Category Archives: Humanities & Liberal Arts

The John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building Archive

BY JEREMY THOMPSON

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. 

Line drawing of a one-story building facade in white on a solid orange background; white lettering says The John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building.
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.

Photograph of a one-story building with some brick on the facade. A small sign on the building reads House of Elegance in cursive writing.
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.

A black-and-white photo of Black boys and girls of various ages, as well as a male and female adult, who are posed for a school photo.
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.

An older Black gentleman in a blue short-sleeved shirt, is seated on a comfortable living room chair. The photo is taken through the lens of a video camera, and the viewer of the camera is also visible.
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.” 

Two women pose together in a home, with a kitchen in the background. On the left is a younger Black woman with long dreads, glasses, and red lipstick who is wearing a red-white-and-black scarf; on the right an older Black woman in a bright blue top and dark blue blazer. Both are smiling.
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.

Brazilian Cordel Literature at the Benson

poster for Influencers: Cordel, Politics, and Activism in Brazil

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.

Welcome Week at the Libraries

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

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

Color + Geometry in Islamic Art, 9/1

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

Kolam Drawing on the Plaza, 9/2

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

You Are Here: Shifting Perspectives, 9/6

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

Welcome to the Libraries…in Arabic, 9/7

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

Zine Party, 9/8

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

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

By Albert. A. Palacios, PhD

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

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

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

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

Geographic distribution of 2021–2022 institute participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

A corrected document transcription in FromThePage

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

Published institute transcriptions in the Texas Data Repository

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This initiative was generously sponsored by:

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

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

Read, Hot, and Digitized: Adventures in Data-Sitting

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

It will come as no surprise that I, the English Literature Librarian, was a nerdy little bookworm as a child. I actively participated in the Book It! reading program, a literacy initiative sponsored by Pizza Hut. The premise of Book It! was simple: After completing five books and getting the sign-off from my teacher, I would “earn” a coupon for a personal pan pizza. When I was in 5th grade, I read enough Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books in a single week to earn three pizzas. I felt a tinge of guilt because I had skipped early chapters in each book where the text was reused, word-for-word, from previous books in the series. It was always Chapter 2!

Every devoted Baby-Sitters Club fan knows the text was reused to introduce the characters and the premise of the series. There were over 200 books published in the span of 13 years – of course some of it would be repetitive! But let’s take it a step further. What if we could quantifiably demonstrate the reuse of Chapter 2 text, while also comparing stylistic and narrative changes across multiple ghostwriters and cultural trends? And how would you do this kind of analysis of 200+ novels, spin-offs, and graphic novel adaptations? Well, a feminist collective of scholars called the Data-Sitters Club (DSC) is attempting to do just that. 

Cover art for the Data-Sitters Club, by artist Claire Chenette

The Data-Sitters Club describe their project as “a fun way to learn about computational text analysis for digital humanities”. They created a corpus of Ann M. Martin’s influential young adult series and have analyzed it using a variety of DH methods and tools (Python, R, TEI, Voyant, just to name a few). The Baby-Sitters Club has had a long pop culture shelf-life for Gen X and Millennial readers, with the recent Netflix reboot (which was sadly canceled after two seasons) and the podcasts Stuck in Stonybrook and the Baby-Sitters Club Club. According to the publisher Scholastic, the series has been in print since 1986 and has sold more than 190 million copies. Given the series’ immense popularity and continued pop culture influence, the books are a gold mine for researchers interested in gender, race, class, and sexuality, but, like much of girl culture, the books haven’t been the subject of serious research.

So the Data-Sitters Club saw opportunity for new research, while also making DH more accessible, especially to women and other marginalized groups often sidelined in DH projects. The DSC does this through a series of 16 blog posts on their GitHub site, written to mimic the narrative style of the book series, including titles that riff off the originals. Each blog post covers a use case for the BSC corpus and features a different tool, coding language or technique. Two of my favorites are DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus and DSC #5: The DSC and the Impossible TEI Quandaries. (A running joke throughout the blog is that later posts refer the reader back to “Chapter 2” to explain the corpus and how it was created, an intentional reference to the Chapter 2 in the original series that reused text to explain the series’ premise.)

