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.
The French Revolution Pamphlets Digital Initiative, based at the Newberry Library in Chicago, is a large-scale digitization initiative that makes digital copies of over 38,000 documents, mostly pamphlets, accessible online. The documents, which primarily consist of material published between 1780 and 1810, encompass 850,000 pages of text, and the dataset produced by the project, containing OCR and metadata files, is roughly 11 gigabytes. This collection of French Revolutionary materials is among the most comprehensive in the world, and enriches the study not only of French and European history, but casts light on broader concepts of revolution and social transformation relevant to a global audience. The materials are of interest to numerous fields of study, including legal, social, and cultural history and the history of printing and publication.
collection gathers materials from a number of the Newberry’s collections,
including the French Revolution Collection, the Louis XVI Trial and Execution
Collection, and several smaller groups of French Revolution era material. The
materials chronicle the political, social and religious dimensions of the
Revolution’s history, and include works by a diverse set of authors, including
Robespierre, Marat, and Louis XIV. The texts include arguments both in support
of and opposing the monarchy between 1789 and 1799, and serve as a firsthand
chronicle of the First Republic. The collection includes complete runs of
well-known journals, many rare and unknown publications, and about 3,000 French
political pamphlets published between 1560 to 1653 that document a period of
religious wars and the establishment of the absolute monarchy.
main interface for the project was built in Scalar, a free and open source web authoring platform from the The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at USC. The Scalar site links to the
digital copies of the pamphlets, hosted on archive.org, as well as translations of select
pamphlets. The sites also includes a number of other valuable resources,
including data downloads, digital pedagogy materials, and pages designed for
librarians interested in working with the digital collection.
help support scholarship using the collection, the Newberry has funded an open
data grant to support researchers working with the project’s large data set.
The recipients of the
Joseph Harder and Mimi Zhou, are conducting a sentiment analysis of the French
Revolution materials, assigning numerical values to word-use in order to code
for positive and negative tone across the data. By applying sentiment analysis
to both the popular press and propaganda, Harder and Zhou hope to find trends
in public opinion throughout the French Revolution, and to see how those trends
shaped the revolution’s political outcomes.
The project serves as
an important contribution to digital scholarship in European Studies. The sheer
volume of the project’s digitized materials alone is impressive, but the
variety of the resources it encompasses makes it particularly distinctive. Its
venture into funding research using an open data grant—and the fact that its
data set is openly available to anyone who wants to download it—is especially
exciting, and I look forward to seeing the scholarship that results from making
these materials freely accessible online. For those interested in exploring
French Revolutionary materials in the UT Austin Libraries, I recommend looking
through our extensive
holdings on the subject, including our collection
of pamphlets, both in
print and on microfilm.
Aviso:La colección FromThePage de la Benson estará abierta para la transcripción y traducción colaborativa hasta el domingo 3 de noviembrede 2019. Consulte la lista de documentos y el guía para ver cómo puede ayudar.
El 21 de septiembre de 2019, LLILAS Benson y el Museo de Jazz de Nueva Orleans se unieron para hacer sus colecciones coloniales un poco más accesibles. Las dos instituciones coordinaron un evento conjunto de transcripción que convocó a miembros de la comunidad en persona en el Centro de História de Louisiana, y de forma remota a través de la página de Facebook de la Benson. Colaborativamente, los participantes transcribieron manuscritos españoles y franceses originales de 1559 a 1817, con el objetivo de hacer que estos documentos sean más útiles para profesores, estudiantes, investigadores e historiadores de genealogía.
FromThePage, una herramienta para la transcripción, traducción e indexación, permitió la colaboración a larga distancia. Durante un período de tres horas, los participantes hojearon la lista de manuscritos en ambos archivos y trabajaron juntos para descifrarlos y transcribirlos en la plataforma digital. Al punto intermedio del evento, el personal del Museo de Jazz nos mostró unos casos coloniales únicos en su archivo, transmitiendo en vivo a través de su página de Facebook, incluyendo una declaración de emancipación montada en tela dada a un hombre jamaicano llamado Santiago Bennet. Siguiendo su ejemplo, el personal de Estudios Digitales de LLILAS Benson (LBDS) compartió a través de la página del evento en Facebook algunos materiales notables de la Benson, incluyendo la colección digital de Relaciones Geográficas de Nueva España.
