Category Archives: Collections Highlight

Collection Highlight: The Field Maps Of Roland T. Fenton

Every year the United States honors women and men who have served the U.S. armed forces during war and peacetime on the anniversary of the end of World War I, November 11. Originally called Armistice Day, Veterans Day celebrated and honored the soldiers that lost their lives in World War I. In 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, the federal holiday was officially expanded to celebrate and honor all veterans.

The UT Libraries honors veterans by telling their stories, preserving their legacy in our collections, and making the materials that meant something to them available to researchers for generations to come.

This Veterans Day, we are highlighting a collection of field maps and charts that belonged to Colonel Roland T. Fenton, a veteran of World War I and World War II. We are excited to tell part of his story through the maps he used in the field with an online exhibit, the Field Maps of Colonel Roland T. Fenton.

hand-drawn map depicting Givry, France. Shows built areas, railway line, roads, and vegetation. Hand colored. Purple and blue ink on paper.
Plan of Givry: scale 1:4,000. “July [day illegible], 1918” This hand-drawn map from World War I shows built areas, a railway line, roads, and vegetation is the only manuscript in this collection.

Aside from some basic biographical information, we know very little about Col. Fenton. We know that he spent 28 years of his life serving in the U.S. Army, and in that time, he was infantry and infantry support in both World Wars. And he managed to preserve some essential tools of his deployment, his maps. The fact that these maps survived the treacheries of war is incredible. After Col. Fenton died, his family donated his military effects to the Army Heritage Center who offered UT Libraries the maps to fill in missing maps from our online Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. They exceed our expectations. The field printing and annotations alone make them exceptional, but also many were classified. We are fortunate to be able to preserve and share them with generations to come.

Detail of 1918 map of Château-Thierry, France depicting Belleau, France. The paper is weathered, brown and shows crease marks, with topographic lines, buildings, roads, rail lines, and town name. There are faded notations in black pencil.
This detail of Château-Thierry: 29 Juin 1918 depicts Belleau, France. On July 18, 1918, (then) Lt. Fenton’s actions earned him the second-highest military decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross.

Visit the UT Libraries’ Exhibit to learn more about Col. Fenton and the context of his collection. The images accompanying this post and the exhibit are a fraction of the 84 maps in the Field Maps of Colonel Roland T. Fenton in the UT Libraries Collections portal.

Map of Darmstadt from 1944. There is an overprint of circles surrounding two cities connected by a line to two symbols. One symbol is a crescent and the other is a funnel. These symbols represent classes of supplies for combat units in World War 1. The crescent symbolizes rations and comfort items. The funnel symbolizes petroleum, oil, and lubricants.
This copy of the Darmstadt map has two overprint annotations, one circle around Gr. Gerau [Groß-Gerau] northwest of Darmstadt, connected to a second circle in the upper left margin enclosing a solid black crescent symbol and one circle around Truppen-Übungspl. Southwest of Darmstadt with a line connected to a second circle in the upper left margin encircling a solid black symbol of a funnel with a handle. The symbols indicate classes of supplies.
Detail of symbols overprinted on map of Darmstadt from 1944. There is an overprint of circles surrounding two cities connected by a line to two symbols. One symbol is a crescent and the other is a funnel. These symbols represent classes of supplies for combat units in World War 1. The crescent symbolizes rations and comfort items. The funnel symbolizes petroleum, oil, and lubricants.
Detail of overprinted symbols representing supply classes; the crescent symbolizes Rations and the funnel symbolizes Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants (POL).

Journey into the Archive: The McFarland Cuban Plantation Records

BY KATIE COLDIRON

The Benson Latin American Collection is a beacon for Latin Americanist scholars the world over. It has drawn researchers to examine its archival gems, particularly its strength in holdings that shed light on Mexico and Central America. Over the past few years, the Benson has further diversified its collection to better represent other parts of Latin America and strengthen its holdings on materials from the Caribbean as well as Latinx and African diasporas in the United States. Its well-deserved status as the top Latin American and Caribbean-focused collection in the United States is what drew me to UT Austin in the first place.

Before I was an Information Studies student at UT, I was a first-time graduate student diving into academia at the University of Florida. Having found employment in UF’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection, I was soon inspired by the wide variety of unique Cuban holdings present, such as autographed first editions of works by Cuba’s national hero and author José Martí. The mentorship of scholars of Cuba like historian Lillian Guerra further drew me into Cuban Studies. Five years and many trips later, Cuba continues to capture my interests, particularly now that I live and work in Miami, where the highest number of Cuban Americans in the United States reside.