Cover art for DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus, which parodies an original Baby-Sitters Club book cover that I’m pretty sure I read in 3rd or 4th grade. Image courtesy of the Data-Sitters Club

One thing you won’t find on the DSC GitHub site is the corpus itself. The team scanned print books to create a legal corpus, but as of right now, it’s not available publicly online. The DSC has used the project as an advocacy tool to promote the loosening of ebook copyright restrictions to build literary corpra for private research. In partnership with the non-profit Authors Alliance, they wrote to the Librarian of Congress asking for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to access the full BSC corpus. Of all the DSC blog posts, I found DSC #7: The DSC and the Mean Copyright Law to be the most fascinating – and frustrating.

I would recommend the Data-Sitters Club blog to any emerging DH scholar or librarian looking to try a new tool or method. Much of the content is highly technical, but the fun, approachable tone of each blog post makes the content accessible. I hope they are able to get legal access to the full ebook corpus so we can see more research on the Baby-Sitters Club books and better understand their cultural impact on a generation of women and girls.

You can find print copies of the original Baby-Sitters Club series in the PCL Youth Collection, and I highly recommend the recent essay collection We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-up Readers, available at the PCL.  

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Daniel Bonevac

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Daniel Bonevac, who was nominated by his students in PHL 325L (Business, Ethics, and Public Policy) in the Department of Philosophy.

Dr. Daniel Bonevac, Department of Philosophy

Dr. Bonevac is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He works mainly in metaphysics, philosophy of mathematics, semantics, and philosophical logic. His book Reduction in the Abstract Sciences received the Johnsonian Prize from The Journal of Philosophy. The author of five books and editor or co-editor of four others, Dr. Bonevac’s articles include “Against Conditional Obligation” (Noûs), “Sellars v. the Given” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), “Reflection Without Equilibrium,” (Journal of Philosophy), “Free Choice Permission Is Strong Permission” (Synthese, with Nicholas Asher), “The Conditional Fallacy,” (Philosophical Review, with Josh Dever and David Sosa), “The Counterexample Fallacy” (Mind, also with Dever and Sosa), and “The Argument from Miracles” and “Two Theories of Analogical Predication” (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion). He was Chairman of the Department of Philosophy from 1991 to 2001.

In all his courses, Dr. Bonevac actively seeks opportunities to minimize costs for students. In addition to completely eliminating required purchases for Business, Ethics, and Public Policy, he’s also found opportunities to significantly cut costs in two other courses (UGS 303: Ideas of the Twentieth Century and PHL 356D: History of Christian Philosophy) by identifying individual readings that can be linked or uploaded to Canvas. Student nominators expressed gratitude and relief at not having to worry about textbook costs for this course, on top of the other financial and academic stresses many have been experiencing during the pandemic.

But there are pedagogical benefits to the approach of selecting diverse readings, too. Dr. Bonevac tells us, “I’ve become shocked, and horrified, by the rising cost of textbooks—and I’m an author of several!—and have been seeking alternatives. I used to use a textbook in this course, and it was quite good. But it was also expensive. It included far more than I needed for a single course. And the case studies were old, often from decades ago. The attraction of putting together readings on my own was not only to eliminate costs for students but to allow me to shape the course exactly as I want it, to adapt the readings every semester, discarding ones that don’t work so well, adding new readings to keep everything up to date, and being able to respond quickly to issues that emerge in business ethics in the real world.”

His student nominators also praised Dr. Bonevac’s choice to incorporate videos he created himself into the course to expand on challenging topics. Philosophical readings can be dense and hard to grasp, and the content he created helped students understand key concepts. It seems that making course content accessible from day one on Canvas may have facilitated greater student engagement, too. Dr. Bonevac has observed more class and office hours participation as well as better outcomes in student papers and assessments, though it’s difficult to disentangle these results from the course modality changes we’ve all adapted to in the last two years.

