Category Archives: Humanities & Liberal Arts

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!

Read, Hot & Digitized: Visualizing Wikipedia’s Gender Gap

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

Wikipedia is a website that many of us use every day – yes, even us librarians! Wikipedia was founded with utopian ideals, with its democratic approach to content creation and always-free, open knowledge. Therefore, it seems like the ideal platform to address structural inequalities in our information systems that reflect and reinforce racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia and combinations thereof.

However, Wikipedia has a long-standing problem of gender imbalance both in terms of article content and editor demographics. Only 18% of content across Wikimedia platforms are about women. The gaps on content covering non-binary and transgender individuals are even starker: less than 1% of editors identify as trans, and less than 1% of biographies cover trans or nonbinary individuals. When gender is combined with other factors, such as race, nationality, or ethnicity, the numbers get even lower. This gender inequity has long been covered in the scholarly literature via editor surveys and analysis of article content (Hill and Shaw, 2013; Graells-Garrido, Lalmas, and Menczer, 2015; Bear and Collier, 2016; Wagner, Graells-Garrido, Garcia, and Menczer, 2016; Ford and Wajcman, 2017). To visualize these inequalities in nearly real time, the Humaniki tool was developed.

Humaniki was created in 2020 by merging two previous data visualization projects. Data scientist Maximillian Klein created the Wiki Data Human Gender Indicators project in 2016. The French project Denelezh was created by Enzel Le Mir for Wikimedia France in 2017. Both projects utilized the Wikidata API and merged because of their significant overlap and shared mission, and Klein recently received a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation to continue this work. Humaniki is also built using Python, and its backend code is available on GitHub

Humaniki has many ways to explore this data. One of the most interesting is to look at the numbers based on language. Wikipedia isn’t just available in English, and Humaniki offers users the chance to look at gender representation for biographies in 529 languages! Another interesting data point is Year of Birth, and the trends in the Humaniki data suggest the gender gap closes slightly for biographies about younger people. For example, 23% of biographies on people born in 1963 are about women. For biographies on people born in 1983, however, 29% are about women. 

Humaniki also provides numbers of biographies on people who identify as “other genders” (people whose gender identity is not cisgender). For each metric, you can review the “Other Genders Breakdown,” which lists out all the gender identities (trans women, trans men, nonbinary, genderfluid, two-spirit, etc.) included in that particular data point. The “Other Genders” metric is important because the numbers are so stark. Looking back to our examples from 1963 and 1983, only 16 biographies in the 1963 dataset and 31 from 1983 are about people who don’t identify as cisgender – that’s out of more than 50,000 biographies! This highlights the great need to create and expand articles on people who identify outside of the traditional gender binary.

Humaniki is a useful tool for building awareness of the Wikipedia gender gap, and there are many ways to act upon this knowledge and get involved. The UT Libraries sponsors multiple Wikipedia edit-a-thons focused on improving articles about women and LGBTQ+ people. Every March, we host Queering the Record, a homegrown edit-a-thon to improve queer and trans representation, and we participate in the international campaign Art + Feminism, which focuses on gender, feminism, and the arts. Additionally, we’ve hosted one-off edit-a-thons covering Latinx and Mexican women, Indigenous languages, and women and LGBTQ+ people in STEM fields. Keep an eye on the UT Libraries events page to learn about future edit-a-thons!

Scholarship and Popular Press on the Wikipedia Gender Gap

Bear, Julia B., and Benjamin Collier. “Where are the women in Wikipedia? Understanding the different psychological experiences of men and women in Wikipedia.” Sex Roles 74, no. 5-6 (2016): 254-265. 

Filipacchi, Amanda. “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists.” The New York Times, April 24, 2013. 

Ford, Heather, and Judy Wajcman. “‘Anyone can edit’, not everyone does: Wikipedia’s infrastructure and the gender gap.” Social Studies of Science 47, no. 4 (2017): 511-527.

Gordon, Maggie. “Wikipedia Editing Marathons Add Women’s Voices to Online Resource.” Houston Chronicle, November 9, 2017. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/article/Adding-women-s-voices-to-Wikipedia-12344424.php

Graells-Garrido, Eduardo, Mounia Lalmas, and Filippo Menczer. “First women, second sex: Gender bias in Wikipedia.” In Proceedings of the 26th ACM Conference on Hypertext & Social Media, pp. 165-174. 2015.