Postcard from Holguín, where J.F. McFarland noted details from his trip to Cuba.

It should come as no surprise that the collection I am reviewing relates to Cuba. With the assistance of the Benson’s Caribbean Studies liaison librarian Adrian Johnson, I came across the McFarland Cuban Plantation Records. It is a bilingual collection of correspondence, company records, legal documents, news clippings, and personal photos relating to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. The company was originally organized and incorporated in New York State by twenty Pennsylvanians who came together to buy a 1000-acre plantation near Holguín, a city in eastern Cuba. The date of the incorporation, October 1, 1902, is important, as it came less than five months after the end of the four-year U.S. military occupation of Cuba following the conclusion of the Cuban War of Independence. During this turbulent period, Cubans negotiated with the legacies of Spanish colonialism as well as the neo-imperial presence of the United States at all levels of society.[1] Following the formal end of the occupation, U.S. interests did not disappear, but rather intensified, with 13,000 North Americans having bought land in Cuba by 1905.[2]

Of those twenty Pennsylvanians mentioned previously, nineteen eventually stopped paying the interest on their loans and thus ceased to be a part of the Cuban Plantation Company. The only original investor who remained was one J.F. McFarland. McFarland would eventually pass ownership of the company to his two sons, and in 1953, they officially changed the business’s name to the Cuban Plantation Company of Nueces County, Texas. During this period, their landholdings became entangled with a brewing revolutionary fervor against the brutal dictatorship of military strongman Fulgencio Batista, who was backed by multiple U.S. public and private interests. However, the story of the Cuban Revolution and the eventual agrarian reform that would affect U.S. interests like the those of the McFarlands is not a simple one.

Agrarian reform was on everyone’s minds, both inside and outside of Cuba. In June 1959, then–Prime Minister of Cuba Fidel Castro told the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Philip Bonsal that agrarian reform was “a matter of life and death.” U.S. landowners like the McFarlands and the United Fruit Company, which was the single-largest landowner in Cuba, found the prospect of agrarian reform worrisome. As the McFarland records show, they like many others assumed that Cuba’s revolutionary experiment would not last long. For example, in a 1959 letter from J.R. McFarland, the secretary-treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, to lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, McFarland wrote, “We also feel that the dictatorship of Castro will sooner or later terminate because of lack of finances, because he has alienated the people or governments from which he might have obtained finances.” In the same letter, McFarland also notes that the company felt they would be paid “a price below the actual worth of the land” or “in bonds of uncertain value.” As the years passed and Cuba found economic stability through a relationship with the Soviet Union, these assumptions turned into legal efforts to secure some form of compensation for expropriated properties. In the McFarland records, one can see that their efforts to receive compensation for their land continued as late as 1971.

Letter from J.R. McFarland to Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba, employee of the Cuban Plantation Company who was given power of attorney on the company’s behalf. The letter notes that the company considered the Cuban revolutionary project to be temporary.

The culture of the U.S. plantation in Cuba was one in which North American custom reigned supreme, with many plantations having their own police forces subject only to the laws set by the landowner.[3] This detested system, and the poverty it created in the Cuban countryside, were so unpopular that agrarian reform was overwhelmingly supported by Cuba’s middle classes. As Lillian Guerra shows in her pivotal work on the first decade following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban middle classes supported agrarian reform via monetary donations, donations of agricultural machinery, and some even opening their homes to visiting guajiros (Cubans from the countryside) in a government PR initiative to open the luxuries of the city previously unavailable to them.[4]

While agrarian reform was wildly popular at its initiation, certain instances during this period foreshadow what would become an authoritarian regime. Fidel Castro directly controlled the agency tasked with instituting agrarian reform, the Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria, or INRA, along with a host of other government entities.[5] As he expanded his personal popularity and power, he also put his allies in positions that they were not always qualified for. For example, the medical doctor Ernesto “Che” Guevara was appointed as the head of the national bank. Urban underground activists, commonly known as “la clandestinidad,” who had fought on behalf of Castro’s 26th of July Movement, were displaced by those of the Partido Socialista Popular, a covertly Stalinist party and the not-too-distant allies of Fulgencio Batista during his first presidency and later dictatorship.[6]

Copy of letter sent to J.R. McFarland, then-secretary/treasurer of the Cuban Plantation Company, by Cuban company lawyer Dr. Pedro Ferrer y Coba. In the second-to-last paragraph on this page, Ferrer y Coba acknowledges the popularity of the then-provisional government.