If you’re an instructor who is interested in making the switch to more affordable or cost-free materials, Dr. Bonevac encourages you to try it! “There are many advantages. It’s now easy to compile sources for use on Canvas. Organizing the course into modules, with readings online, makes it easy for students to follow along and do the readings. It’s easy to keep the course on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the field. And it’s easy to improve the course semester by semester as you see which topics and readings work well and which flop…. I haven’t seen any downsides so far.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Sean Gurd

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Sean Gurd, who was nominated by his students in CTI 301G (Introduction to Ancient Greece) in the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts & Ideas

Dr. Sean Gurd, Department of Classics

Dr. Gurd is a Professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. His active research interests include the areas of ancient theatre (especially tragedy), ancient music, and any part of intellectual culture that interfaced with the concept of art (or techne). He is also the director of the Ancient Music and Performance Lab, which is dedicated to exploring innovative ways of integrating arts practice with humanities scholarship.

He has authored four monographs: Iphigenias at Aulis: Textual Multiplicity, Radical Philology; Work in Progress: Literary Revision as Social Performance in Ancient Rome; Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece; and The Origins of Music Theory in the Age of Plato. Dr. Gurd is currently writing a book on the NY area poet and performance artist Arman Schwerner, and a book on Music, Physics, and Theology in Hellenistic writers from Aristoxenus to Philo of Alexandria. He is an editor of Tangent, a scholar-led imprint of punctum books dedicated to publishing innovative books and projects that touch on classical antiquity. All of the imprint’s books will be free to all (open access) on the web six months after their publication. 

Like many instructors who select open and free course materials, Dr. Gurd is motivated by a desire for students to guide their own learning with immediate access to high-quality materials. In his Introduction to Ancient Greece course, that means enabling them with texts to which UT Libraries subscribes, available to students at no cost. Importantly, he has also found that these materials support his pedagogical goals. “Often in a large undergraduate class the instructor decides what’s important and assigns readings or texts on that basis. In this class, I want people to discover ancient Greek culture by exploring it themselves; and I want their explorations to be based on what matters to them, not what matters to me. This course is designed to let students do this: they start by identifying a big theme or issue that matters to them, and then they look for ancient Greek texts that address that theme, so that by the end of the semester they have built a small personal anthology of ancient texts. It’s an amazing feeling to be teaching to a large undergraduate class and to know that every single student will finish the class with knowledge that reflects what they individually care about,” says Dr. Gurd. Further, he’s observed a higher level of student engagement that may be partially attributed to the availability of diverse subject matter in the resources available to students. 

His students clearly appreciated the cost savings and also noted the ways in which the course material choices enhanced their learning experience. As one of his student nominators shared, “Not only did Professor Gurd save his students money, he did it in a way that actually contributed to the overall education of the class. The translations we used are actually known in the classics world as some of the best translations, but they’re normally quite expensive, but we were able to access them for free” (Freshman, Classical Languages major). They also highlighted the specific database that facilitates access to the course texts, Loeb Classical Library, as fundamental to facilitating both cost savings and the best possible learning experience: “This class is heavily reliant on Greek plays and dramas, which can be expensive, especially for accurate translations, but Professor Gurd had us use UT provided translations from the Loeb Classical Library for the class, which is great! They’re awesome translations, plus they’re free.”

And Dr. Gurd’s personal commitment to openness is not limited to course materials. At each step of the research cycle, he seeks out tools that are available openly. He tells us, “I do most of my writing in a free text editor (Atom), I manage my bibliography using free database tools (Zotero and Bibdesk), and I prefer to finish documents in an open source typesetting system (LateX). I energetically proselytize for this way of doing things, and will show my tools to anyone who asks (and sometimes even to people who don’t ask!).”

We asked Dr. Gurd what advice he might offer to other instructors who are considering making the switch to open, free, or affordable course materials. He shared this wisdom: “When I’m selecting materials, I try to ask myself: what do I want out of this course? How do I imagine the various parts—assignments, class time, reading and research—working together to create a positive experience for students? I feel lucky when I’m able to get everything working together; if it happens that I am able to do it while passing no additional cost to the student, then I really feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. My advice would be to let your goals tell you what the course needs, and to consider nothing sacred (including the tradition of assigning a textbook for purchase) in meeting those goals.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

The José Vasconcelos Papers: An Introduction

BY DIEGO A. GODOY

THE BENSON LATIN AMERICAN COLLECTION is home to the archive of Mexican politician, writer, and philosopher José Vasconcelos (1881–1959). In this short essay, Diego Godoy describes a man of contradictions, “the personification of both the brightness and darkness” of post-revolutionary Mexico.