Hill, Benjamin Mako, and Aaron Shaw. “The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation.” PloS One 8, no. 6 (2013): e65782–e65782.

Paling, Emma. “The Sexism of Wikipedia.” The Atlantic, October 21, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/how-wikipedia-is-hostile-to-women/411619/

Stephenson-Goodknight, Rosie. “Viewpoint: How I Tackle Wiki Gender Gap One Article at a Time.” BBC News, December 7, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-38238312

“The Nobel Prize Winning Scientist Who Wasn’t Famous Enough for Wikipedia.” The Irish Times, October 3, 2018. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/the-nobel-prize-winning-scientist-who-wasn-t-famous-enough-for-wikipedia-1.3650212

Wagner, Claudia, Eduardo Graells-Garrido, David Garcia, and Filippo Menczer. “Women through the glass ceiling: gender asymmetries in Wikipedia.” EPJ Data Science 5 (2016): 1-24.

plenty of fish in the sea: using dutch art to study historic biodiversity

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

Fishing in the past” encourages us to explore the connections between artistic expression, scientific identification, and commercial practices. A crowdsourced metadata project, “Fishing in the past” asks volunteers to identify fish species represented in Dutch still life paintings from the early modern period to learn more about historical aquatic biodiversity and commercial uses of fish in Europe. The campaign is part of “A new history of fishes,” a project funded by the Dutch Research Council that includes researchers from Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society and Naturalis Biodiversity Centre. The artwork included in the “Fishing in the past” campaign comes from the Rijksmuseum and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The project was designed using Zooniverse, “the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.”[1] This crowdsourced approach to research has been termed “citizen science.”[2]

I discovered “Fishing in the past” while evaluating Zooniverse for possible use in the creation of a crowdsourced metadata campaign for photographs from the “Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive.” I was intrigued by the project’s use of art to support scientific research. This is just one example of how digital scholarship tools and methods can facilitate interdisciplinary projects that propose creative solutions to existing research problems. “A new history of fishes” examines the relationship between ichthyology (the study of fish) and European history and culture, an area of inquiry that “has always been underexposed.”[3] Though quite different in subject matter, the “Sajjad Zaheer Photo Archive” and “Fishing in the past” share the objective of identifying beings (human and aquatic, respectively) in images, a belief in the value of opening up research projects to the general public, and a commitment to open access data and information. As such, “Fishing in the past” was a helpful model for my own project.

“Fishing in the past” asks members of the public to identify the species for every fish in an image. The research team provides tools to help, such as a list of common species that includes images and identifying features to assist classification. The species list can filtered by characteristic, such as color or pattern. After identifying the species, contributors are instructed to classify the commercial use of the fish, such as traded at a market or consumed on plate. They finally record the number of fish for a single species in the image. The process is repeated for each species pictured.

The “Fishing in the past” team has already shared some initial results and plans to publish further findings in an open access journal. Through crowdsourcing, this project has generated more data in a shorter period of time than could be achieved by the research team alone. Benefits for volunteers include engaging in their interests, interacting with artistic and scientific materials in new ways, and knowing that they are making a contribution to something bigger than themselves. For future researchers, crowdsourcing campaigns provide valuable data, including the ability to “read” materials with accessibility technologies.

All Zooniverse campaigns can be found here. Those interested in crowdsourced transcription work might also enjoy participating in FromThePage projects from University of Texas Libraries.

The Fine Arts Library holds catalogs that accompanied past Dutch and Flemish still life exhibitions.

Those interested in marine science should start with this LibGuide.

[1] https://www.zooniverse.org/about

[2] For an in-depth look at citizen science: Hecker, S., Haklay, M., Bowser, A., Makuch, Z., Vogel, J., & Bonn, A. (2018). Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. University College London.

[3] https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/research/research-projects/humanities/new-history-of-fishes

Madeline Goebel is the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.

Scene Onscreen: ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration Will Bring Levity at the Right Moment

LLILAS Benson is thrilled to announce the return of the ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture. The annual event, usually one of the highlights of the spring semester, was canceled in 2020 due to the recent campus closure for Covid-19.

Now that we’ve got an advanced degree in Zoom, we are pleased to announce Scene Onscreen: An Evening with JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, Founders of Teatro Vivo. This virtual event will be held on Thursday, April 1, 2021, at 7pm CDT. To register for the event and receive a link, visit Attend.com/AVV2021.