Al transformar las palabras de los notarios coloniales en formato digital, los estudiantes, investigadores y miembros de la comunidad estaban avanzando una larga iniciativa digital del Museo de Jazz y del Centro de História de Louisiana. A principios de la década de 2010, el Museo y el Centro, junto con muchos otros colaboradores de la comunidad, lograron la increíble hazaña de digitalizar unas 220,000 páginas de registros notariales de Louisiana colonial para crear una colección digital, www.lacolonialdocs.org. Jennifer Long, Michelle Brenner y Jenny Marie Forsythe, administradoras del proyecto “Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana,” seleccionaron de este rico recurso para crear la colección FromThePage del museo, revelando detalles sobre la esclavitud, auto-liberación y rebelión, parentescos, redadas piratas, medicina colonial, fiestas de juego, disputas de herencia, conflictos matrimoniales y mucho más.
Para el evento conjunto, el personal de LBDS creó en FromThePage una colección de documentos escritos por, o sobre, las poblaciones indígenas en México desde los siglos XVI al XVIII en celebración del Año Internacional de las Lenguas Indígenas. El equipo tuvo bastante de dónde seleccionar: la Benson conserva numerosos archivos importantes que documentan la política, religión y cultura durante el período colonial español, incluyendo varios de los primeros libros publicados en las Américas (1544–1600) y los votos de profesión de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1669–1695), por nombrar algunos. Durante el fin de semana, un pequeño pero dedicado grupo de personas contestó la llamada de LLILAS Benson y se unió en línea. Colaboradores de ambas costas de los Estados Unidos y tan al sur como Perú colectivamente ofrecieron más de veinte horas de su tiempo para transcribir catorce documentos en la Benson.
El fin de semana del 18–19 de octubre, el Centro de Recursos de Idiomas (LRC) de la Universidad de Michigan ofreció algunas de estas transcripciones en su “Translate-a-thon,” un evento comunitario en donde fuentes primarias son traducidas para el beneficio de la comunidad local, nacional e internacional. Algunos voluntarios, uno de los cuales se enfoca en México de la época colonial, estaban encantados de ver documentos de la Benson y abordaron su traducción. Entre ellos estaba el decreto ilustrado, visto arriba, que ordenaba al repartidor de Tepozotlán asignar a seis indígenas para trabajar para los jesuitas, subrayando la importancia de la labor indígena en la construcción figurativa y literal del imperio español, y la propagación de la Iglesia Católica. Dado el éxito y el interés de la facultad de Michigan en este esfuerzo conjunto, el LRC y LBDS piensan continuar su colaboración para ampliar la accesibilidad y el uso de las fuentes primarias coloniales en la Benson.
El siguiente paso para la Oficina LBDS será de incorporar estas fuentes primarias transcritas y traducidas en clases de nivel preparatoria en el Estado de Texas y de licenciatura en la Universidad de Texas en Austin (UT). A principios de este año, LLILAS Benson estableció una iniciativa patrocinada por el gobierno federal con el Departamento de Currículo e Instrucción en el Colegio de Educación para diseñar lecciones de nivel secundaria en historia y geografía basadas en las ricas colecciones de la Benson. Agregando a estos esfuerzos pedagógicos, LBDS traducirá, dará contexto y promoverá el uso de estas fuentes coloniales en clases universitarias y proyectos digitales en UT y más allá.
Para aquellos que no pudieron participar en el evento, ¡aún pueden unirse al esfuerzo! La colección FromThePage de la Benson estará abierta para la transcripción y traducción colaborativa hasta el domingo 3 de noviembre. Consulte la lista de documentos y el guía para ver cómo puede ayudar.
Greg Lambousy (Director)
Jennifer Long (Administradora de Digitalización)
Bryanne Schexnayder (Técnica de Digitalización)
Michelle Brenner (Administradora de la Sala de Lectura, Museo de Jazz de Nueva Orleans y Centro de Historia de Louisiana)
Jenny Marie Forsythe (Co-Administradora del Proyecto “Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana”)
Handy Acosta Cuellar (Doctorando, Universidad Tulane; Instructor de Español, Universidad Estatal de Louisiana)
Raúl Alencar (Estudiante de Posgrado, Universidad Tulane)
Haga clic aquí para obtener más información sobre los colaboradores del proyecto Transcribathon de Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana.
