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:
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Jorge Tetl Argueta Pérez Papers. This collection captures the personal history of Argueta’s work as an award-winning children’s book author, poet, activist, organizer, cultural worker, teacher, and publisher. It includes manuscripts, books, journals, original artwork, correspondence, photographs, posters, and newspapers.
Jorge Argueta in Washington, DC, ca. 2000. Photographer unknown.
Jorge Argueta was born in El Salvador and is of Pipil-Nahua descent. In the early 1980s, he immigrated to San Francisco during the Salvadoran Civil War. This experience influenced his early poetry, before he began writing children’s books. He is currently the Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, California, and is active in both San Mateo County and the Mission District community of San Francisco.
Poems and artwork by Jorge Argueta, created shortly after arriving in the U.S., 1980s
Known as a performer and event organizer, Argueta works to promote multicultural children’s literature through events such as reading series, poetry festivals, and street fairs. He has held positions in notable San Francisco organizations, such as the de Young Museum of San Francisco, where he was a Poet-in-Residence for the Poets in the Galleries Program. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of Acción Latina and a curator of the Mixed Poetry Series. He is an editor at Luna’s Press Books and is co-owner of Luna’s Press Bookstore in San Francisco.
Poster advertising performances Xochitl and the Flowers, an opera whose libretto is based on a book by Jorge Argueta
His impact does not stop in California, however. He established a children’s library, La Biblioteca de los Sueños, in 2016. A lifelong dream of his, the library now stands in Santo Domingo de Guzmán, his hometown. He also started The International Children’s Poetry Festival in Manyula, El Salvador, which has occurred every November since 2010. Argueta’s dedication to children’s literacy and literature has had a tremendous impact on both of his communities.
Children’s book by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Luis Garay, published in 2007
Argueta’s work is recognized nationally and internationally. He has received the Américas Book Award, NAPPA Golden Award, Lee Bennett Hopkins Award, and Salinas de Alba Award, and his books are featured in the likes of the USBBY Outstanding International Books List, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. He continues his commitment to spreading multicultural children’s literature through classroom visits, earning the gratitude of young readers across the country and much thank-you correspondence from his visits. Although he is a prominent figure in bilingual children’s books, he also aims to reach older audiences through poetry and a memoir published in 2017.
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.
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.
Zines have long been a medium for weirdos, freaks, and outcasts on the margins, which means they’ve been a staple of queer expression. The Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) has been digitizing and preserving queer zines for twenty years!
First of all, what are zines? Zines are DIY publications, usually staple-bound and made with printer paper. They’re cheap and easy to produce, and most zine makers give them away for free or sell them at low prices to recoup costs. This allows them to bypass mainstream publishers, so zines are often a medium for marginalized and radical voices.
Zines developed out of Science Fiction fan culture in the 1930s. In the 1970s, the onset of photocopying technology coincided with the rise of punk music. Punk fans (who often overlapped with Sci-fi fans) latched onto zines as a way to write about their favorite bands, share stories, and build community. As such, zines have always been a venue for outsider expression and radical politics. In the 1990s, feminist and queer zine makers really took hold of the medium. Punk communities might have been made up of outcasts, but they weren’t immune to misogyny and homophobia. Women and LGBTQ punks experienced marginalization and discrimination within their scenes, and zines provided a much-needed space to voice these experiences and find other like-minded queers.
So a project like QZAP is pretty revolutionary! This searchable database is run by a collective based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it is and will remain free and open to use. QZAP’s goal is to create a “living history” so they continue to accept new submissions from contemporary queer zine makers. They hold a broad definition of “queer,” too, recognizing that identities and language change over time. Zine makers submit their physical zines to QZAP, and collective members, usually librarians, archivists, scholars, and graduate students, scan the zines and create the metadata. Like zines themselves, QZAP is a DIY enterprise!
