LLILAS Benson mourns the passing of friend, scholar, and former colleague David Block III, on June 15, 2021. Block was head of the Benson Latin American Collection from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.
Born in San Diego, California, in 1945, Block grew up in Arkansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, igniting his lifelong interest in Latin America. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with historian Nettie Lee Benson. During his thirty-year career as a Latin American librarian, Block worked at Cornell University and at UT’s Benson Collection. He also served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). Read Block’s obituary.
Block was a sought-after expert on the Andean region and the author of the book Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon (1994), which won the Conference of Latin American History’s Howard Cline Memorial Prize and was included in Obras de la biblioteca del bicentenario de Bolivia. He also penned the introduction to A Library for the Americas (2018), a contributed volume that showcases the Benson’s history with essays and rich illustrations.
Upon his retirement from the Benson in 2014, Block spoke about his time at the Benson as “the high point of my 35-year career.” One of the most significant events during his tenure was the establishment of the LLILAS Benson partnership in 2011, in which Block played a key collaborative role. “David’s accomplishments during his relatively short time at the Benson are too many to list,” says Benson director Melissa Guy. “He was a master bibliographer and scholar, and traveled throughout Latin America to secure materials for the collection. Most significantly, he was instrumental in launching and nurturing the LLILAS Benson partnership, now in its tenth year, working alongside LLILAS Benson director Charlie Hale to find new ways to link the world-class collections of the Benson to the top-tier scholarship and teaching of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. That, in and of itself, is quite a legacy.”
Prior to his colleague’s retirement, Hale reflected on Block’s personal qualities: “David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”
The LLILAS Benson family extends our deepest condolences to David’s family. He left an indelible mark on many of us as both a scholar-librarian and a human being, and we are so grateful.
Honoring David Block
It is David’s family’s request that those wishing to honor him consider a donation to the Nettie Lee Benson Collection, Benson Centennial Endowment: bit.ly/Benson100. Check donations may be sent to TEXAS Development, PO Box 7458, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713. Please make check payable to: The University of Texas at Austin and specify in memo: UT Libraries – Benson Centennial Endowment.
Game-changing innovations that use artificial intelligence (AI) tools will improve access to Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives. “Unlocking the Colonial Archive: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Indigenous and Spanish American Historical Collections” is a collaborative project led by LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University, and Liverpool John Moores University. The project will transform “unreadable” digitized Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives into data that will be accessible to a broad spectrum of researchers and the public.
The project will be funded by a $150,000 collaborative grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as well as €250,000 (approx. US$304,000) from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the joint New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions program. Kelly McDonough, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Albert A. Palacios, digital scholarship coordinator at LLILAS Benson, will manage the project at UT Austin.
The Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin possesses one of the world’s foremost collections of colonial documents in Spanish and Indigenous languages of Latin America. Yet even when digitized, such documents are often neither searchable nor readable because of calligraphy, orthography, and the written language of the document itself. In tackling this problem, the collaborators propose to employ and develop interdisciplinary data science methods with three goals in mind: to expedite the transcription of documents using cutting-edge Handwritten Text Recognition technology; to automate the identification and linking of information through standardized vocabulary ontologies using Linked Open Data and Natural Language Processing techniques; and to facilitate the automated search and analysis of pictorial elements through Image Processing approaches.
The research will be based on three digital collections under the aegis of LLILAS Benson and one from the National Archive of Mexico. The LLILAS Benson collections are digitized Benson Collection colonial holdings, including the Relaciones Geográficas, 16th-century painted written and pictorial documents describing the geography and peoples of New Spain; the Royal Archive of Cholula at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla (Mexico), which was digitized through a Mellon-funded post-custodial grant; and the Primeros Libros de las Américas, a digitized collection of books published in the Americas before 1601.
McDonough and Palacios say that the project will further colonial Latin American studies not only at UT, but beyond, significantly facilitating the discoverability and interpretation of these materials. “While the work will begin with collections at the Benson and its Latin American partners, the technology developed will be accessible to libraries and archives worldwide, who can use it to automatically transcribe their digitized manuscripts,” Palacios said. In addition, “through the public workshops that are part of this project, we will train humanists on new innovative approaches that leverage the potential of machine learning to facilitate research,” McDonough added.
The geographical diversity among the project’s leadership and collaborators reenforce its global reach. The PIs are McDonough and Palacios of UT Austin, Patricia Murrieta-Flores of Lancaster University (UK), and Javier Pereda Campillo of Liverpool John Moores University (UK). Other collaborators hail from Germany, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Among the numerous participants from Mexico is Lidia García Gómez, history professor at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, who was involved with the digitization of the Royal Archive of Cholula.