Julie C. Evershed (Centro de Recursos de Idiomas, Directora)
Traductores de documentos: Zhehao Tong, Marlon James Sales, y Olivia Alge
Albert A. Palacios (Coordinador de Estudios Digitales)
Joshua Ortiz Baco (Asistente Graduado de Investigación de Estudios Digitales)
Transcriptores en FromThePage (nombres de usuario): guillaume candela, Ken, Betty Cruz L, Matt H., Carolina Casusol, and Handy1985
Albert A. Palacios es Coordinador de Estudios Digitales de LLILAS Benson Colecciones y Estudios Latinoamericanos, La Universidad de Texas en Austin. Jenny Marie Forsythe es co-gerente del proyecto Documentos Coloniales de Louisiana Transcribathon. Julie C. Evershed es la directora del Centro de Recursos de Lenguaje, Universidad de Michigan.
Note: The Benson’s FromThePage collection will be open for collaborative transcription and translation until Sunday, November 3,2019. Check out the documents list and guide to see how you can help in translation and transcription of colonial documents.
On September 21, 2019, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the New Orleans Jazz Museum joined forces to make their colonial collections a bit more accessible. The two institutions led a joint transcribe-a-thon that convened community members in person at the Louisiana Historical Center, and remotely through the Benson Latin American Collection’s Facebook page. Together, participants transcribed handwritten Spanish and French documents from 1559 to 1817, with the goal of making these records more useful to teachers, students, researchers, and family historians.
FromThePage, a transcription, translation, and indexing tool, enabled the long-distance collaboration. During a three-hour window, participants browsed the compiled list of manuscripts at both archives and worked together to decipher and transcribe them in the digital scholarship platform. At the halfway point, New Orleans Jazz Museum staff gave us a glimpse of unique colonial cases in their archive, including a declaration of freedom mounted on cloth for a Jamaican man named Santiago Bennet, and broadcast it live through their Facebook page. Following their lead, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff shared through their Facebook event page some of the Benson’s notable holdings, including its digital collection of geographical descriptions and paintings, or Relaciones Geográficas, of New Spain.
As students, researchers, and community members retraced and rewrote the words of colonial notaries, they were also furthering a long-standing digital initiative of the New Orleans Jazz Museum and Louisiana Historical Center. In the early 2010s, the Museum and Center, along with many other community partners and advocates, accomplished the incredible feat of digitizing some 220,000 pages of notarial records from colonial Louisiana to create a digital collection, www.lacolonialdocs.org. Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Managers Jennifer Long, Michelle Brenner, and Jenny Marie Forsythe culled from this rich resource to create the Museum’s FromThePage collection, which reveals details about enslavement, self-liberation and rebellion, kinship connections, pirate raids, colonial medicine, gambling parties, disputed inheritances, marital strife, and much more.
For the joint event, LBDS staff curated a FromThePage collection of documents written by or about indigenous populations in Mexico from the 16th to the 18th centuries in celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The team had their work cut out for them: the Benson Latin American Collection preserves numerous significant holdings documenting politics, religion, and culture during the Spanish colonial period, including some of the earliest books published in the Americas (1544–1600) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s vows of profession (1669–1695), to name a few. Throughout the weekend, a small but dedicated group of individuals answered LLILAS Benson’s call and joined online. Collaborators from both coasts of the United States and as far south as Peru collectively volunteered over twenty hours of their time and fully transcribed fourteen documents from the Benson.
During the weekend of October 19–20, the University of Michigan’s Language Resource Center (LRC) offered some of these transcriptions in their Translate-a-thon, a community-driven event aimed at translating materials for the benefit of the local, national, and international community. A few volunteers—one of whom had done research on colonial Mexico—were thrilled to see documents from the Benson and tackled their translation. Among these was the above decree ordering Tepozotlán’s royal administrator to assign six Natives to work for the Jesuits, underscoring the importance of Native labor in the figurative and literal construction of the Spanish Empire, and the propagation of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the success and Michigan faculty interest in this joint effort, the LRC and the LBDS Office plan to continue the collaboration to broaden the accessibility and use of the Benson’s early modern materials.
The next step at the LBDS Office is to incorporate these primary sources into Texas high school and UT Austin undergraduate curriculum. Earlier this year, LLILAS Benson initiated a Department of Education Title VI–funded partnership with the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction to design World History and Geography lesson plans around the Benson’s rich holdings. Building on these pedagogical efforts, LBDS staff will be translating, contextualizing, and promoting the use of these Spanish colonial documents in undergraduate classes and digital scholarship projects at UT and beyond.