One has to admire José Vasconcelos: the young law student who became a leading ateneísta —a member of the intellectual cohort that undid positivism’s decades-long stranglehold on Mexican political, social, and cultural life; the lawyer who was appointed rector of UNAM while still in his thirties; Mexico’s first Secretary of Public Education, who deployed teachers and mobile libraries to poor, rural schools and published affordable editions of literary classics; the mastermind behind Mexican muralism—picture him sitting with José Clemente Orozco, splitting a bottle of tempranillo (Vasconcelos hated distilled spirits), explaining how Orozco and other artists will bring history to the hoi polloi by frescoing colonial edifices; the Culture Czar of the Mexican Revolution.

Drawing of Vasconcelos by Izquierdo. Undated. Benson Latin American Collection.

But one can also loathe him. As the leading theoretician of official mestizophilia, he exalted the Iberian half of the mestizo equation above the Indigenous; if this is not wholly clear in the first part of La raza cósmica, read the accompanying travelogue of South America. Perhaps more egregious was his flirtation with fascism, which reached its highest (or lowest) point when he took the reins of a Third Reich–funded cultural magazine. His love life was similarly troubling: his refusal to fully commit to his mistress, the writer Antonieta Rivas Mercado, inspired her to put a bullet through her heart inside Notre-Dame—with Vasconcelos’s own pistol, no less. And then there was this slight, published in El Universal: “Barbarism commences where the consumption of guisos [stews] gives way to that of carne asada [grilled beef];” a jab, presumably, at the stereotypical brusqueness of my own father’s people—northern Mexicans.

Assorted texts by José Vasconcelos. Benson Latin American Collection.

Consider Vasconcelos the personification of both the brightness and darkness of the revolutionary project. In this sense, he was not much different from the other protagonists of the first half of Mexico’s twentieth century. Yet his intellectual and cultural impact dwarfed and far outlived that of his contemporaries.

Naturally, there is a good deal published about this maestro de la juventud de América, with the most comprehensive treatments having appeared pre–Moon Landing. More books, chapters, and essays have cropped up since then, many of which grapple with the themes of his work in oblique ways. A new English-language book (it is a largely hispanophone field), perhaps one offering unique focal points and fresh interpretations, would certainly be welcome. And while traditional cradle-to-grave biographies have become academically passé, what is often cold-shouldered by academia tends to be a reliable barometer of mass appeal. Should a researcher engage in such a project, he or she will be glad to know that the José Vasconcelos Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection contain correspondence (and divorce records) between Vasconcelos and his second wife, the pianist Esperanza Cruz. I suspect that many working historians might be dismissive of the man’s personal life. This would be unwise, because clever dashes of detail and anecdote can furnish scholarly writing and lectures with some badly needed flair. Either way, for the Vasconcelos-curious, this collection is the repository of choice.

Undated letter from Vasconcelos to his wife, Esperanza Cruz. Benson Latin American Collection.

The Vasconcelos Papers: A Closer Look

The José Vasconcelos Papers are divided into five sections. Correspondence contains the aforementioned letters to and from Esperanza Cruz, other relatives, and an array of writers. Among the latter group is Rodolfo Usigli, one of Mexico’s (and, indeed, Latin America’s) foremost dramatists, and Carlos Denegri, the legendarily unscrupulous, hard-drinking, sexist, insert-whatever-“ist”-you-want newsman—a veritable institution at Excélsior for some three decades. Biographical Materials holds photographs, artistic renderings of Vasconcelos, ephemera—conference programs, event invitations, coverage of his death—and a handful of personal items. Writings contains manuscripts and articles on a variety of subjects by Vasconcelos, as well as works by others reflecting on his cultural footprint. Of note is his four-part autobiography and another original, philosophical tract, La estética. Printed Materials includes journal, magazine, and newspaper articles by and about Vasconcelos, as well as books authored by him and those collected by or gifted to him. Lastly, there are two boxes of Oversized Materials: certificates, diplomas, event posters, newspaper clippings, and so forth.