For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson, The University of Texas at Austin
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce the publication of Portal magazine’s Benson Centennial edition, available online at llilasbensonmagazine.org.
In anticipation of the centennial of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection in 2021, this issue features articles by faculty, students, scholars, and staff that highlight a wide array of collections in areas as diverse as art history, feminist theory, Black diaspora, Indigenous studies, Mexican film, and more. A special selection of Staff Picks surveys items in the collection chosen and written about by staff in short feature pieces. Truly, this issue has something for everyone, including information on how to support the Benson Centennial Endowment.
Annotated contents of Portal‘s Benson Centennial issue follow below.
Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Decolonial Feminists Unite! Dorothy Schons and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz—Award-winning Chicana feminist author Alicia Gaspar de Alba explores the fascinating yet tragic story of UT scholar Dorothy Schons (1890–1961), whose groundbreaking research on the Mexican poet, intellectual, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was dismissed by her colleagues at the time.
Voices of Black Brazilian Feminism: Conversations with Rosana Paulino and Sueli Carneiro—Rosana Paulino is a visual artist and Black Brazilian feminist; Sueli Carneiro is an author and one of the foremost feminist intellectuals in Brazil. Both were keynote speakers at the February 2020 Lozano Long Conference on Black women’s intellectual contributions to the Americas. Interviewed here by UT faculty members Christen A. Smith (Anthropology, AADS, LLILAS, dir. of Center for Women’s and Gender Studies) and Lorraine Leu (LLILAS / Spanish & Portuguese).
Daniel Arbino, (Self)Love in the Time of COVID—Reflections from Benson head of special collections on themes of self-care and solitude in the Benson’s Latino zine collection.
David A. Bliss, Selections from the LADI Repository—Bliss, digital processing archivist at the Benson, highlights collections in the Latin American Digital Initiatives repository. These are vulnerable archival collections that are now available online due to Mellon grant–funded collaborations between LLILAS Benson and Latin American archival partners.
Albert A. Palacios, Student Activism in the Archives, 1969, 1970. Items from Texas and Uruguay are but two of the many examples of student activism in the Benson’s archives.
Dylan Joy, Ernesto Cardenal in Solentiname, 1970s, explores the spiritual artists’ community of Solentiname founded by the lateNicaraguan poet, priest, and politician Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), whose archive is at the Benson.
Zaria El-Fil, Black Freedom Struggle and the University, 1977, focused on the John L. Warfield Papers and written by fourth-year student Zaria El-Fil, the 2019–20 AKA Scholars Black Diaspora Archive intern.
Ryan Lynch, Manifesto ao povo nordestino, 1982, discusses a Brazilian political archive and showcases how political themes are discussed in cordel literature, cheap chapbooks popular in Brazil.
Susanna Sharpe, Camas para Sueños by Carmen Lomas Garza, 1985. The Benson is the repository for the archive of artist Carmen Lomas Garza, a native of Kingsville, Texas, whose highly popular and well-known artworks evoke many aspects of Chicano life and culture in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere.
It was the Summer of Zoom. Anyone whose job quickly morphed from being in-person to being entirely online can relate to (a) isolation, (b) feeling overwhelmed, (c) video-conference overload, or (d) some or all of the above. Yet the ability to engage with other people on platforms such as Zoom has allowed some important work to move forward. Such was the case with the recent workshop series conducted with archival partners in Latin America by the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team (LBDI).
The workshops were originally planned to occur in person during a week-long retreat in Antigua, Guatemala, with a group of Latin American partner archives. As an essential activity of the two-year Mellon Foundation grant titled Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archiving Community, the week would provide an opportunity for partners from Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and Brazil to come together for training, share resources and knowledge, exchange ideas, and discuss challenges they face in their work.
The Mellon grant, covering work between January 2020 and June 2022, provides funding to support post-custodial* archival work with five partner archives, some of whom are already represented in the Latin American Digital Initiatives repository, which emphasizes collections documenting human rights issues and underrepresented communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic demanded that the digital initiatives team quickly pivot in order to keep the project moving forward on the grant timeline. For the resulting workshop series, offered via Zoom, members of the LBDI team prepared extensive training videos, designed Q&A sessions, and arranged for sessions with guest experts. Topics included grant writing, budgeting, archival processing, metadata, equipment selection, digital preservation, and digital scholarship, among others.