For those who missed the event, you can still join the effort! The Benson’s FromThePage collection will be open for collaborative transcription and translation until Sunday, November 3. Check out the documents list and guide to see how you can help.
Greg Lambousy (Director)
Jennifer Long (Scanning Manager)
Bryanne Schexnayder (Scanner)
Michelle Brenner (New Orleans Jazz Museum & Louisiana Historical Center, Reading Room Manager)
Jenny Marie Forsythe (Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project Co-Manager)
Handy Acosta Cuellar (PhD Candidate, Tulane University; Instructor of Spanish, Louisiana State University)
Click here for more information on Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Collaborators.
Julie C. Evershed (Director)
Translation collaborators: Zhehao Tong, Marlon James Sales, and Olivia Alge
Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
Joshua Ortiz Baco (Digital Scholarship Graduate Research Assistant)
FromThePage collaborators (usernames): guillaume candela, Ken, Betty Cruz L, Matt H., Carolina Casusol, and Handy1985
About the Authors
Albert A. Palacios is Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin. Jenny Marie Forsythe is co-manager of the Louisiana Colonial Documents Transcribathon Project. Julie C. Evershed is Language Resource Center Director at the University of Michigan.
Over the summer, LLILAS Benson and El Salvador’s Museum of the Word and the Image (often referred to by its acronym, MUPI, for Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen) added yet another digital initiative to their long-standing partnership. Since 2012, the two institutions have worked closely to digitize archival materials related to the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992), thanks to the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. While continuing these efforts, this time around the collaboration explored the potential of digital humanities tools to showcase one of MUPI’s most visually compelling collections—embroidered refugee accounts.
Testimonies of human rights violations come in different forms, and MUPI’s founder and current director, Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi, has actively sought to preserve the diversity. Soon after the signing of the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War, Santiago directed a campaign to rescue cultural heritage created prior to, during, and after the armed conflict. This has included political propaganda, periodicals, and the Radio Venceremos station recordings. Since its formal foundation in 1999, MUPI has continued this preservation and expanded its collecting and educational scope to include various topics in Salvadoran culture and history.
Its most recent growing collection—and the focus of this newest collaboration—consists of remarkable embroidered testimonies created by refugee Salvadoran peasant women in Honduras during the civil war. These pieces were meant to communicate to the world the refugees’ lived experiences, with many of the textiles being sent to solidarity groups and organizations in Europe and Canada at the time. Thanks to a recent international campaign, over twenty artworks have been repatriated and sent to MUPI. Through community workshops in El Salvador’s countryside, MUPI has striven to renew appreciation for this cultural tradition, promoting the art form and subsequent collecting efforts through an exhibition titled Embroiderers of Memories in San Salvador.
Now that the testimonies are making their way back home, MUPI is using digital technologies to continue the advocacy work these women began in the 1980s. In an effort to educate a broader and international audience, specifically El Salvadoran-descendant youth in the United States, the Museum worked with LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship (LBDS) staff to recreate Embroiderers of Memories online. This past June, the LBDS team went to San Salvador and trained MUPI exhibition designer Pedro Durán on how to create digital exhibitions in LLILAS Benson’s Omeka platform so that he could reconceive his design online using working scans of the embroidery. The LBDS team also took the opportunity to introduce MUPI staff to other open-source digital humanities tools that could enrich MUPI’s active engagement with local youth groups.
The visit also launched another post-custodial archival project for both institutions. The initiative required an entirely different approach to digitization and new equipment training, considering the size of some of these artworks; for example, the piece pictured at the beginning of this blog was over 8 feet long. Pre-trained by the Benson’s post-custodial (PC) staff, the LBDS team worked with MUPI staff to start the archival-quality digitization and item-level description of the embroidery collection. The PC team hopes to incorporate the collection into LLILAS Benson’s Latin American Digital Initiatives later this year, so stay tuned.
Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen
Carlos “Santiago” Henríquez Consalvi (MUPI Director)
Carlos Colorado (Digitization Coordinator)
Pedro Durán (Graphic Designer)
Jakelyn López (Archive Coordinator)
Dr. Jennifer Isasi (CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow)
Albert A. Palacios (Digital Scholarship Coordinator)
In a keynote speech to the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), delivered on June 27 at the University of Texas at Austin, Guatemalan human rights activist Gustavo Meoño, former director of the AHPN, revealed some of the most recent events undermining the archive, including a drastic reduction of staff and an imminent takeover by the country’s Ministry of Culture, both of which have serious implications for the AHPN’s operation and integrity.