QZAP’s homepage features a rotation of different zine covers. This featured zine is about the representation of Black Lesbians in the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
QZAP allows users to browse zines, which is one of my favorite ways to explore their collections. With so much interesting and obscure content, browsing QZAP’s collection is a fun, serendipitous experience. QZAP also has an Advanced Search option for users to find zines by author, place of publication, or year of publication. I’ve used QZAP when working with Women’s & Gender Studies classes so students can see a broad set of queer zines over time. While the website’s look and feel are pretty simple and the technology is a bit dated, students respond enthusiastically to the content. I think QZAP’s simple design and stable technology have made it a sustainable project, especially because it is run by a volunteer collective independent of a university or institution.
Here’s a screenshot of a digitized zine and its metadata record in QZAP. I like that the metadata is so prominent next to the digital object.
One of my favorite things about QZAP is that it uses a specialized metadata schema just for zines called xZINECOREx, based on the more common DublinCore schema. Cataloging and describing zines are challenging. They often don’t have a title page with publication information. Sometimes no author or creator is listed, or the author goes by a pseudonym. Maybe they have a publication date, but often they do not.
A sample record using the xZINECOREx metadata schema.
Given these complexities, libraries and archives handle describing zines in all sorts of ways. The xZINECOREx schema provides a standard that can be used across institutions and by independent projects like QZAP. QZAP contributes metadata from its collection to the Zine Union Catalog, which aims to be a single place to search for zines across multiple libraries, archives, and independent collections. Because zines are ephemeral, this catalog is a great resource for scholars interested in the history of zines.
A digital collection like QZAP is vital to preserving the history of these rare, hard-to-find publications, yet there remains great value in studying physical zines. The physical objects provide the reader with a unique, tactile experience. This is especially important for LGBTQ+ history, which is so often erased or hidden. Reading a personal, first-hand account from a queer punk in the 90s – from the actual paper zine that person made by hand – is visceral and powerful. It’s an experience hard to replicate in an online setting. If you find QZAP intriguing, I encourage you to stop by our Zine Collection on the 5th floor of the Fine Arts Library. Our collection has many queer zines, including many published in Texas, and dates back to the 1990s.
Want to learn more about zines? Check out these resources:
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is proud to host the 21st Annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of U.S. Latino/a/x Culture, featuring a conversation with Chicana/Tejana artist Santa Barraza.
Santa Barraza, courtesy Juan Johnson Lopez
A native of Kingsville, Texas, Santa Barraza is a contemporary artist and founder of Barraza Fine Art, LLC, a gallery and studio committed to furthering the appreciation of the visual arts in the borderlands and among isolated, rural populations.
Barraza’s artwork is in the permanent collections of museums in Texas, California, and Maine; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; France; Germany; and Spain. Most recently, her work is on view in the art museums of Denver, Albuquerque, and San Antonio as part of Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche; the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin for Chicano/a Art, Movimiento y Más en Austen, Tejas, 1960s–1980s; and for the Art in Embassies exhibition organized in Mexico City by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar.
The ¡A Viva Voz! event also marks the opening of the exhibition Legacies of Nepantla: Artists Affirming Identity and Existence, curated by Maribel Falcón, the Benson’s U.S. Latina/o/x Studies Librarian. The exhibition showcases work that is part of the Benson’s archival holdings. It will be on view in the Benson’s Ann Hartness Reading Room through mid-August 2023.
“The exhibition showcases work from women whose myriad identities include Chicana, Native American, Tejana, and Latina, in addition to mothers, sisters, organizers, artists, activists, teachers, and students,” said Falcón. “Many of the featured artists are established as leaders in their communities and recognized as pillars of the Chicano/a art world, such as Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, Patssi Valdez, Yreina D. Cervántez, Ester Hernandez, Irene Pérez, and Alma López.”
Due to an event at the Moody Center, parking is limited. We encourage attendees to use alternative forms of transportation. City of Austin street parking is available on Dean Keaton and on Red River north of Clyde Littlefield.