Over the course of five weeks this past summer, workshop participants met twice a week with LBDI staff members Theresa Polk, David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Albert Palacios, and Karla Roig, as well as LLILAS Benson grants manager Megan Scarborough. All sessions were conducted in Spanish with closed-caption translations into Portuguese (or vice versa) provided by Susanna Sharpe, the LLILAS Benson communications coordinator. Additional presenters included Carla Alvarez, the U.S. Latinx archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection, and photo preservation experts Diana Díaz (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and María Estibaliz Guzmán (Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía, ENCRyM, Mexico).
Despite the physical distance, workshop participants clearly valued the opportunity to come together and learn from one another, especially during the pandemic, which has had such profound effects on daily life as well as work. The increased isolation, repression, and attacks against communities that have accompanied the pandemic also underscored for partners the urgency of preserving their communities’ documentation to support current struggles for recognition and respect of basic human rights, and to prevent future efforts to erase or deny ongoing violence and injustice. This shared commitment fostered a sense of solidarity and mutual support among participants.
“For our team, it was an enriching experience that allowed us to reflect, as part of a multinational group, on the achievements and expectations of the LLILAS Benson Mellon project,” reported Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (aka Santiago) of MUPI, who also remarked on the opportunity to get to know the work of partner archives, “and to learn of their challenges with conservation and diffusion of their respective collections.”
Carolina Rendón, one of two participants from ODHAG’s Centro de la Memoria Monseñor Juan Gerardi, expressed how the day-to-day burdens of the pandemic were lightened by the opportunity to meet with others: “It was very good to be in spaces with others who work in different archives across Latin America. The pandemic has been heavy. During the course of the workshops, we passed through several stages—lockdown, fear, horror at the deaths, . . . . I appreciate getting to know, even virtually, people who work in archives in other countries.”
For the LLILAS Benson team, the positive comments, and the general feeling of gratitude for the solidarity of online gatherings, offset the heavy lifting of preparing multiple training videos per week in Spanish, with texts quickly and expertly translated to Portuguese by collaborator Tereza Braga. In words of David A. Bliss, digital processing archivist, “The biggest challenge was distilling a huge amount of technical information down to its most important elements and communicating these as clearly as possible in Spanish.”
Bliss also alluded to the fact that the partners themselves are a diverse group with different backgrounds, needs, and types of archives: “Some of our partners have been running digitization programs for years, but for others the information was all new, so I worked hard to strike a balance between the two using visual aids and clear definitions for technical terms.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the workshop series was knowing that archivists and activists who work to preserve important records of memory in the area of human rights were able to come together, albeit virtually, to share their work and their perspectives with one another. As Bliss put it, “Ordinarily, we work individually with each partner organization to help them manage their digitization project, with the goal of gathering all of their collections together in LADI. But many of our partners don’t just hold collections of historical documents; they’re engaged in ongoing struggles for their communities. They’re far more equipped to help one another strategize and succeed in that work than we are, so giving them the space to form those direct connections with one another is really important. It’s also very validating for us, because it’s been one of our goals for years now: we want to be just one part of a network of partners, not at the center of it.”
* Post-custodial archiving is a process whereby sometimes vulnerable archives are preserved digitally and the digital versions made accessible worldwide, thus increasing access to the materials while ensuring they remain in the custody and care of their community of origin. LLILAS Benson is a pioneer in this practice.
Esse foi o Verão do Zoom nos Estados Unidos. Qualquer pessoa cujo emprego tenha passado de presencial para quase totalmente virtual nesse curto espaço de tempo já sabe como é (a) o isolamento, (b) a sensação constante de que não vai dar conta das coisas, (c) a overdose de videoconferências, ou (d) pelo menos uma das opções acima, senão todas ao mesmo tempo. Mesmo assim, a possibilidade de interagir com outras pessoas em plataformas tipo Zoom acabou nos permitindo avançar em certas áreas bem importantes. Esse foi o caso da recente série de oficinas conduzidas pela equipe de Iniciativas Digitais da LLILAS Benson (LBDI) com suas entidades arquivísticas parceiras na América Latina.
As oficinas foram originalmente concebidas para acontecer presencialmente durante um retiro de uma semana para todo o grupo de arquivos latino-americanos parceiros. O local escolhido foi Antigua, na Guatemala. Como atividade essencial da grant de dois anos da Fundação Mellon, intitulada Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archiving Community (Criação de uma Comunidade Arquivística Pós-Custodial Latino-Americana), a ideia era usar essa semana para criar uma oportunidade especial para essas entidades, cujas sedes são a Guatemala, El Salvador, Colômbia e Brasil. O retiro proporcionaria várias sessões de treinamento, intercâmbio de recursos e conhecimentos, troca de ideias e discussões sobre desafios que elas enfrentam em seus trabalhos.
