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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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 & 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”