JoAnn and Rupert Reyes. Design by Jennifer Mailloux; original artwork by Monica Rodriguez

During the evening, hosted by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the audience will be treated to recorded scenes from some of Rupert Reyes’s iconic achievements as a playwright, interspersed with conversation about the history of Teatro Vivo, the bilingual theater company that Rupert and JoAnn founded in 2000 and led for many years.

Scenes from Petra’s PecadoPetra’s Cuento, and Petra’s Sueño; Crossing the RíoCuento NavideñoCenicienta, and the forthcoming film Vecinos will bring some levity to everyone’s evening, and it is our hope that the shared experience of laughter while enjoying these scenes will make the virtual a little more personal.

The JoAnn and Rupert Reyes Collection

The Benson Latin American Collection is the repository of the papers of JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, which contains a rich assortment of materials from their decades working with Teatro Vivo and other theater companies. According to the archival notes, “Teatro Vivo has garnered numerous nominations for acting, writing, and design from local theater award councils, including the B. Iden Payne Awards and the Austin Critics Table Awards, and the company continues to serve as an active contributor to the arts community in Austin. JoAnn and Rupert led the company as the executive director and artistic director, respectively, until they stepped down in 2016.” Both of the Reyes have received accolades for their work, including the Community Leadership Award from the University of Texas at Austin (their alma mater) in 2008 and the Partners in the Arts and Humanities award by the Austin City Council in 2011. They continue to serve as advisors to Teatro Vivo and remain significant cultural ambassadors for Latino theater in the United States.


For more information, please contact Susanna Sharpe.

The Royal Inspection through a Digital Lens: Interactive Exhibit Examines Spanish Colonial Bureaucracy

By BRITTANY ERWIN

For almost three hundred years, the Spanish monarchs ruled over an expansive empire stretching from the Caribbean to the southernmost tip of South America. World history narratives situate Spain within a centuries-long clash between major powers over territory, resources, and authority in the Americas that ended with the wars of independence. However, these histories tend to devote less attention to the day-to-day processes that sustained imperial rule. My dissertation explores this question through an analysis of the underlying mechanisms that bound the people to their faraway king. A LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship helped me to create an online exhibition that demonstrates what the bureaucracy of empire looked like on the ground. (Visit the Spanish version of the exhibition.)

This interactive website serves as an interface with a section of the vast holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection: the Genaro García Collection. Through the exhibition, teachers, students, and community members can explore the events that unfolded when the king ordered a visita—or royal inspection—for New Spain (roughly, modern Mexico) in 1765. The inspection allowed the monarch to keep up to date on local happenings while also identifying areas that could be reorganized. This visita involved approximately seven years of examinations and reforms carried out through a cooperation between the monarch’s appointed visitador—or inspector—and local government workers.

Cover page for this collection of visita documents. G206-01.

The website offers high-resolution images of the thirty documents from the Genaro García Collection that pertain to this procedure, in addition to brief content descriptions, full transcriptions, information on the individuals involved, and maps of prominent regions mentioned in the sources. All of this information appears in an interactive timeline so that users can experience the process of bureaucracy at work.

The TimelineJS chronology features high-resolution images of the documents included for each date.

This project benefited from the use of several digital humanities tools, including TimelineJS, FromthePage, and Transkribus. TimelineJS allowed for the creation of an interactive chronology containing the step-by-step process that the visitador followed as he inspected and reorganized the government of New Spain. For users looking to examine the documents beyond the site’s overviews, FromthePage and Transkribus generated full transcriptions of the sources.

This screen shot illustrates the transcription process in Transkribus.

These texts provide opportunities for further exploration, such as data analysis. For example, by feeding the transcriptions into the Voyant Tools website, I was able to generate a word cloud of the most commonly appearing words and phrases in the documents.

Voyant Tools allows for the creation of word clouds, like the one featured above.

The Benson Latin American Collection holds documents covering many regions of the Spanish world across the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries. During this time, Spain’s hold over its American territories required the constant interaction between royal officials and local populations, and that crossover was often messy. The 1765 visita of New Spain sheds light on the complexities of this process. My hope is that this online exhibition will expand the ways in which people can interact with these sources without having to visit the University of Texas campus in person, and learn from them about the day-to-day experience of imperial management.


Brittany Erwin is a PhD candidate in history. She was a LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellow in 2020.