Cover of “El Maestro,” 1922. Benson Latin American Collection.

For those who remain uninterested in contributing more pages to the micro library of Vasconcelos Studies, or expelling more breath on the “Great Men” of history, the collection is replete with gems nonetheless. Let’s say that you are interested in the history of education in Mexico, or, perhaps more specifically, the post-revolutionary state’s efforts to cultivate the minds of its citizenry. In that case, digging through issues of the short-lived El Maestro: Revista de cultura nacional will be worth your time. Founded by Vasconcelos as a sort of general culture primer, the magazine aimed to diffuse literary, historical, philosophical, and pedagogical content to educators, children, and lifelong learners. In its pages, Ramón López Velarde garnered his reputation as Mexico’s national poet before his untimely death at 33, and educators found Spanish-language versions of Tolstoy and lessons detailing the “Practical Applications of Geometry.”

Cover of “El Maestro,” October 1921. Benson Latin American Collection.

A particularly rich vein of material exists for those concerned with “bibliotechology” (as I suspect many reading this are). Vasconcelos’s conviction that “only books will lift this country out of barbarism” spurred the momentous creation of libraries—and the training of competent professionals to steward them—during his tenure as Secretary of Public Education. Under the auspices of his newly formed Department of Libraries and Archives, a young poblana named María Teresa Chávez Campomanes arrived stateside for graduate studies in library science at Pratt and Columbia. Following stints at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, she returned to Mexico. Her sterling intellect (and no doubt her connections) pried open the doors to coveted positions, including the directorships of the Biblioteca Benjamín Franklin and the Biblioteca de México. Yet her greatest legacy rests on having mentored a generation of librarians. As a professor at the Escuela Nacional de Bibliotecarios y Archiveros, a founder of UNAM’s Colegio de Bibliotecología, and the author of definitive guides to cataloguing and classification, she was instrumental in the professionalization of Mexican librarianship. Anyone investigating the history of libraries and cultural heritage institutions, higher education, or the Mexican state’s cultural apparatus will find the six years’ worth of correspondence between Vasconcelos and Chávez Campomanes indispensable.

Vasconcelos books in the stacks at the Benson.

If you are like me, it is another woman’s name in Vasconcelos’s mailbag that will jump out at you: Pilar Primo de Rivera—the head of the Spanish Falange’s Sección Femenina,an organization whose raison d’être was to reinforce the belief that Spanish women should be seen (preferably in their husbands’ kitchens and bedrooms) and not heard. She was also, very briefly, the would-be Mrs. Adolf Hitler, but the Spaniards’ harebrained scheme to forge a Hispano-Teutonic dynasty was scrapped upon discovery of the Führer’s unitesticularity. Some might consider her a surprising correspondent for a man as erudite and seemingly enlightened as Vasconcelos. But the problem with the erudite and seemingly enlightened is that they, too, can be seduced by truly awful ideas. Indeed, the intelligentsia may be even more susceptible because they can readily perform the mental gymnastics necessary to rationalize intellectually or morally bankrupt positions—look no further than the Twittersphere to see otherwise brilliant people with Ivy League credentials hurl critical thinking out the window.

Handwritten note (undated) on a Christmas and New Year’s greeting from Pilar Primo de Rivera, head of the women’s division of the Spanish Falange. Benson Latin American Collection.

A right-wing analogue can be found in 1930s Latin America, when many of the region’s prominent literati, not the least of whom was don José, were among the torchbearers of an emergent “clerical and hispanophile right-wing nationalism,” as Pablo Yankelevich put it. But exactly how does one go from cultural revolutionary to reactionary? What explains a broadly liberal humanist’s descent into a regressive Catholic conservatism? And not your grandfather’s variety of conservatism either, unless he happens to be a porteño with a curiously German accent. Perhaps Vasconcelos’s faith in democratic principles dissipated after the events of 1929, when his presidential hopes were dashed. Coupled with a battered ego and festering resentment, this is a compelling explanation. So is the company he kept during his post-election exile, notably Leopoldo Lugones, the Argentine poet and accomplice in José Félix Uriburu’s corporatist military regime. No doubt Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles’s ferocious anticlericalism, and comparable atrocities perpetrated by Spanish anarchists and communists, also accelerated Vasconcelos’s rightward shift.