The significance of this news cannot be overstated. The AHPN contains records of Guatemala’s former National Police dating back more than a century. Its contents relating to the country’s 36-year armed conflict have been crucial in uncovering the fate of tens of thousands of Guatemalans during the most violent years of civil strife. “Since its discovery in 2005, the AHPN has played a central role in Guatemala’s attempts to reckon with its bloody past,” according to the National Security Archive, an NGO in Washington DC that advocates against government secrecy. The records “have been relied upon by families of the disappeared, scholars, and prosecutors. The institution has become a model across Latin America and around the world for the rescue and preservation of vital historical records,” an article dated May 30, 2019, states.
AHPN has become a model for the rescue and preservation of vital historical and human rights records.
Meoño served as director of the AHPN from 2005 until his abrupt removal in August 2018 at the hands of the Guatemalan government and the United Nations Development Office; he subsequently fled with his family to Argentina amid death threats and intimidation. In the weeks since his announcement in Austin, the fate of the AHPN has become even more uncertain. On July 10, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which now oversees the archive, dismissed Anna Carla Ericastilla, longtime director of Guatemala’s national archive, the Archivo General de Centro América (AGCA, AHPN’s parent archive), amid accusations that she had illegally allowed access to the archive to entities outside the country, such as the University of Texas at Austin, and that she had collected donor contributions to pay archive personnel unbeknown to the Ministry of Culture and Sports.
According to the AHPN website hosted by the University of Texas Libraries, “The AHPN Digital Archive is a collaborative project of the University of Texas’ Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, and Benson Latin American Collection, with the Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional de Guatemala.” As faculty directors of the aforementioned institutions made clear in a recent letter to Guatemala’s minister and vice-minister of Culture and Sports, the collaboration with the AHPN and its parent archive, the AGCA, “has always been open, public, and fully in compliance with the laws of Guatemala and the United States.”
Documents from the AHPN have been used in 14 trials prosecuting human rights abuses, said Meoño. These include the 1980 burning by police of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City with 37 Indigenous protestors shut inside; and the 1981 abduction, rape, and torture of Emma Molina Theissen along with the subsequent forced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio. Preservation efforts have prioritized documents from the worst years of government-sponsored terror, 1975–1985, according to Meoño. All told, there were almost 200,000 victims of the armed conflict, including the disappeared. “Indeed, it may be the Police Archive’s crucial contributions to human rights trials that caused the government of President Jimmy Morales to seek to control the repository and fire its director,” wrote the NSA last August.
The fate of the AHPN has particular resonance for The University of Texas at Austin, and in particular, for LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the UT Libraries, who, through their partnership with the AHPN, have successfully secured and posted online digital copies of one-third of the more than 60 million documents in the archive—an estimated 8 linear kilometers of material. Preservation of the archive’s contents has been paramount since the documents were discovered, haphazardly stored, by the Guatemalan Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos, or PDH) in filthy, rat-infested buildings that were part of a sprawling police base located in a Guatemala City neighborhood.
Guatemala will elect a new government in August. The AHPN’s Texas partners will be among the international community of human rights advocates watching closely to see what that bodes for the AHPN and the future of truth and restorative justice in Guatemala.
In the same way that the internet and digitization have created new ways to make books more discoverable and facilitated new ways of exploring text, so, too, have they opened avenues for a greater exploration of maps and their underlying data.
As what has been a deliberative process, the UT Libraries have tended toward later adoption of new currents in libraries and librarianship in order to take advantage of the trial and error mechanics that so often are part of embracing untested technologies and frameworks. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology has been in the ascendant for several years now as a burgeoning area of expertise in libraries, and with the expansive cartographic resources we have at UT and the evolution in the growth of local datasets, it was time for the Libraries to embrace GIS as part of its overall strategic expertise.
Geospatial data identifies data that has a geographic component to it…any data that includes locational information – such as coordinates (latitudes and longitudes), addresses, cities, zip codes, etc. – and can be applied to some position on the Earth. We rely on geospatial data to track weather, find the best route to a destination, manage air traffic, make decisions about where to invest in infrastructure projects and to determine how best to deploy marketing resources. And all of these data forms can be mapped. GIS helps to organize and visualize that data in ways that make it eminently more useful.
