Category Archives: Digital Humanities

Read, Hot and Digitized: Mapping Emotions in Victorian London

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.

As readers, we often subconsciously craft physical spaces – whether real or imagined – in our minds in an effort to find meaning within or forge a connection with the text. The same can be said of the real-world cities in which different works of fiction take place. London, replete with a rich history of representation throughout the arts, is a standout example of one such city that writers return to time and again to inspire adaptations, reimaginings and original content. One need look no further than recent shows like Sherlock or Penny Dreadful to evince this. Keeping with this interest, researchers have created a tool that allows people to quickly and easily look back at those original texts that helped shape popular conception of London in the form of an interactive map of specific sites.

Mapping Emotions in Victorian London is a digital project created at Stanford University that uses literary excerpts from 18th and 19th century novels to map the emotions associated with different public spaces throughout London. The interactive map, hosted on History Pin, allows users to geospatially visualize data from those passages and read the excerpted passages in one streamlined interface. The map itself was created using Google Maps but features multiple levels of overlaid antique, illustrated maps, which shift depending on the scale selected, lending a visually pleasing touch to the tool without sacrificing utility or data integrity. Using it is as simple as selecting a date range and then clicking through numbered hubs on the map until you arrive at a particular site and the corresponding text.

Click on the color coded local “hubs” to zoom in and view specific sites on the map.
Once a user has selected a particular pin (indicated in pink, above left), the corresponding text selection will appear alongside the map.

Originally conceived as a small-scale project using topic modelling to extract geographical information from nineteenth century novels, “Mapping London” later expanded to encompass a collaborative effort between the Stanford Literary Lab, the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), and the Mellon Foundation. Building upon the success of their preliminary efforts (documented in a 2016 pamphlet), the site developers received a grant tied to crowdsourcing that pushed the project to new depths. Anonymous volunteers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace to crowdsource the project by assigning emotions to the thousands of excerpted passages. The crowdsourcing aspect of the project is what took it to another level by allowing researchers to expand both the quantitative and qualitative methods used. Not only were they able to process vastly more information and include more sites and passages in the data set, but humans (rather than bots or AI) were able to accurately ascribe emotions to the text.

While the ultimate goal of the project was to expand possibilities for both close and distant reading research in the humanities, what stood out to me was how accessible and interesting the map would be to everyday readers including those outside of academia. For people new to or unfamiliar with digital projects, this is a very accessible and easy to understand collection. Furthermore, anyone pursuing a personal interest in specific sites in London, a particular author represented in the data set, or just intrigued by the concept of literary geography would have something to gain by exploring the map. It functions as a historical city tour through the eyes of different narrators, and might even introduce you to your new favorite author.

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Explore further with UT Libraries!

Learn more about the concept of topic models in Ch. 9 of Foundations of Data Science.

Blum, Avrim, John E. Hopcroft, and Ravindran Kannan. Foundations of Data Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/be14ds/alma991058049444506011

Trace the connections between social production and London-focused literature and discover how the Bloomsbury district of London developed in relation to the city’s literary output.

Ingleby, Matthew. Nineteenth-Century Fiction and the Production of Bloomsbury : Novel Grounds. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/apl7st/cdi_askewsholts_vlebooks_9781137546005

Take an in-depth dive into the world of literary spatial studies with Lisbeth Larsson’s investigation of London through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre.

Larsson, Lisbeth. Walking Virginia Woolf’s London: An Investigation in Literary Geography. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG, 2017.

https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/apl7st/cdi_swepub_primary_oai_gup_ub_gu_se_260720

Experience historic London firsthand through descriptions compiled in this fully digitized guide book from 1902, courtesy of UTL’s “Travel at the Turn of the 20th Century” digital collection.

Karl Baedeker (Firm). London and its environs. 1902. “London and its environs – Collections”. University of Texas Libraries Collections.

https://collections.lib.utexas.edu/catalog/utlmisc:40a94727-537b-46b1-b688-fe6b440bd2d8

If old books are more your cup of tea, check out the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections with works from many London-based authors, including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carroll, and many more.

“Knowledge”: Online Exhibit Celebrates Benson Centennial and Diversity of Thought in the Americas

In Nuestra América (1891), Cuban poet and philosopher José Martí calls for a pan–Latin American identity that grounds itself in the need to value autochthonous knowledge: “Knowing is what counts. To know one’s country and govern it with that knowledge is the only way to free it from tyranny. The European university must bow to the American university. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, must be taught in clear detail and to the letter, even if the archons of Greece are overlooked. Our Greece must take priority over the Greece which is not ours. We need it more.”