Cover of “El Maestro,” December 1921. Benson Latin American Collection.

Some of the flesh for these bones may be found in Vasconcelos’s correspondence with the Spanish writer José Manuel Castañón. Hailing from Asturias, Castañón ran away from home at 16, but not for the usual reasons that teenagers flee. He aspired to join the ranks of Franco’s soldiers, and did just that in 1936. Five years later, he volunteered for the so-called Blue Division in order to fight alongside the Wehrmachton the Eastern Front. Castañón would eventually grow disillusioned with Francoism and publish accounts of his political 180 from his exile in Caracas.

Vasconcelos’s communication with compatriota Manuel Gómez Morín, however, might just yield more grist. An admirer of Miguel Primo de Rivera and the French protofascist thinker Charles Maurras, Gómez Morín wore many hats: law professor; university rector; banking czar; corporate lawyer; and most importantly, opposition party founder. His disenchantment with the post-revolutionary state began in the 1920s with President Álvaro Obregón handpicking Plutarco Elías Calles as his successor, Calles’s subsequent anti-Catholicism, followed by Vasconcelos’s failed presidential campaign, for which he served as unofficial treasurer. The 1930s proved no better for him and the politically like-minded, as President Lázaro Cárdenas’s progressive reforms clashed with major national and transnational companies, some of which counted on Gómez Morín for legal counsel. Fed up with the state of affairs, Gómez Morín founded the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) in 1939. Many of its earliest followers and official candidates ran the gamut of right-leaning ideology, from Jesuit activists to sinarquistas, members of a Guanajuato-based, Nazi-founded political organization whose rallying cry was “Faith, Blood, Victory.” These days, the PAN is more synonymous with drug-warrior presidents, conservative middle-class voters (the party’s lifeblood), and fake-news-peddling, rosary-clutching middle-aged women. But its early quasi-fascist ties cannot be forgotten.

José Vasconcelos, undated photo. Benson Latin American Collection.

Spending a few minutes eyeing the finding aid—and Googling unfamiliar names, texts, and organizations—will reveal the remarkable research and teaching potential of this collection. Whether one is concerned with some understudied facet of Vasconcelos’s life or career, or seeks to investigate such disparate topics as Mexican librarianship or transatlantic fascism, the José Vasconcelos Papers will provide unique and unmatched sources.  


Diego A. Godoy is a PhD candidate in Latin American history at The University of Texas at Austin. Before coming to Texas, he earned an MA in history from Claremont Graduate University. He is broadly interested in the intellectual and cultural history of the region. His particular focus is on the history of criminology, detection, and crime writing. He is author, most recently, “Inside the Agrasánchez Collection of Mexican Cinema” (2020) and “Confessions of an Archives Convert: Reflecting on the Genaro García Collection” (2021), both published in LLILAS Benson’s Portal magazine.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Latin American Archivist Dylan Joy, who selected the archival images for this article.

Read, Hot & Digitized: Land and Belonging

BY DANIEL ARBINO

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.

At a recent talk I gave, an audience member asked me, “What are the strengths of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection?”

It’s a question I receive often, though I don’t know if I’ve ever given a satisfactory answer. I often point to our historical Mexican archival collections, our collections of women writers and artists, and our US Latinx collections pertaining to civil rights. The truth is that I think the Benson does everything well. We have outstanding Brazilian collections, unique and important Caribbean materials, and strong representation in the Southern Cone. We know we can’t collect everything, but we sure try to anyway.

Some of our most recognizable materials are the Relaciones Geográficas, late-sixteenth-century surveys with maps that came with the Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta purchase in 1937. The aim was for the Spanish crown to have a deeper understanding of the provinces surrounding what is today Mexico City. Were there waterways to transport goods? Mines to excavate precious gold and silver? The Relaciones have been the subject of books and digital projects, confirming their relevance for posterity.

Relación de Cuzcatlán (1580), located in present-day Tlaxcala. Benson Latin American Collection.