A grant da Mellon é para o período de janeiro de 2020 a junho de 2022 e subsidia os trabalhos arquivísticos pós-custodiais* executados em parceria com cinco arquivos selecionados, alguns dos quais já se encontram representados no repositório da Latin American Digital Initiatives. Esse repositório enfatiza coleções que documentem temas de direitos humanos e comunidades subrepresentadas.
A pandemia do Covid-19 exigiu que a equipe de iniciativas digitais começasse a se articular e tomasse decisões rápidas para manter o ritmo do projeto no âmbito do cronograma da grant. O resultado foi essa série de oficinas oferecidas via Zoom, que exigiu dos membros da equipe LBDI a produção de vídeos completos de treinamento, concepção de sessões Q&A e agendamento de sessões com especialistas convidados. Os tópicos eram a montagem e redação de grants, preparo de orçamentos, processamento arquivístico, metadados, seleção de equipamentos, preservação digital e formação em tecnologia digital, entre outros.
Durante cinco semanas desse último verão americano, os participantes da oficina se reuniram duas vezes com Theresa Polk, David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Albert Palacios e Karla Roig, todos membros da equipe da LBDI, com a presença adicional de Megan Scarborough, administradora de grants da LLILAS Benson. Todas as sessões foram conduzidas em espanhol com tradução legendada para o português (ou vice-versa) a cargo de Susanna Sharpe, coordenadora de comunicações da LLILAS Benson. Outros apresentadores foram Carla Alvarez, arquivista U.S. Latinx da Benson Latin American Collection, e duas especialistas em preservação de fotografias, Diana Díaz (Metropolitan Museum of Art) e María Estibaliz Guzmán (Escola Nacional de Conservação, Restauração e Museografia, ou ENCRyM, no México).
Apesar da distância física, ficou claro o alto valor atribuído pelos participantes a essa oportunidade de se reunir e aprender uns com os outros, especialmente durante uma pandemia que tem tido efeitos tão profundos na vida de tantos e no trabalho diário de todos nós. A pandemia ainda veio acompanhada de um forte isolamento, de ações de repressão e de crescentes ataques a certas comunidades. Esses fatores enfatizaram mais ainda, para as entidades parceiras, a urgência de preservar as documentações de suas comunidades não só para apoiar as lutas atuais por reconhecimento e respeito a direitos humanos básicos mas, também, para impedir iniciativas futuras que visem eliminar a memória ou negar a existência de violências e injustiças que sabemos vêm sendo cometidas. Esse compromisso compartilhado trouxe um grande senso de solidariedade para os participantes e um desejo de apoio mútuo.
“Para o nosso time, foi uma experiência enriquecedora que nos permitiu refletir, como parte de um grupo multinacional, sobre as conquistas e expectativas do projeto LLILAS Benson Mellon”, relatou Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (conhecido como “Santiago”), do MUPI, que também ressaltou como positiva a oportunidade de conhecer de perto o trabalho dos arquivos parceiros “e entender os desafios que eles enfrentam com a conservação e difusão de suas respectivas coleções”.
Carolina Rendón, um dos dois participantes do Centro de la Memoria Monseñor Juan Gerardi, do ODHAG, disse que os fardos diários da pandemia ficaram mais leves com a oportunidade de interagir com outras pessoas: “Foi muito bom estar no mesmo espaço, junto com gente que trabalha em diferentes arquivos espalhados pela América Latina. A pandemia tem sido muito dura. Durante as oficinas nós passamos por vários estágios, primeiro o lockdown, depois o medo, depois o horror diante de tantas mortes… Eu valorizo muito esse travar conhecimento, mesmo que virtualmente, com gente que trabalha em arquivos de outros países”.
Para a equipe da LLILAS Benson, os comentários positivos e a sensação geral de gratidão pela solidariedade dos encontros online foram uma compensação pelo trabalho árduo que foi preparar os diversos vídeos semanais de treinamento em espanhol, cujos roteiros iam sendo rapidamente traduzidos para o português pela nossa expert colaboradora Tereza Braga. Nas palavras de David A. Bliss, arquivista de processamento digital, “o maior desafio foi destilar uma quantidade gigantesca de dados técnicos para obter apenas os elementos mais importantes e comunicar esses elementos da maneira mais clara possível em espanhol”.
David aludiu ainda ao fato de que as próprias entidades parceiras são um grupo bem diversificado, com formações, necessidades, e tipos de arquivos diferentes. “Algumas das nossas parceiras já rodam programas de digitalização há anos mas, para outras, as informações eram todas novas, então eu me dediquei muito para poder chegar a um equilíbrio entre os dois lados, usando recursos visuais e definições bem claras para os termos técnicos”, ele declarou.