The McFarland records provide little insight into life on their farm, but the collection includes a brief memoir about a family/company trip to Cuba written by J.R. McFarland, son of J.F. The farm is romanticized as a quaint country estate, but the tenants, like other facets of Cuba in the eyes of the author, are portrayed as primitive. Furthermore, racist imagery is present throughout, with most Cubans encountered labeled as “negroes.” This label also does not take into consideration the diversity of racial identifications in Cuba, where like other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, a variety of racial identifications exist apart from the dichotomy of “black” and “white.”[7] These instances provide important context for the plethora of social ills that arise when foreign entities control the land and people of an independent country. The agrarian reform in its infancy was a noble cause that enjoyed support from the Cuban masses and was a glimmer of hope for those seeking a more independent and egalitarian nation. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to dismiss what came after this period of hope.

The principal crop of the Cuban Plantation Company was sugar, a hugely important product in Cuban history. Early revolutionary ideals of crop diversification and self-sufficiency were displaced for more of the same. Instead of supplying the bulk of its sugar harvest to the United States, Cuba would instead provide its cash crop to the USSR. In the Soviet era, Cuba functioned as a quasi-colony of the USSR in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, failed agricultural initiatives like the Ten Million Ton Harvest (Zafra de los Diez Millones), which emptied other professional sectors of personnel in the name of carrying out a hefty sugar harvest, created ration shortages and the corruption of the ration system itself.[8] With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Cuba faced a massive decrease in food supply, with a 50% decrease in overall food production within its own borders.[9] This food insecurity has not been overcome to this day, with increasingly difficult U.S. economic sanctions, failed state agricultural policy, dependence on a limited supply of imports, and a stagnant economic structure where success is often determined by race, gender, lucrative familial connections abroad, and geographic location.[10]

Postcard depicting a home characteristic of the Cuban countryside. On his family trip to Cuba, J.R. McFarland thought that the image closely resembled that of a home on his company’s farm.

My time at UT Austin taught me much about amplifying voices that have been historically absent from the archive. At the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab of Florida International University, we are seeking to do just that, with strategic community partnerships around South Florida to document oral histories and create a more all-encompassing archive of the region and how different groups have experienced it. About archiving Cuban themes in South Florida, the tradition has been to almost exclusively preserve the stories of pre-1959 Cuba, prominent members of the exile community, and dissidents. While these stories are important, they should nonetheless be complemented by those of individuals who were brought up in Cold War–era and post–USSR collapse Cuba, as well as the more quotidian stories of Cuban exile life in South Florida from recent decades. As someone who has lived in and researched Cuba, I learned early on that the hyperpoliticization of the subject of Cuba leads to anyone willingly diving into post-1959, in-country themes being met with suspicion. However, for the sake of engaging research, preservation, and ultimately positive change in Cuba, these themes must not be pushed to the side.

While the situation I have described is unique, the Benson nonetheless offers a great example for these goals. The Benson’s historic holdings, like the Genaro García Collection and the Joaquín García Icazbalceta Manuscript Collection, are being complemented by newer, digitally based initiatives like the Voces Oral History Archive and post-custodial digitization in the region with partners like the Colombian Proceso de Comunidades Negras, or PCN. My hope is that one day, the archives in South Florida that more closely resemble the McFarland Collection can coexist with those of Cubans who lived through the turbulent decades of the Revolution, and those who came to Florida in later decades seeking libertad.

Throughout my professional and personal life in Florida and Cuba, I have seen both sides of the partisan battles surrounding Cuba and its contested future. On one side are those academics and activists who celebrate the successes of the Cuban Revolution without acknowledging the extent of its failures. On the other side, many in the Miami exile community, as well some U.S.  politicians, are unable to see the dire human costs of the trade embargo and toughening U.S. sanctions. The lack of room for critique leads to Cubans being nothing more than symbols to justify one view or the other, while also leaving Cubans—to borrow the words of cultural anthropologist Noelle Stout—“to make the long, hot walk back to their normal lives” when they are no longer on the radar of foreigners or the exile community.[11] In this moment, a climactic and potentially transformative one for the people of Cuba, they must be seen as more than props in a partisan battle, but agents in their own destiny.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published September 16, 2021, in the series Journey into the Archive: History from the Benson Latin American Collection, a collaboration between the Benson and Not Even Past. View the original here.