I mention the RGs, as we affectionately call them, because they came to mind when I recently viewed a 1614 painting of a Bogotá savanna in Colombia titled La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá. Like the Relaciones Geográficas, art and cartography combine in this stunning piece, which was used as evidence in a trial to determine if landowner Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza had defrauded the Spanish crown on his way to accruing vast tracts of land at cheap prices.

La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá (1614) blends cartography and art to help settle a legal dispute.

This map became the focus of a digital project called Colonial Landscapes: Redrawing Andean Territories in the Seventeenth Century, in which Dr. Santiago Muñoz Arbelaez led a team from across the Americas, including the University of Connecticut, la Universidad de los Andes, Neogranadina, and la Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, to explore the social and political environment of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Colombia while considering land rights and Indigeneity. The project, which is available in Spanish and English, goes well beyond the digitization of one piece. In the “tour” section of the site, context is provided with the use of stunning rare materials. A portrait of Maldonado y Mendoza allows us to visualize the land baron. Other primary sources, both 2D and 3D, such as early textual and cartographic descriptions of cities and towns provided by Colombia’s national archive, are utilized to delve deeper. In the “Explore” section of the site, users can engage with different aspects of the main map in question.

1758 Map of Sopó, Colombia

However, the highlight of this project is taking a map that discusses landownership between two European entities (Maldonado y Mendoza and the Spanish crown) and inserting Indigenous rights and notions of belonging into the matter. The Muisca are considered at length in this project as the rightful inheritors of the land. The Muisca Confederation was a group of loosely affiliated sovereign regions that made up nearly 10,000 square miles in Colombia when the Spaniards arrived.in 1499.  They had the knowledge to cultivate crops in the savanna and to understand the region’s flora and fauna as well as extensive knowledge of metalworking and salt-mining. Images of Muisca ceramic figures demonstrate a rich culture whose trajectory was upended with the arrival of European colonizers. To that end, the exhibit also shows how Europeans created negative representations of the Muisca to justify the violent imposition of a new order. As land acknowledgements are negotiated and spoken in conversations emanating from sites of power, it is precisely this portion of the project that makes it so timely and necessary. Projects like Colonial Landscapes propose interesting pathways toward digital repatriation while contextualizing our understanding of the past and present. 

Muisca votive figure (600-1600), currently housed in Colombia’s Museo del Oro

Feature image: Relación de Atengo y Misquiahuala, 1579. Benson Latin American Collection.


Daniel Arbino is head of collection development at the Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.

Celebrating Ada

Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Since 2009, its purpose has been to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM. The day is named in honor of Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer who is best known for creating the first computer algorithm.

UT Librarians Gina Bastone, Lydia Fletcher, and Hannah Chapman Tripp organized the 2021 Ada Lovelace Day Wiki Edit-A-Thon to build on the success of the 2019 event. The goals of the edit-a-thon were to improve the visibility of women in STEM fields, to teach first-time editors the quirks of Wikipedia editing, and to involve more gender and racial minorities and LGBTQ+ people in the Wikipedia editing process. Due to the continued uncertainty about COVID-19, we opted to make the event this year a hybrid one by offering both an in-person drop-in event where folks could learn something, grab some food, and edit in between classes as well as a Discord-based online version.

As with the 2019 event, we wanted this year’s to be largely self-guided. We emphasized starting the research process and identifying useful Wikipedia-friendly sources by offering a list of potential pages to edit, update, or create. We organized the day through a system of Google Drive links (for those engaging through Discord) and physical sticky notes (for those attending in person) to ensure that only one person would be editing one article at a time, while retaining the ability to have more than one contributor to each article on the day. For example, we had one person begin editing the article on Cora Sadosky’s research before passing it off to a graduate student in mathematics who could better understand and explain Sadosky’s works. We also worked on creating a Wikipedia page for the new Dean of the Jackson School, Claudia Mora.

Once again, we worked with student groups in the Colleges of Natural Sciences and Engineering to promote the event. Hosting the event in a hybrid format presented some new challenges, but ultimately taught us a lot about navigating engagement in the “new normal” and we look forward to the 2022 event!