purchase of otherwise hard to get unique, non-mainstream items. In addition, cultivating long-term close relationships with local vendors and scholars is essential in order to build a strong collection. Knowledge of the local culture and publishing trends, coupled with personal relationships and ongoing collection work, allow me to better serve faculty and student research needs and requests.

During my last trip to Israel in May 2015, I managed to put my hands on some unique Israeli cinema resources. Some of these titles are unique holdings among academic libraries around the world, i.e. they are held either only by the UT Libraries or by fewer than 3 institutions. For example, the rare journal Omanut ha-kolnoa (“The art of cinema”), which I accidently have found in a dusty second hand book store in Tel Aviv, is held only by the Libraries and the National Library of Israel. Sefer ha-tasrit ha-katsar (“The short screenplay book”), published by the Tel Aviv University Film Department, is held only by the Libraries. Other unique resources in this subject area include Israeli film festival catalogs and short films on DVDs produced by Tel Aviv University students and never published or distributed commercially. These and other resources of Israeli cinema that we hold make our collection in this subject area a unique and distinctive collection among academic institutions in the United States and around the world.

The hard part.
The hard part.

Getting hold of those unique items would sometimes require an extensive leg work, pun intended. While visiting Israel, I spent a significant amount of time canvassing the streets, visiting second hand book stores, looking for those items. Many stores are not necessarily in the big cities — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa — but in the periphery, usually in Kibbutzim (collective communities). Some of these visits were pre-arranged before my trip, and some were done on-the-fly, especially those to stores in remote areas. Some of these second hand stores would have a searchable online inventory, but the advantage of visiting in person is the personal relationship with the owner. By now I am in contact with many of these vendors, who set aside the good stuff for me before adding it to their inventory.

Cultivating personal rapport has a big impact when it comes to acquiring unique or rare materials. One example of this strategy is my encounter with Ms. Leah Bernshtain Gilboa, who wrote a book about her husband’s combat unit during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. This unique personal narrative was researched, produced, and self-published by the author, printed in only 300 copies, and distributed among former comrades, friends, and relatives. The author’s son was a presenter at a conference I attended in Montreal, just before I left for Israel. When I was chatting with him, he told me about the book and urged me to contact his mother while in Israel, so I did, and we have met one evening in Tel Aviv. The book is now part of the Libraries’ collections, a unique holding among academic libraries around the world! This is a perfect example of a relatively new book (published in 2014) which did not make it to the mainstream market, and which I was able to acquire due to a personal encounter.

A New Frontier for Middle Eastern Studies in Qatar

Doha skyline.In early January of this year, Libraries’ collections development staff traveled to Doha, the only major city and capital of the small Persian Gulf country Qatar. Although in English our convention is to say the Persian Gulf, Qataris in fact speak a dialect of Arabic. This was a particularly exciting opportunity because Qatar was new territory for Middle Eastern Studies at the Libraries. Although the Middle Eastern Studies staff have traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Qatar just had not made the list until this year. This fact presented challenges that have proven useful to our professional development, most notably in gaining experience with utilizing professional relationships that lead to local, on-the-ground contacts in unfamiliar locales.

This trip was instrumental in three principal ways: first, for enhancing the Libraries’ distinctive collection in Middle Eastern Studies, especially in the areas of Islamic law and Persian Gulf Studies; second, for getting a sense of the research environment in Qatar; and third, for our professional development.

View of book fair from aboveOne of the reasons that January was chosen as the ideal time for this trip (besides the weather being much more pleasant than the Persian Gulf in summer) was to attend the Doha International Book Fair.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the book fair.We could say that book fairs in Arabic-speaking countries are a big deal, but that would be an understatement. The Cairo International Book Fair, which we have attended in the past, is the largest of the book fairs in the Middle East. It is part scholarly paradise and part carnival. Whole families come out to look at books, make purchases, and find unique materials for their children. The Doha Book Fair was similar, especially as the fair itself put an emphasis on children’s literature.

Book fair booth map and publisher list, including children’s materials.

Armed with a booth map and publisher lists, we started working the book fair on the night of its opening. One of our new colleagues – so new that we met for the first time in Doha through our professional contacts – was in charge of a booth for an interfaith center, and another was a professor at the Georgetown Qatar School of Foreign Service. Yet another was a graduate student in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies and a Doha local. Their insights and recommendations for local presses and the best ways to get around town and the book fair were indispensable. Continue reading A New Frontier for Middle Eastern Studies in Qatar

Scholarly Discovery in an Indian Book Stall

Indian Book Stall

The Libraries recently joined a national program to deepen and diversify the national collection for South Asian Studies and focused on a new niche for collection efforts: pulp fiction in South Asian languages.

While the Libraries holds one of the largest and broadest collections of South Asian material in the country, there is also a recognized need to remain active and creative in supporting the sometimes idiosyncratic but always deep research of the scholars at our universities — research that could not be undertaken without unique, international and multilingual collections at their disposal.

Beyond our local needs, however, we also feel the imperative to acquire and preserve materials in US research libraries, lest the ever present dangers of politics, funding and environment threaten them being lost forever — recent news stories of tragic weather events or the destruction of objects from art museums only further drive this point home.

Thus, large research libraries are striving to keep these deep, distinctive collections at the forefront through cooperative collection development initiatives across institutions. In 2014, the Libraries joined a national collaboration for South Asian collections through which librarians across the country seek to leverage existing practices in order to develop simultaneously a robust national collection and unique local collections. There’s a recognition that materials supporting the long-tail of research do not need to be duplicated across many U.S. institutions; rather, harnessing individual skill sets, building upon local interests and working with backroom technical support, the Libraries have concentrated on local niche specializations to develop.

Telugu pulp novelRecently, Libraries’ collections development staff began exploring a relatively narrowly focused pulp fiction collection that the Libraries can provide in support of this distributed national collection. While on a brief acquisitions trip to India in early 2015, I was able to seek out and acquire a number of popular literature titles in Telugu language (one of the languages we teach here at UT) that would not have been represented in the national collection if I had not picked them up while in Hyderabad. That booksellers were reluctant to sell them to a research library as they are not “proper literature” and are “really for time pass for women” is another story for another time; for now, let’s remind ourselves that approved subjects of research change over time — what was once dismissed (women’s literature, popular culture, and the like) is now hot stuff.

The Telugu materials that were chosen for acquisition parallel the pulp detective novels that were prevalent and popular in the American 1930s and 1940s — an era that produced the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Regional expressions of the genre exist in many South Asian languages; for example, Hindi pulp emerged in the 1950s and became extremely popular — especially as a diversion for train passengers — and remained so until the digital age. Capturing and preserving as many examples of the genre from the region will help us further understand pulp as both a literary movement and cultural documentation.

In light of current trends in scholarship that indicate a growing interest in unconventional or non-traditional subject matter, it only makes sense to focus efforts on collections practices that enhance these underrepresented areas for the benefit of research and casual interest.

Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp FictionThere’s a growing scholarly interest in everyday and popular literature as a venue to explore and understand the production of culture. For examples of efforts in this vein, the work of recent UT graduate Laura Brueck or recent publications such as the Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction. There’s also an increasing recognition and appreciation for the cultural artifactual value of common materials. The covers of recently acquired pulp fiction titles in Telugu are suggestive in many ways — ways common to printed literature everywhere, as a recent library presentation by English professor Janine Barchas suggests.

The Libraries are excited about this new collecting area and through foreign acquisitions trips in 2016, with plans to develop it in other languages as well, most notably Tamil and Malayalam. Stay tuned to keep watching this unique and distinctive collection grow….