About the Author

A native of Kentucky, Katie L. Coldiron moved to Florida in 2016 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies, and she undertook her thesis research in Cuba under the advisement of Dr. Lillian Guerra. She was also introduced to library and archival work at UF, and parlayed different roles held during her time as a student into a position digitizing Cuban Judaica items and periodicals on the ground in Havana, all part of a post-custodial digitization project undertaken by the UF George A. Smathers Libraries. Following this experience, Katie enrolled in a library and information science master’s program at The University of Texas at Austin. During her time at UT Austin, Katie served as a graduate research assistant for digital projects at the UT Libraries, where she assisted area studies librarians on various facets of their digital projects. She also was a FLAS fellow at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. Katie is currently working as the Digital Archivist and Project Manager for the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab at Florida International University. She can be found on Twitter: @katielcoldiron.

Notes

[1] Mariel Iglesias Utset, A Cultural History of Cuba During the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[2] Louis M. Pérez, On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lillian Guerra, Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959–1971 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Devyn Spence Benson, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

[8] Guerra, 2012.

[9] Pérez, 2019.

[10] Hannah Garth, Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020).

[11] Noelle M. Stout, After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

New Biography Sheds Light on the Work and Internal Life of María Luisa Puga

“How does one become a writer, and how does she go about building a body of creative work?”* These are questions that author Irma López seeks to answer in her latest publication, a biography of the late Mexican writer María Luisa Puga (1944–2004) titled Extraño no-amor el tuyo: María Luisa Puga, historia de una pasión.   

Author Irma López with her new biography of Puga

This is the second book on Puga by López, a professor of Spanish and interim dean at Western Michigan University. For this volume, López relied heavily on a collection of 327 diaries kept by the award-winning writer between 1972 and 2004. The diaries make up the bulk of the María Luisa Puga Papers at the Benson Latin American Collection. They are “an existential logbook of body and identity” writes former Benson librarian José Montelongo in a Spanish-language essay about Puga’s diaries. It was López who originally brought the collection of diaries to the attention of the Benson; the writer’s sister, Patricia Puga, donated them to the collection in 2017.

Biography of María Luisa Puga, by Irma López

In Extraño no-amor, López builds on her previous work on Puga and, with the aid of the diaries, probes deeply into the writer’s life in order to better understand her work. The resulting biography is a portrait of Puga that lays bare her strengths and weaknesses, her artistic and existential struggles, similar to the way in which Puga relentlessly examined herself on the pages of her diary.


Read “María Luisa Puga: A Life in Diaries” by José Montelongo

Read “Una vida en 327 cuadernos: El archivo literario de María Luisa Puga” by José Montelongo

The Benson Acquires archive of Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias

By DANIEL ARBINO

Vea abajo para versión en español

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers. Asturias, the 1967 Nobel Laureate in Literature from Guatemala, was a precursor to the Latin American Boom. A prolific writer of poetry, short stories, children’s literature, plays, and essays, he is perhaps best known as a novelist, with El Señor Presidente (1946) and Hombres de maíz (1949) garnering the most acclaim. Asturias’s portrayal of Guatemala and the different peoples that live there—their beliefs, their interactions, their frustrations, and their hopes—mark the profundity of his texts.

Miguel Ángel Asturias, photographed in front of his portrait

The Benson is the third repository to house materials pertaining to Asturias’s life work, the other two being the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris and El Archivo General de Centroamérica in Guatemala City. What differentiates this particular collection is the role that Asturias’s son, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, played in compiling it over the course of fifty years. Indeed, in many ways the collection is just as much the son’s as it is the father’s. It features years of correspondence between the two, who were separated after the elder was forced to leave Argentina in 1962. This was not the writer’s first time in exile: his stay in Argentina was due to the Guatemalan government, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, stripping his citizenship in 1954. The letters provide insight into Asturias as a father, writer, and eventual diplomat when democratically elected Guatemalan President Julio César Méndez Montenegro restored his citizenship and made him Ambassador to France in 1966. Moreover, scholars will find within these letters a number of short stories for children that would eventually be collected in the book El alhajadito (1962).

Author’s self-portrait

In addition to correspondence with his son, Asturias maintained a longstanding relationship with his mother via letter during his first stay in Paris in the 1920s. Detailed within are the family’s economic hardships as a result of the country-wide crisis in Guatemala caused by the plummeting international coffee market, and information pertaining to the publication of his first collection of short stories, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Other communication from this era demonstrates the role that Asturias played in facilitating the publication of other Guatemalan authors and as a journalist for El imparcial.