The Libraries finally entered the landscape of GIS last year with the hiring of Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky, and a major undertaking in his short tenure has been to spearhead the development of an interface that will facilitate discovery of the cartographic resources and geospatial datasets in our collections by researchers, faculty and other university constituents.
The Texas GeoData Portal uses an open source geospatial discovery application – GeoBlacklight – to power a web portal that gives users the ability to search, browse, preview, and download geospatial datasets. Visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets, including georeferenced scanned map images from the PCL Maps Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other special collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives.
The portal will allow users to download data in several different standard geospatial formats so that they can easily be loaded into GIS software for advanced visualization and analysis.
Coordinated use of GeoBlacklight software and collaboration through the OpenGeoMetadata project has created a community among partner institutions for the sharing and standardization of data and metadata, expanding the opportunities for discovery and creating a robust search functionality among a large corpus of resources. Users can filter search results based on various dataset characteristics including geographic extent, subject matter, institution, data type, and format.
“I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization,” says Shensky. “Faculty can use the portal to find data for developing instructional materials, students can find data to use in research projects, and visitors will have access to a variety of unique maps and datasets that they can explore.”
The Texas GeoData Portal is in the closing stages of development with a full launch expected later in the fall, at which point users will be able to access the new resource through the Libraries’ website. Already discussions are underway regarding future functionality, which could include UT single sign on authentication for viewing license-restricted data, integration with the unified search on the Libraries’ website and integration with the Texas Data Repository and the Collections portal (more information to come on this project).
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love— In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars, and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline. Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study. (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)
I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. 
In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest. William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”
The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.
What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.
This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.” The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.
 See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
Increasingly simple and cost-effective digital technologies have made capturing and distributing oral histories a robust and growing field for archivists and for researchers, and, by extension for students and scholars seeking primary source, personal narratives to augment their understandings of history. One of the most compelling South Asian oral history projects is the 1947 Partition Archive. The Archive’s mission is to preserve eyewitness accounts from those who lived through the exceptionally turbulent and violent period when the Indian subcontinent gained independence from Britain, divided into the nation-states of India and Pakistan, and millions of people migrated from India to Pakistan, from Pakistan to India, from India and Pakistan to other parts of the world. The work of the Archive is especially pressing: it has been 72 years since Partition and those still alive and able to directly recount their stories are increasingly rare. As such, the core of the Archive’s work is to use its digital platform to encourage and motivate more interviews.
Using the power of “the crowd” to create content as well as to fund itself, the 1947 Partition Archive is demonstrably transparent in its methodologies; of particular use to those new to video oral histories is their “Citizen Historian Training Packet” which walks a novice through best practices for interviewing, strategies for good video capture, recommendations for incorporating still images into videos and even how to employ social media to generate interest (and potentially more interviews!). The Archive has gathered over 5000 interviews so far and uses a very persuasive interactive map (StoryMap) on its front page to document the scale and scope of migration while simultaneously indexing the interviews; on the map itself, try searching a city either in “migrated to” or “migrated from” to generate a list of interviews, many with detailed text summaries that can be easily shared through social media, email, etc.
A handful of video interviews are available on the front page of the Archive’s website and raw, unedited recordings are available upon request.
Recently the Archive has partnered with Stanford University Library to preserve and archive the recordings. To date, approximately 50 interviews are available through streaming on the site and (contingent on funding) one can hope for more to be available soon. On the Stanford site, one can navigate by language, author, place & date of recording, but those just beginning to explore the subject may find the “Today’s Story” a good place to start.
The stories bravely shared through the 1947 Partition Archive are simultaneously compelling and devastating in their intimate descriptions of destruction, of violence, of loss. And yet, they also provide hope: all interviewees survived the ruin that was Partition and the very act of sharing their stories demonstrates a hope for and generosity towards future generations to learn from the past.
Along the Pacific coast of Colombia lies the vibrant and growing seaport city of Buenaventura. The city also serves as home to a large portion of Colombia’s Afro-descendant communities. Colombia, with one of the largest populations of Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America, serves as home to countless Afro-Colombians, a large number of whom live in coastal regions or rural areas, and more recently in urban spaces—a result of ongoing displacement.