Um dos aspectos mais gratificantes da série foi constatar que é possível reunir profissionais arquivísticos e líderes ativistas, todos trabalhando para preservar registros importantes de memória no campo dos direitos humanos, em um só espaço, mesmo sendo um espaço virtual, para compartilhar seu trabalho e suas perspectivas e se enriquecerem mutuamente. David explicou isso dizendo que “o normal é trabalharmos individualmente com cada organização parceira para auxiliá-la a administrar seu projeto de digitalização, com a meta de capturar todas as coleções daquela entidade e reuní-las no LADI para incentivar usuários a estabelecer conexões entre elas. Mas muitas das nossas parceiras não se restringem à guarda de coleções de documentos históricos; elas estão engajadas em tempo real na luta em prol de suas comunidades. Elas são, portanto, muito melhor equipadas para ajudar uma à outra a traçar estratégias e conseguir êxito nesse trabalho do que nós. Sendo assim, dar a elas o espaço para formar essas conexões diretas umas com as outras é realmente importante. E isso é muito validador para nós também, porque essa tem sido uma das nossas metas há anos já: queremos ser apenas um elo de uma rede de parceiras; não queremos estar no centro da rede”.
* Arquivística pós-custodial é um processo utilizado para preservar digitalmente certos arquivos, muitos deles vulneráveis, e disponibilizar essas versões digitais para o mundo inteiro aumentando, assim, o acesso aos conteúdos e assegurando, ao mesmo tempo, que eles permaneçam sob a guarda e os cuidados de suas comunidades de origem. A LLILAS Benson é uma pioneira desta prática.
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is delighted to announce the launch of a free online course called Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections, available at https://archivingforthefuture.teachable.com/. The course material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-1653380 (Susan S. Kung and Anthony C. Woodbury, PIs; September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2020). The course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
The course is a resource to aid people of all backgrounds in organizing born-digital and digitized language materials and data for deposit into any digital repository (not just AILLA) for long-term preservation and accessibility. The target audience for this course is anyone who is engaged in creating materials in or about Indigenous, endangered, under-documented, or minority languages as part of language documentation efforts, including language rights, maintenance, and revitalization. It was designed particularly for individuals or groups made up of academic researchers and/or Indigenous or endangered language speakers and community members, though anyone may benefit from it.
The curriculum follows simple steps to guide participants through three phases of work to organize language documentation materials for archiving, and it explains in detail what to do before, during, and after data collection to facilitate the long-term preservation of the data. The course is designed to be informative, engaging, and accessible to anyone, especially to those with no previous experience archiving collections of language materials.
This course was developed by four members of the AILLA staff: Susan Kung, AILLA Manager and grant co-PI; Ryan Sullivant, AILLA Language Data Curator; Alicia Niwabaga, Graduate Research Assistant 2017–2018; and Elena Pojman, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019–2020. Sullivant and Kung interviewed representatives of various DELAMAN (delaman.org) archives and other digital data repositories in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and Cameroon. Niwagaba collaborated with Kung and Sullivant to develop an early version of the course that the AILLA team taught live at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang 2018) at the University of Florida in Gainesville during June 18–22, 2018. Niwagaba created the educational animated videos that are embedded in the course to illustrate key aspects of the curriculum. Pojman researched curriculum platforms in which to build the online course. Teachable was selected for a variety of reasons, including its simple yet attractive aesthetic that displays all course modules in the left side bar (see illustration below); its ease of use and progress tracking for enrolled students; its responsiveness to different technology; and the built-in ability to quickly and easily set up the same course in multiple languages. This last feature is especially important since AILLA staff plan to translate the curriculum into Spanish and Portuguese to make it more accessible to AILLA’s Latin American audience. Once the curriculum software was selected, Kung and Sullivant expanded the original 2018 workshop curriculum and wrote the additional content. Pojman wrote the objectives and activities for each step, built the English course in Teachable, and created all of the graphics that are used in the curriculum.
In funding and academic environments where it is becoming increasingly common for researchers to be responsible for archiving their own research data, the AILLA staff saw a need to train language researchers to do this work so that the resulting language collections would be well organized, well described, easy to navigate, and available to reuse for further research and education. While there are some language documentation programs in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand that train language documenters to do these tasks, most do not, and almost no training on how to archive language documentation is available in Latin America. The AILLA team created this course to fill these gaps.