As a journalist for El Imparcial, Asturias was in constant correspondence about events in Guatemala.

Beyond letters, scholars will find a multifaceted collection. Manuscripts of poetic prose, such as “Tras un ideal” (1917), and an early theater piece titled “Madre” (1918) are included with loose-leaf fragments from El señor presidente. News clippings are also prominent. Those written by Asturias reflect his time at El imparcial while those written about him focus on his Nobel Prize. Perhaps an unexpected highlight is the audiovisual component of the collection. The author contributed an array of caricatures, doodles, and portraits, as well as a robust collection of photographs. Furthermore, there are several audio recordings of Asturias reading his work.

This hand-written manuscript of “Madre” (1918) is Asturias’s first foray into theater.

Finally, scholars will also be able to access studies dedicated to the work of Asturias and first, rare, and special editions of his books. These editions, meticulously collected and cared for by his son, reflect the author’s continued popularity.   

The addition of the Miguel Ángel Asturias Papers will bolster a growing collection of prominent Central American subject matter at the Benson that includes the Ernesto Cardenal Papers, the Pablo Antonio Cuadra Papers, the Victoria Urbano Papers, the Arturo Taracena Flores Collection, and the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive. Once Benson staff can safely return to our offices, we will announce plans to process the collection . In the meantime, questions can be directed to Daniel Arbino, Benson Head of Collection Development, at d.arbino@austin.utexas.edu.

La Colección Benson adquiere el archivo del Premio Nobel Miguel Ángel Asturias

Por DANIEL ARBINO

La Colección Latinoamericana Nettie Lee Benson se complace en anunciar la adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias, Premio Nobel de 1967. El autor guatemalteco fue un precursor del boom latinoamericano. Escritor prolífico de poesía, cuentos, literatura infantil, obras de teatro y ensayos, es quizás mejor conocido como novelista, y El señor presidente (1946) y Hombres de maíz (1949) son las más aclamadas. La representación de Guatemala y sus variados pueblos, creencias, interacciones, frustraciones y esperanzas, marcan la profundidad de sus textos.

El author, frente a un retrato pintado

La Benson es el tercer archivo que reune materiales de la vida de Asturias, después de la Bibliothèque nationale en París y El Archivo General de Centroamérica en la ciudad de Guatemala. Lo que distingue a esta colección en particular es el papel que desempeñó el hijo de Asturias, Miguel Ángel Asturias Amado, en su recopilación a lo largo de cincuenta años. De hecho, la colección es, en muchos sentidos, tanto del hijo como del padre. Presenta años de correspondencia entre los dos, que se separaron después de que el padre tuvo que abandonar la Argentina en 1962. Ésta no fue la primera vez que el escritor se había tenido que ir al exilio: su estadía en la Argentina se debió a que el gobierno guatemalteco, liderado por Carlos Castillo Armas, le había despojado de su ciudadanía en 1954. Las cartas dan una idea de Asturias como padre, escritor y eventual diplomático, después de que Julio César Méndez Montenegro, el presidente de Guatemala democráticamente elegido, restauró su ciudadanía y lo nombró embajador en Francia en 1966. Además, los investigadores encontrarán dentro de estas cartas una serie de cuentos para niños que se recopilarían en el libro El alhajadito (1962).

Auto-retrato por el autor

Aparte de la correspondencia con su hijo, Asturias mantuvo una larga relación epistolar con su madre  durante su primera estancia en París en la década de los 1920. Ahí se detallan las dificultades económicas de la familia como resultado de la crisis que atraviesa la sociedad guatemalteca, por la caída del precio del café a nivel internacional, e información relativa a la publicación de su primera colección de cuentos, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930). Otra comunicación de esta época demuestra el papel que desempeñó Asturias al facilitar la publicación de otros autores guatemaltecos y como periodista de El imparcial.

Como periodista para El Imparcial, Asturias mantuvo comunicaciones constantes sobre la situación en Guatemala

Asimismo, los investigadores verán una colección multifacética. Los manuscritos de prosa poética, como “Tras un ideal” (1917) y una obra de teatro titulada “Madre” (1918) se incluyen, tanto como fragmentos de hojas sueltas de El señor presidente. Los recortes de periódicos también son prominentes. Los escritos por Asturias reflejan su tiempo en El imparcial, mientras que los escritos sobre él se centran en su Premio Nobel. Quizás un punto destacado inesperado es el componente audiovisual de la colección. El autor contribuyó con una serie de caricaturas, garabatos y retratos, así como una colección robusta de fotografías. También, hay varias grabaciones de audio de Asturias en las cuales realiza lecturas de sus obras.