This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Susanna Sharpe.
Image: Cihuateteo con Coyolxauhqui y La Guadalupana, Santa Barraza, 1996
The Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) at The University of Texas at Austin documents the Black experience in the Americas and the Caribbean through the voices and stories of those who have championed the Black spaces that we use and benefit from today. Diaspora is defined as the “dispersion of any people from their original homeland,” and often when evoked with the Black experience in America, means the historical movement and displacement of Africans from their native homeland.
For the Black community in Austin, diaspora is a much more recent and closer-to-home event as its established Black communities are under threat of disappearing. Through the use of oral histories, the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive tells the story of the herding of the Black community into East Austin, the Black establishments and schools that grew during this time, and the subsequent displacement that has occurred in recent times. While much has changed for the Black community in East Austin, one building has stood in service of its community while enduring its own share of transformation.
Image used to herald the opening of the newly renovated Chase Building
The building at 1191 Navasota Street in East Austin was built in 1952 to house what was then the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas (CTSAT). The CTSAT commissioned the building to serve as its headquarters and tapped John Saunders Chase as the architect to design the building. Chase was the first African American to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture and first to become a licensed architect in the state of Texas. The building that Chase designed would serve the CTSAT for 14 years before the association voluntarily dissolved in 1966 to merge with the Texas State Teachers Association. In 1968, the building was purchased by Dr. Ella Mae Pease and would become the House of Elegance. Now a beauty salon, the building served as a social hub for Black community in East Austin and a focal point for social events that Pease would facilitate. During its time as the House of Elegance, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The House of Elegance pictured at the end of its reign
After decades of service, the building was purchased in 2018 by the University of Texas at Austin and christened the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building. Dr. Suchitra Gururaj, Assistant Vice President for Community and Economic Engagement, explains the decision to purchase the building:
“The idea for renovating the building came about in 2017, when House of Elegance owner, Pearl Cox, decided to sell the property. Former UT President Greg Fenves saw an opportunity to bring prominence to the university with the purchase of the first property designed by John S. Chase, the first Black/African American graduate of UT’s School of Architecture. When the purchase was made, we proposed that the space be repurposed as our next Center for Community Engagement (CCE) of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE). We consider the CCE to be the ‘front porch’ of our university, inviting community members and residents to connect with a large, decentralized, and often intimidating university that has not always welcomed people from diverse communities. In re-creating the Chase Building, we were not only able to celebrate Mr. and Mrs. Chase’s legacy but also to create a new life for the building that represented the intersection of diversity and community engagement. Like successful community engagement practice, our process of renovation was also collaborative, drawing on the mentorship of Donna Carter and relying on the expertise of Dorothy Fojtik and Nathan Goodman at UT Project Management and Construction Services. Over the period of the renovation, the project transformed from a simple university construction project into a true labor of love.”
Donna Carter, the first African American woman to become a licensed architect in Austin, led the effort to renovate the Chase Building. In 2022, the Chase Building reopened as the base for the Center of Community Engagement (CCE). This department within UT’s Division of Diversity for Community Engagement works to deploy university resources to foster connections with the community and meet community needs. In an effort to document the change that the Chase Building and East Austin have undergone over the years, the CCE began to conduct interviews with community members in 2019 and 2020 centering around the Robertson Hill neighborhood, the area that was home to the building. This project was advocated for by the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association, which also suggested community members to interview for this project. The product of these interviews is the collection of oral histories and photographs that make up the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive. Housed in the BDA’s archival collection, these oral histories cover a range of topics including education, churches, and race and the City of Austin.