The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is pleased to announce the opening of the Baniwa of the Aiary and Içana Collection of Robin M. Wright. The materials in this collection cover research Wright conducted from 1976 to the present among the Baniwa, a northern Arawak–speaking people who live both in villages in the Northwest Amazon and in urban contexts. The digitization was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
During his career as an academic researcher and activist in Brazil and the United States, Wright has focused on the history of the Baniwa people and their religious practices, including shamanism, prophet movements, and evangelization within the region, publishing several books on these subjects.
The collection is multimedia, consisting of over 81 hours of audio, 16 hours of video, and 2,300 scanned pages, and includes a large amount of analog material that has been digitized and made accessible to indigenous communities and researchers. “The Baniwa have anxiously waited for this material to become available, and it certainly has acquired even more importance given the Baniwa cultural ‘revitalization’ that has been taking place over the last few decades,” said Wright.
According to the collection guide, the materials in the collection correspond to two major periods. “The first corresponds to Wright’s field trips to Baniwa communities during 1976 and 1977. The second is a longer span covering the period from 1990 to 2010, when Wright was working on projects including the creation of the Waferinaipe Ianheke collection of Baniwa myths, collaborative research projects on traditional Baniwa knowledge surrounding diseases and their treatments, and collaborative projects with shamanic knowledge and sacred sites.”
Bringing the Collection to AILLA
AILLA manager Susan Kung initially met with Wright at his University of Florida office in June 2018 to discuss the process of organizing, digitizing, and archiving his collection. Kung says “we discussed the potentially sensitive nature of his materials and what was appropriate for AILLA’s different access levels, as well as the types of metadata that we would need for the final arrangement.”
In June 2019, AILLA Language Data Curator Ryan Sullivant traveled to Gainesville, FL, with Linguistics Professor Patience Epps, a specialist in Amazonian indigenous languages and co-PI on the grant, to review Wright’s materials, work on describing them, and determine what to include in AILLA’s digital collection. Also discussed were “how to arrange the materials, and how to handle materials that are worth preserving and distributing through AILLA, but whose access must be controlled,” Sullivant said. “This last part is important because one of the main themes of Wright’s work, and the collection, are Baniwa healers’ stories and blessings, which are sacred knowledge and should not be accessed by just anyone.” In the end, only some of the contents were restricted and most of the material was made public.
Digitization Services at the Perry-Castañeda Library digitized microcassettes and AILLA staff digitized standard-sized audio cassettes, scanned thousands of manuscript pages, and handled many already digitized and born-digital files. Sullivant worked closely, albeit remotely, with Wright during the arrangement and description of the materials, and wrote the collection guide, which he translated into Spanish and Portuguese. This is the first AILLA collection to have a Portuguese collection guide.
Robin Wright is director of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Florida, where he is also affiliated faculty in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. The curation of this collection was made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is part of an NEH-funded project to bring together and preserve a number of important Indigenous language collections from South America.
More than 60 thousand scanned images from seven archival collections throughout Latin America are now available online in the updated Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) repository (ladi.lib.utexas.edu). The site was developed over the course of two years by the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team and University of Texas Libraries software developers, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A previous version of the site, featuring four archival collections, launched in 2015.
The digitized images in the LADI repository were created by archive-holding organizations in Latin America in partnership with LLILAS Benson. Partnering organizations produced high-quality scans and detailed metadata about their collections, while LLILAS Benson staff offered equipment, on-site training, and technical consultation under a post-custodial archival framework. The online repository is intended for use by researchers, teachers, and activists, as well as the communities to which the materials belong. The site can be navigated in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The collections found in LADI span the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries, and were created by project staff at the following partnering organizations: Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla (Mexico), BICU-CIDCA (Nicaragua), Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA, Guatemala), Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (EAACONE, Brazil), Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, El Salvador), and Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, Colombia). The variety of materials found in these collections reflects the ethnic and social diversity of Latin America. At the same time, the collections speak to common struggles that reach across temporal and geographic boundaries. The particular thematic strengths of the collections in the repository include Afro-Latinx and Indigenous rights, environmental justice, and Cold War–era internal armed conflicts. The collections are:
Archivo de Inforpress Centroamericana (CIRMA, Guatemala)
Colección Conflicto Armado. Afiches. (MUPI, El Salvador)
Colección Conflicto Armado. Publicaciones. (MUPI, El Salvador)
Colección Digital del Periódico “La Información” (BICU-CIDCA, Nicaragua)
Colección Digital Fondo Real de Cholula (Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla, Mexico)
Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia (PCN, Colombia)
Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR (EAACONE, Brazil)
About the Site Update
The new version of the site was built from the ground up using an open-source technology stack consisting of Fedora 5, Islandora 8, and Drupal 8, based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF) for linked data. The updated repository infrastructure greatly improves the site’s multilingual capabilities and provides more connections between objects to improve cross-searching and discoverability. The site was developed using a combination of standard Islandora features and custom code, which was contributed back to the Islandora community.