Este manuscrito de la obra “Madre” (1918) es la primera incursión de Asturias en el mundo del teatro.

Por último, los académicos también podrán acceder a los estudios dedicados al trabajo de Asturias y a las primeras, raras y especiales ediciones de su trabajo. Estas ediciones, meticulosamente recopiladas y cuidadas por su hijo, reflejan la continua popularidad del autor.

La adquisición de los documentos de Miguel Ángel Asturias reforzará una creciente colección de materiales destacados de Centroamérica en LLILAS Benson, que incluye el archivo de Ernesto Cardenal, el archivo de Pablo Antonio Cuadra, el archivo de Victoria Urbano, la colección de Arturo Taracena Flores y la colección digital del Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN) de Guatemala. Una vez que el personal de Benson pueda regresar de manera segura a nuestras oficinas, pronto seguirán los planes para procesar la colección. Mientras tanto, las preguntas pueden dirigirse a Daniel Arbino, Jefe de Desarrollo de Colecciones de la Benson.

Red, Hot and Digitized: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Together with diaries and memoirs in print, audio-visual testimonies are primary sources that shed light on the lived experience of people who experienced the Holocaust.  There are a few institutions around the world that produce, curate, and publish such testimonies;[1] one of them is the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale university. The mission of the Fortunoff archive is to “record and project the stories of those who were there.” Established in 1981, and based on a donation of testimonies previously videotaped since 1979 by The Holocaust Survivors Film Project, the archive works to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.[2]

Fred Alford, professor emeritus of the university of Maryland, researches the way trauma becomes embedded in nations, societies, and groups[3]; upon his research in the Fortunoff archive, he asserted that “testimonies are important [because they] make a historical abstraction real.”[4] Witnesses remind us that the Holocaust was made of people, victims, and executioners. He argues that a proper psychoanalytic interpretation can help us understand not merely the suffering of survivors, but can remind us of an equally important fact: “…. that for every torment there was a tormenter, for every degradation a degrader, for every humiliation one who inflicted it. For every death a murderer……”

He goes on to say that “We listen to witnesses in order to understand their suffering, and we seek to understand their suffering in order to understand better regimes of organized terror and the role they play in our lives……We listen to witnesses in order to remember better that their suffering comes at the hands of regimes that are made of people.”[5]

The Fortunoff archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 36 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

While the database allows for various searching, sorting, and limiting options – using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a form of a common controlled vocabulary – it also has more advanced Digital Humanities tools which were developed together with the Yale DHLab.

Let them speak (LTS) is a digital anthology of testimonies from three different collections – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California (USC VA), and the Fortunoff archive. The anthology includes a search tool that employs corpus query language which allows for more sophisticated searches like Lemma searches. The goal is to demonstrate the value of these linguistics tools for exploring large numbers of audiovisual materials, as well as make a first attempt to bring collections of testimonies into the same digital space. The LTS tool is slated to go live by December 2020.

The Collection metadata dashboard is a visual representation of the collection descriptions, as it allows filtering by various parameters, such as date (birth year and recording year), birth place, subject, gender, language of testimony, and affiliate programs from which testimonies were received. One could access each testimony directly from the dashboard. A useful functionality is the ability to search for subject headings in the dashboard and limit the results further by additional parameters. For example, a search for the term “childbirth” would reveal five subject headings related to the term; clicking on “childbirth in concentration camps” would bring up 98 testimonies.

The Testimony citation database shows data on cited testimonies, publications that cited them, and the authors of those publications. Some authors’ names are linked to the author’s website, their page on the OCLC WorldCat Identities database, or their authority file on the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) database. Searching for Fred Alford, the scholar cited above, one would realize that he has made 60 citations to 26 testimonies in 5 publications. These testimonies and publications are linked from the results page.

The Fortunoff archive is open to any student or researcher either on site, or online through an ‘access site.’ Currently there are 84 access sites around the world in academic libraries, museums, and research centers. The University of Texas Libraries has joined the project as an access site in summer 2019. The archive is accessible to UT affiliates both on and off campus, as well as to non-UT walk-in visitors on campus. All users would need to create an account with Yale’s Aviary, the archive’s digital access system. Searching and browsing is done through that personal account. There is no cost involved. UT affiliates could also access their Aviary account, and the archive, through a proxy connection to UT and/or a VPN.