This past October, the LLILAS Benson Digital Initiatives unit at The University of Texas at Austin launched the second of three post-custodial projects with new partners, the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), specifically focused on the records held at the Buenaventura office serving the Palenque Regional El Kongal. These materials, held for over two decades by PCN, represent a crucial addition not only to human rights documentation of Colombia’s ongoing war and drug-trafficking related conflicts, but also as testament of resilient efforts by Afro-descendant Colombian communities to define and secure recognition and ethno-racial rights in Colombia. Preliminary selection of potential records to be digitized included photographs of cultural events and community mapping gatherings, notable agendas from previous national asambleas (assemblies), and collaborative environmental and humanitarian reports related to Afro-Colombian community issues.
As part of the recently awarded Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant titled “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis,” LLILAS Benson’s post-custodial team coordinated a weeklong training in Colombia. As part of the project’s structural support, LLILAS Benson representatives delivered digitization equipment, facilitated financial resources to pay digitization technicians, and developed custom step-by-step guides on how to successfully complete the PCN digitization project. The trainings, held at the offices of PCN and led by Latin American Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal and LLILAS PhD candidate Anthony Dest, covered multiple topics, including how to scan historic materials using professional equipment, identifying and documenting metadata about collection materials such as photographs, and brainstorming future visions for PCN’s historic archival collections.
Throughout the training, LLILAS Benson and PCN team members reviewed and conducted preliminary scans and developed descriptions for a variety of records, including photographs of early PCN community events, reports on living conditions of Afro-Colombians in the region, and organizational planning documents for mobilization. After the weeklong training ended, the LLILAS Benson project team returned to the United States, leaving the PCN digitization team to begin their critical work.
In the LLILAS Benson post-custodial model, archivists work alongside partners from other sectors to preserve and manage their archival materials, often including the digitization of physical archives in order for the materials to remain in their original home. The digital copies then take on the role of scholarly resources made available to researchers, students, faculty, and the general public.
While LLILAS Benson has been implementing post-custodial methods for over a decade, this grant project focuses on formalizing approaches to working with Latin American partners. In 2014, LLILAS Benson received a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation that introduced our first three archival partners, all concentrated in Central America, for the Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI). This recent grant continues the work of the planning grant with the inclusion of new partners from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. Digitization projects are already under way in Mexico and Colombia, and the LLILAS Benson post-custodial team looks forward to beginning work with the Brazilian partner in early 2019 and finalizing the first phase of the overall grant project.
LEER EN ESPAÑOL
A lo largo de la costa pacífica de Colombia se encuentra la creciente ciudad de Buenaventura. Esta ciudad también es hogar a una de las mayores poblaciones de afrodescendientes en toda América Latina. Los afrocolombianos viven mayormente en las regiones costeras y las zonas rurales, pero recientemente han venido a vivir más en espacios urbanos—un resultado del desplazamiento.
Este pasado octubre la unidad de iniciativas digitales de LLILAS Benson, Universidad de Texas en Austin, lanzó el segundo de tres proyectos pos-custodiales con nuestros nuevos compañeros, el Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Este proyecto se enfoca en los materiales históricos sobre el trabajo del Palenque Regional El Kongal de PCN, que se encuentran almacenados en la oficina de Buenaventura. Estos materiales, guardados por más de dos décadas, representan una adición esencial al cuerpo de documentos reunidos por LLILAS Benson sobre los derechos humanos. Éstos incluyen no sólo documentos de la guerra civil y los conflictos relacionados con el tráfico de drogas en Colombia, sino también testimonios del esfuerzo de las comunidades afrocolombianas para definir y asegurar el reconocimiento y los derechos etno-raciales en Colombia. La selección preliminar de materiales para digitalizar incluye fotografías de eventos culturales y reuniones para crear mapas comunitarios, agendas de asambleas nacionales anteriores, así como informes ambientales y humanitarios sobre las comunidades afrocolombianas.
Como parte de una subvención de la Fundación Andrew W. Mellon para el proyecto “Cultivating a Latin American Post-Custodial Archival Praxis” (Cultivando una praxis archivística pos-custodial en la América Latina), el equipo de LLILAS Benson coordinó un entrenamiento de duración de una semana para garantizar el éxito del proyecto. El entrenamiento incluyó la entrega de equipos de digitalización, la facilitación de recursos financieros para pagar a los técnicos, así como un repaso de los guías para completar el proyecto de digitalización de PCN. Se llevó a cabo en las oficinas de PCN en Buenaventura y fue dirigido por Itza Carbajal, bibliotecaria de metadatos de América Latina, y Anthony Dest, candidato al doctorado del Instituto de Estudios Latinoamericanos Teresa Lozano Long (LLILAS).