The core project team consisted of David Bliss, Itza Carbajal, Minnie Rangel, Brandon Stennett, and Theresa Polk. The LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives team would also like to acknowledge the contributions of the many others who supported this project, including the project staff and leadership at each partner organization; scholar liaisons Dr. Anthony Dest, Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Dr. Kelly McDonough, and Dr. Edward Shore; translators Tereza Braga, Jennifer Isasi, Joshua Ortiz Baco, and Albert Palacios; UT Libraries IT services; the UT Libraries Digital Stewardship team; LLILAS Benson Grants Manager Megan Scarborough; the UT Libraries and LLILAS Benson leadership teams; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Islandora development community; and the graduate research assistants who contributed to the project—Alejandra Martinez, Joshua Ortiz Baco and Elizabeth Peattie.
David A. Bliss is the digital processing archivist for LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.
Despite his spare frame and quiet demeanor, Greg Lipscomb isn’t a wallflower, especially regarding his thoughts on the subject of libraries.
“The library is just in my veins,” he says. “I cannot imagine living in a society or a culture that doesn’t have a library.”
Lipscomb is the incoming chair of the UT Libraries’ Advisory Council and has just committed to a large planned gift for the Libraries, so I’m sitting with him to find out why.
He begins by recounting the period during his study at UT in the early 1960s when a confluence of history and wanderlust compelled him in a direction that would ultimately lead him on a fifty-year journey away from Austin, on an odyssey of professional work and travel that would brush against events of notable historical significance.
“It was at the end of 1961 – the end of my sophomore year – I was over in one of the massive reading rooms in the Tower with the beams above and the wide tables and so forth, and at the end of finals, I stood up and I went out and took on the world as best I could see it in my own interpretation,” says Lipscomb, “and I was gone from that sort of setting for 50 years.”
Lipscomb expresses that he wasn’t walking away from his college career or academic endeavor forever – he went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from UT – but the draw of civic responsibility was too compelling to ignore. This was the time of John Kennedy’s clarion call to public service, and the cacophony of protest was growing audibly across the campus.
“You have to realize that in the 60s, you could literally be in class — many times we had the windows open because there wasn’t air conditioning — and you could hear civil rights demonstrations out on Guadalupe,” he says. “And there was this pull. John Kennedy was in office and he was making politics elegant again for the first time since Roosevelt. And the notion of public service was big.”
The urge to be part of something larger than himself became too strong to dodge, and led him down a five-decade path which presented the opportunities that ultimately formed him as a person.
“I felt the need to play a concrete role in the changes that were happening, so I got involved in student politics,” he recounts. “I got involved in civil rights. I went off to the army because of Vietnam. I went around the world. I went to California and worked for Jerry Brown. Went to Washington and worked for the Democrats there. Went to Harvard for the Kennedy School,”
Lipscomb became an active leader in the student civil rights protests at UT, was elected student body president in 1964, and used his standing to make the final push to get the regents to integrate the dorms on campus. He and a carload of his journalism colleagues from The Daily Texan drove 800 miles to document the fateful march at Selma, Alabama. As a member of ROTC, Lipscomb landed in an intelligence unit at the Pentagon during the war in Vietnam. After hitchhiking around the world with his wife, he worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, which propelled him into California politics, including a position in Governor Jerry Brown’s administration. He later returned to D.C. as a speechwriter for the first African American chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Any pairing of these life events might be enough to mention; that they’re woven into a single period of a single life is remarkable.
Amid his extended interlude in the Beltway at the FCC, Lipscomb began to seek distraction through some of the intellectual rigor that he left behind in college. He surveyed his environs and eventually wound up bumping around the library at George Washington University (GWU). After being given broad access to resources there, he felt an obligation to do what he could to return the favor, and approached the library’s development office to make a donation. Library administrators thought that as someone with no significant ties to GWU, Lipscomb might provide a valuable perspective as chair of their advisory board. His acceptance of that role enjoined him to a cause in libraries.
“Several years later, I decided retirement was timely. I was burned out on Washington. It had changed in temperament.”
The experience at GWU also elicited a change in him. Lipscomb summoned the earlier version of himself, making a conscious attempt to return to the point in time when he walked out of the library back in 1961 to take on the world. He wanted to find a place to settle where he would have ready access to the knowledge resources of a library, and began to consider all the familiar places from his past.
“And then, in 2014, I came back to Austin and I sat down at the same place and picked right up where I left off. What I was reading, what I was writing,” he says. “It’s like T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – ‘in my beginning is my end,’” says Lipscomb.