The UT Libraries holds 390 items (in print and online) that deal with personal narratives and testimonies of holocaust survivors. Most of these items are autobiographies or diaries, while others are audiovisual materials, research and analysis of personal narratives, and collections of individual testimonies. The Fortunoff database itself is also accessible through the library catalog.


[1] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), The Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, The British Library (London), and The University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation.

[2] https://fortunoff.library.yale.edu/about-us/our-story/

[3] https://gvpt.umd.edu/facultyprofile/alford/c-fred

[4] Alford, C. Why Holocaust Testimony is Important, and how Psychoanalytic Interpretation can Help…but only to a Point. Psychoanal Cult Soc 13, 221–239 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2008.16

[5] Ibid.


Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

I’m excited to share these diverse adaptations of classical literature in our library collection, especially since they hold a special significance for me as a Latina who completed her undergraduate work in Latin and History here at UT Austin.

The study and teaching of Greek and Roman Classical Civilization has largely been a white and male tradition. As there are increasing calls for diversity in academia, Classics has made some strides, but largely from students and early career scholars, raising the questions about just who is Classics ‘for’?

Red Figure Kantharos, a large drinking vessel. In the style of the Penelope painter, classical period, mid 5th century BCE. From Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope with art by Avery Lawrence.

A new online exhibit, “Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature” showcases items from the UT Libraries collection of original classical Greek literature in translation and contemporary adaptations created by a more diverse authorship than usually discussed. UT Libraries contain a depth of diverse adaptations but showcased here are works of authors from Latinx & Latin American, African & African Diaspora, Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities.

Variety of adaptation is also highlighted in the form of plays, novels, visual art and in a wide array of translations and scholarly approach. The collection and themes presented in this exhibit on diverse adaptations are intended to encourage those, especially people of color (POC) and LGBTQ+ folks, who may not have historically felt included in conversations related to classics or classical literature. For those already engaged in classics, they can see the evolution of translation studies and how classical antiquity draws parallels to the contemporary realities of diverse communities.

The Land of the Lotus Eaters, 1977, Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on fiberboard, 36 x 48 inches. From Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.

These adaptations are fantastic in their own right but also showcase the illuminating perspectives and unique takes on classical literature. Everyone loves a good Simpsons take on the Odyssey, but there is something novel about reading an adaptation of Medea that includes culturally familiar dialogue of English mixed with border Spanish. These types of perspectives elevate the original work.

Production poster from Arizona State University MainStage production of The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, directed by Dora Arreola, 2014.

In highlighting diverse publications, this exhibit also calls attention to the issue of diversity in the field of Classics itself. This showcase also challenges us to grapple with questions around structural issues such as the lack of retention of those from underrepresented backgrounds in the academy. It will take a combination of entities and systemic efforts to transform a field that historically does not include POC or LGBTQ+ scholarship. This exhibit asks us to redefine who Classics is ‘for’ by delving into how the ancient world has been received and recontextualized by diverse adaptations engaging with classical literature.  As such, it is but one effort to illustrate a fresh and more nuanced face of a field that is no longer just for an exclusive class, gender or color of people.

Collections Highlight: Bertolini’s “Florula guatimalensis”

Historical photo of Antonio Bertoloni
Antonio Bertoloni

Antonio Bertolini (1775-1869) was a Italian botanist and professor of botany at Bologna who wrote predominantly on Italian botany. He also collected notable samples of Central American flora.

Joaquin Velasco, a Mexican physician, came to Italy in 1836, as part of the Mexican papal delegation, and brought with him numerous dried plants and seeds from Guatemala which he presented to Bertolini. Most of them were new or rare species, and their description and classification was compiled and published by Bertolini as Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes. One of the 28 copies available at libraries worldwide resides in the Benson Latin American Collection.

print of poinsetta
“Euphorbia erytrophylla,” commonly known as flor de pascua or poinsettia pulcherrima, from Antonio Bertoloni, Florula guatimalensis sistens plantas nonnullas in Guatimala sponte nascentes (Bononiae [Bologna]: ex typographaeo Emygdii ab Ulmo, 1840), plate 6. Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries.

Several of the plants Velasco provided to Bertolini were successfully grown in the Bologna Botanical Gardens.

Exhibition: Cuban Comics in the digital Era

Based on exhibition text by Gilbert Borrego

The publishing industry of Cuba experienced a seismic shift in 1959 when Fidel Castro won a revolutionary war against dictator Fulgencio Batista. With this change, underground and subversive media creators of the Batista era became an important part of the new socialist culture. This helped to mobilize the masses in support of the new Castro government and against U.S. capitalistic ideology.