El entrenamiento abarcó varios temas: instrucciones para escanear materiales frágiles, cómo identificar y evaluar metadatos de materiales visuales como fotografías, y cómo planear el futuro del archivo histórico de PCN. Juntos, los representantes de LLILAS Benson y PCN revisaron y crearon metadatos para una serie de materiales que incluyeron fotografías de eventos de PCN, informes sobre las condiciones de vida de los afrocolombianos de la región, y documentos administrativos sobre varios esfuerzos de movilización comunitaria. Al completar el entrenamiento, los representantes de LLILAS Benson volvieron a los Estados Unidos dejando el equipo de digitalización de PCN para comenzar su trabajo importante.
En el modelo pos-custodial de LLILAS Benson, los archiveros trabajan junto a sus socios en otros sectores para conservar y administrar sus materiales históricos. Esto muchas veces incluye la digitalización de los materiales físicos para que éstos permanezcan en su lugar de origen. Las copias digitales entonces asumen el papel de recursos académicos que están disponibles a investigadores, estudiantes, profesoras y el público.
Si bien LLILAS Benson ha implementado los principios pos-custodiales por más de una década, este proyecto se concentra en formalizar el modelo de trabajo con organizaciones en la América Latina. En el año 2014, LLILAS Benson recibió una concesión de planificación (planning grant) de la Fundación Mellon que introdujo nuestros tres primeros archivos socios, todos basados en Centroamérica; el resultado fue Iniciativas Digitales Latinoamericanas (LADI). La concesión reciente nos permitirá continuar el trabajo de la concesión anterior, ya incluyendo nuevos socios no sólo en Colombia sino también en México y Brasil. Con los proyectos ya lanzados en México y Colombia, esperamos con mucho interés lanzar el trabajo en Brasil al comenzar el año 2019.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
The KITAB Project, headed by Sarah Bowen Savant of the Aga Khan University, seeks to develop tools and techniques for producing scholarship on text reuse and intellectual networks in the premodern Arabic textual tradition. The project is based on a digital corpus of published texts that represent all genres of writing in Arabic from the earliest works to the beginning of the 20th century CE. Although the corpus draws in part from digital databases of texts, it also relies heavily on digital surrogates of printed volumes which require Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for computational analysis. The KITAB project has partnered with the Open Islamicate Text Initiative to develop an OCR software that has proven more successful than commercially-available products. The collaboration’s published results of this OCR development—called Kraken—can be found here.
The KITAB project is noteworthy not only for bringing the concepts of text reuse and distant reading to Middle Eastern Studies from a digital humanities perspective, but also for its development of tools designed for Arabic script languages. The needs of right-to-left and non-Roman script languages such as Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Hebrew—namely bidirectionality and non-Roman script recognition capabilities—unfortunately have been neglected to date in key tools utilized by highly successful digital humanities projects. The KITAB project brings the necessity of right-to-left and non-Roman capabilities to the fore by centering the Arabic textual tradition and committing to the development of tools that best meet the needs of the questions asked.
In addition to Dr. Savant, the team behind the KITAB project includes scholars from the U.S. and Europe, notably David Smith (Northeastern University) who developed the passim software upon which the text reuse project is based, and Maxim Romanov (University of Vienna) who heads the Open Islamicate Text Initiative. The team supports the continuing evolution of algorithms that seek to determine which Arabic texts were most quoted, most used by historians, and most commented on over several centuries (roughly 700-1500 CE). These questions might be answered simply enough within one text with a full-text search engine. However, to answer these questions across the Arabic textual tradition requires not only a massive corpus (currently over 4200 items), but also incredible computing power.
I encourage readers to take a look at the latest text reuse visualization from the corpus, which is based on two works by Ibn Qutayba (d. 889 CE). I also suggest reading Dr. Savant’s critically reflective post on running the passim software across the entirety of the corpus, and the questions raised by the results about intertextuality and what text reuse means in the Arabic context. Lastly, I recommend that those interested and/or involved in the field review information on the KITAB Project’s corpus, including the FAQ links to the Open Islamicate Text Initiative for suggesting new digital titles and new titles requiring OCR. UT Libraries’ collection of historic Arabic texts is one of the largest in the United States and ripe with suggestions for the KITAB corpus (check out this Islamic Empire — History subject heading search to see a sample of UT’s rich Arabic collections).