Lipscomb personifies this internalized value as “The Eternal Sophomore.” “That’s the kind of mindset I say with affection. You’re on the precipice, but your mind is still fresh, your attitude is fresh. And I saw the library reading room as a sort of cathedral, a sacred space. That’s sort of where I came back and picked up.”
“Coming back was a huge decision, and I came back humbled – and a little appalled at my arrogance sometimes along the way. Also proud of certain things and people I worked with, and causes I worked on. But I was ready to keep learning as a sophomore.”
And some undergraduates on campus might recognize him as a fixture in their world, or, perhaps, as a fellow traveler. Lipscomb’s loyalty to self-improvement through learning means he spends a significant chunk of his time on campus, much of it on the upper floors of the Perry-Castañeda Library.
“Within the closures of this building – if I had food and medicine – I could be here indefinitely,” he says. “Right now I spend about 20 hours a week – it’s a part-time job. I got up to that writing some personal stuff and just catching up on all the reading I never got to, the great reading.”
Lipscomb continued to feel a responsibility to the Libraries when he returned to Austin, wanting to carry through on the advocacy role he’d taken on at George Washington. He expressed interest to administrators at the UT Libraries, and was invited to join the council in 2014 where he has been a consistent participant not only at regular meetings, but as a vocal proponent and supporter both on campus and beyond.
Still, Lipscomb’s primary drive is in discovery and personal growth. That lengthy period of working on behalf of others has earned him the opportunity to focus on his interests, and he’s taking full advantage of it.
“The library to me is a great conversation,” he says. “I think of it in terms of books – but these books, they talk back and forth. And you can tell the mentor and the mentee — like in a translation of The Iliad or something — one passes on to the other. It’s the DNA of ideas. You can start out with just a germ of a phrase and watch it blossom into something right there.”
But even the bibliophile in Lipscomb recognizes the value of a diverse array of resources. He’s spoken extensively with library professionals about the transition to digital resources and the advantage it gives to preservation, and he’s been in active attendance at all of the public discussions in the last year related to a task force on the future of UT Libraries, where the conversation about the value of books and the impact of technology has real currency.
He especially appreciates the benefits that technology brings to research, particularly in making discovery significantly more efficient: “You can do it digitally. That’s a different training that I’m having to come up to, but I respect it. It’s easy to say, ‘Everybody’s just channel-surfing through nothing more than a paragraph or two.’ It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. But, also, you can search, you can go backwards and forwards. Software is beginning to mimic the brain, or learning as we know it.”
Whatever the challenges that have arisen since he was an undergraduate at UT, Lipscomb feels his experience all pointed him back to this place.
“I didn’t realize back in 1961 how much had been passed on to us in terms of the resources and the staff, the wonderful reading rooms – I didn’t realize until later,” says Lipscomb. “That’s when it occurred to me that I owed something.”
“The library function, role, the sanctuary, the passing on from one culture to another – it’s an optimistic enterprise,” he continues. “It says, ‘We have here your past, which is valuable, and you have to carry it forward.’ That’s what we do in the libraries. You owe current and future generations the gratitude that you received.”
“There is almost a Buddhist sense of circularity…returning to where you started. You come back and pay respects to the master that formed you. The mentor, the habits, the patterns, the depth of thinking.”
When it comes to acquiring research materials at the tier-1 research level, not everything can be delivered to your front door. There are no routes librarians can explore online to purchase materials because countries do not have the same framework as the US. And even if a librarian discovers a method for shipping, in reality, often it is cheaper for librarians to pack collections with them on airplanes.
To maintain UT’s subject expertise and to help build and steward effective networks abroad, librarians need to go overseas to make negotiations — face-to-face — for one-of-a-kind purchases that distinguish and develop UT’s collections.
Along with acquiring materials, even more important, it is the responsibility of the librarian to set in motion international relationships, and nurture them, and create mutual education with our partners abroad on behalf of the Forty Acres.
The University of Texas at Austin is unique. We are the only university in Texas where librarians travel and function like ambassadors. As a result, our collections serve all researchers in Texas and many of our collection items serve as the only copy for the US. Library projects in South & Central America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East keeps the Forty Acres active in the global community.
This spring, the University of Texas Libraries will embark on a crowdfunding campaign to ensure that $20,000 is raised by April 19 so librarians may make acquisition trips in 2020.
For 134 years, the University of Texas Libraries have committed to building one of the greatest library collections in the world. New knowledge emerges only if we continue to expand the universe of information we make available to the Forty Acres, Texas and the world.
Will you help us build and keep our bridges with the international community intact?