Fidel Castro understood that media and graphic art could guide ideology and could be used as an educational tool because he knew that it had already being used before in Cuba. Castro portrait, “Zunzún” no. 2, 1980. Benson Latin American Collection.

Cuban Comics in the Digital Era examines the art and history of Cuban comics after the successful 1959 revolution, highlighting the creators, characters, heroes, and anti-heroes of Cuba. It also touches on the triumphs and failures of the publishing industry and how Cuban artists today struggle to keep the genre alive.

Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight D. Eisenhower on the cover of “Zig-Zag,” no. 1079, August 1959. Benson Latin American Collection.

These materials are part of the Caridad Blanco Collection of Cuban Comic Books, acquired in 2018. Blanco, a Havana-based artist and curator, collected over 700 examples of stand-alone comics and newspaper supplements created between 1937 and 2018.

The Birth of Cuba’s Revolutionary Comics

Key to the process of planning a new nationalistic government was the cementing of a new socialistic cultural identity in the minds of the Cuban populace. Radio, television, and print media (including comics) helped to mobilize the masses.

A new world opened up for the creators of comics, who now had the singular purpose of supporting their new government while still appealing to their readers. In this early era, many of these readers were children, who continued to consume U.S.-created comic books and the ideals that went with them.

“Historietas de Elpidio Valdés,” Juan Padrón Blanco, 1985. Benson Latin American Collection.

Widespread suspicion held that beloved American comics were imperialistic indoctrination tools for Cuban children. In response, the new Cuban government began utilizing comics as a means to teach values that aligned with revolutionary doctrine.

Julio Mella was among Cuban figures lauded for heroism or espousing socialistic ideals. “[Revolucionarios],” “Mella Suplemento,” no. 60, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.

Cuban-created comics replaced American ones on the shelves. These works appealed to highly literate youth. Mixing adventure, comedy, and the ideological tenets of the new government, they portrayed revolution as necessary and exciting, especially for the country’s youth.

“Jóvenes Rebeldes,” “Mella,” no. 201, 1962. Benson Latin American Collection.

This exhibition was curated by Digital Repository Specialist Gilbert Borrego and is part of his fall 2019 Capstone Experience course in partial fulfillment of his MSIS, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to the physical exhibition, Borrego curated a richly illustrated online exhibition.

About the Curator

Gilbert Borrego is currently the Institutional Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks at UT Libraries. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from Stanford University and will soon complete his master’s in Information Studies at UT Austin. He is passionate about archives, libraries, museums, metadata, and history.


Cuban Comics in the Castro Era will be on view in the Benson Latin American Collection main reading room, December 6, 2019–March 1, 2020.

Read more about the Caridad Blanco Collection of Cuban Comics in LLILAS Benson Portal.

Chicana Feminist Scholar and Writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba to Read at Archive Exhibit

BY DANIEL ARBINO

White, heterosexual men have long dominated archival records. However, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has a new archival exhibition that indicates the times are changing.

The Benson Collection is pleased to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Thursday, May 2, at 4 p.m., with a visit from the author herself. During the presentation, Gaspar de Alba will read from her published creative writings as well as participate in a discussion with Mexican American and Latina/o Studies faculty member and community activist Lilia Rosas. Additionally, a selection of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers will be on view in an exhibition titled “This is about resistance”: The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Benson acquired these papers in fall of 2017 through a generous donation from the notable Chicana feminist scholar, professor, and author.

The exhibit highlights the intersections of Gaspar de Alba’s scholarly and creative endeavors. Early poetry, essays on identity as a queer Chicana feminist, journal entries, research notes for novels and scholarly work like Desert Blood (2005) and Making a Killing (2010), correspondence with UT Press, novel manuscripts, and photographs will all be on display for visitors.

Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, "Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House" (1998)
Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, “Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House” (1998)

Gaspar de Alba is a native of El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, but has lived for over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, where she is a founding faculty member and former chair of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is currently the Chair of the LGBT Studies Program and has affiliate status with the English Department. A celebrated writer and scholar, she has won various awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel (Desert Blood) and the American Association of Higher Education Book Award for [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (2015).

The acquisition of the Gaspar de Alba papers further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in U.S. Latina feminism and literature, which also include the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers, the Carmen Tafolla Papers, and the Estela Portillo Trambley Papers.

Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City
Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City

Attend The Event

View the event here: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/events/270

This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

About the Benson Latin American Collection

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.