Archival photograph depicting a class from Blackshear Elementary
The Chase Building Archive consists of nine interviews with members of the East Austin community who have witnessed the change in the area. In her oral history, Mrs. Patricia Calhoun reminisces about growing up in the Robertson Hill neighborhood. She speaks about the streets that she grew up on that still remain today and the establishments in the community that do not. When talking about the importance of Black stories, Calhoun states, “Our stories are important to us because we’ve been here for generations, and yet the community is changing so rapidly that we could be erased without a thought.” This sentiment about the transformation of East Austin and the diminishing presence of its original community is observed throughout the collection. Mr. Clifton Vandyke Sr. jokingly remarks during his interview that “if we aren’t careful, this will be just like visiting a museum where people will come and say this is where African Americans used to live.” These quotes can be found on one of the four curated vignettes, “Storytelling and History,” that weave together common themes found throughout the assorted oral histories.
Mr. Clifton Vandyke Sr. seen through the camera lens during his oral history interview
Another vignette that can be found in the collection revolves around education and its importance with the community. Memories of attending schools like Blackshear Elementary School, Kealing Middle School, and Huston-Tillotson University testify to the many outlets available for education and the community’s pursuit of it. Ms. Lydia Moore spoke about the opportunity to choose which school she could attend after desegregation: “We had been told we would be the first group to have that opportunity to go anywhere we wanted to, but that we’d be ready. We need not be afraid. We need not feel inferior. But we would be ready.”
The thirst for education within the community sprouted from wanting not only to survive, but thrive in the world. The sentiment of wanting to thrive in East Austin is shared throughout the collection and can also be found in CCE’s efforts to collaborate with the community from the Chase Building. Stephanie Lang, Director for community-facing programs at CCE, expresses the aim of this collection: “As historic East Austin continues to change rapidly, the amazing legacy of these communities are at risk of erasure. This archive is but one of the many efforts being done to preserve these stories and provide a way for many generations to access, reflect on, and honor this important history.”
Mrs. Vonnye Rice Gardner (right) poses with Stephanie Lang, who worked as the interviewer for the project
Rachel Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist and steward of the BDA, states, “As we celebrate the legacies of John and Drucie Chase, the work of CCE, and the history of the Chase building, it is necessary to also recognize the local community that has made all of this possible. The interviews in this collection offer an incredible glimpse into the lives and experiences of Austinites from historic, Black East Austin.”
The John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive is stewarded by the Black Diaspora Archive and can be accessed through a variety of avenues. The oral histories and photographs can be accessed online via the University of Texas Libraries Collections portal, here. The analog artifacts of the collection have been described in the collection’s TARO finding aid and can be requested in the Benson Latin American Collection’s rare books and manuscripts reading room. For more in-depth history about the Chase Building, visit CCE’s showcase on it and their series of videos centered around the building and its surrounding communities. Collections like the Chase Building Archive provide us the opportunity to learn how Black communities and spaces come about, and warn us about the diaspora that looms with their absence.
Jeremy Thompson is a Diversity Resident Librarian at the University of Texas Libraries.
Widely recognized as literature of the people, the cordel (plural: cordéis) is a Luso-Brazilian literary form. The rhythmic, lyric poems are generally packaged as inexpensive chapbooks aimed at common folk. Cordel literature is practically synonymous with Brazil’s agricultural Northeast, a historically poor and drought-prone region.
While the cordel is a form that is almost synonymous with the verses written inside, it is strongly associated with the woodcut prints that adorn many covers. Often produced by self-taught artists, the cover art and other prints by these printmakers are much sought after by collectors.
You can currently see many examples of this form in Influencers: Cordel, Politics, and Activism in Brazil, an exhibition at the Benson Latin American Collection. Scheduled to correspond with Brazil’s bicentennial year and federal elections, this exhibition thinks especially about the role of politics in cordel literature, and of cordelistas as political actors and influencers.
Influencers draws from the Benson’s collection of around 10,000 chapbooks and was curated by Head of Special Collections Ryan Lynch. It is open for viewing through June 30, 2023. Check public hours for the Benson at https://www.lib.utexas.edu/about/locations/benson.