A new online exhibition, A Hemisphere of Knowledge: A Benson Centennial Exhibit, accessible in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, explores the implications of Martí’s words across time and cultures, using a wealth of resources available at the Benson Latin American Collection.

“This exhibit, divided into six sub-themes, seeks to present different types of knowledge production from the Americas while recognizing that our universality comes from relations based upon diversity, and that these relations, like cultures themselves, are constantly changing,” said Daniel Arbino, head of collection development at the library and curator of the exhibit. In conceiving the exhibit, Arbino sought to examine “the diverse production of knowledge from the many cultures that make up what we now call the Americas.” He adds that “the exhibition considers this knowledge against the backdrop and legacies of hegemony, thereby situating it within the power dynamics of colonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. A Hemisphere of Knowledge is intentionally political because it values cultural beliefs that have been dismissed due to legacies of power.”

Learn more about the Benson Centennial at benson100.org.


Above: Knowledge, by Terry Boddie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those interested in marine science should start with this LibGuide.

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

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

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

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

“IT IS DULL, SON OF ADAM, TO DRINK WITHOUT EATING:” ENGAGING A TURKISH DIGITAL TOOL FOR THE STUDY OF ISLAMIC THOUGHT


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.

Over the years of my involvement in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (MEIS), I have become something of an advocate for learning modern Turkish. The necessity of facility with Turkish in order to conduct research in MEIS, and more importantly, to carry on scholarly communication in MEIS, grows clearer every year. I would not hesitate to argue that non-Turkish scholars ignore Turkish scholarship at their own peril—it is that central, plentiful, and informative. An excellent example of a scholarly development out of Turkish academe that would be quite useful for MEIS pedagogy and research is İslam Düşünce Atlası, or The Atlas of Islamic Thought. It also happens to be an incredible digital Islamic Studies scholarship initiative.

İslam Düşünce Atlası (İDA) is a project of the İlim Etüdler Derneği (İLEM)/Scientific Studies Association with the support of the Konya Metropolitan Municipality Culture Office. It is coordinated by İbrahim Halil Üçer, with the support of over a hundred researchers, design experts, software developers, and GIS/map experts. The goal of the project is to make the academic study of the history of Islamic thought easily accessible to scholars and laypeople alike through new (digital) techniques and within the logic of network relations. İDA has been conceived as an open-access website with interactive programs for a range of applications. Its developers intend it to contribute a digital perspective to historical writing on Islam: a reading of the history of Islamic thought from a digitally-visualized time-spatial perspective and context.

İDA features three conceptual maps that aim to visualize complex relationships and to establish a historical backbone for the larger project of the atlas: the Timeline (literally time “map,” which is a more signifying term for the tool, Zaman Haritası), the Books Map (Kitaplar Haritası), and the Person Map (Kişiler Haritası). It also proposes a new understanding of the periodization of Islamic history based on the development of schools of thought (broadly defined) and their geographic spread. İDA endeavors to answer several questions through these tools: by whom, when, where, how, in relation to which school traditions, through what kinds of interactions, and through which textual traditions was Islamic thought produced? Many of these questions can be summed up under the umbrella of prosopography, and in that arena, İDA has a few notable peer projects: the Mamluk Prosopography Project, Prosopographical Database for Indic Texts (PANDiT), and the Jerusalem Prosopography Project (with a focus on the period of Mongol rule), among others.

One of my favorite aspects of İDA is the book map and its accompanying introduction. The researchers behind İDA do their audience the great service of explaining the development and establishment of the various genres of writing in the Islamic sciences. Importantly, they also link the development of these genres to the periodization of Islamic history that they propose. The eight stages of genre development that are identified—collation/organization, translation, structured prose, commentary, gloss, annotation, evaluative or dialogic commentary, and excerpts/summaries—share with the larger İDA project their origin in scholarly networking and relationship building. By visualizing the networks of Muslim scholars, as well as the relationships among their scholarly production and the non-linear, multi-faceted time “map” of Islamic thought, İDA weaves together the disparate facets of a complex and oft willfully misunderstood intellectual tradition

I encourage readers not only to learn some modern Turkish in order to make full use of İDA (although Google translate will work in a pinch!), but also to explore threads throughout all of the visualizations: for example, trace al-Ghazālī’s scholarly network, and then look at that of his works. What similarities and differences do you notice? Is there a pattern to the links among works and scholars? Readers who are interested in the intellectual history of Islam should check out my Islamic Studies LibGuide, as well as searches in the UT Libraries’ catalog for some of their favorite authors (see here for al-Ghazālī/Ghazzālī, Ibn Sina/Avicenna, and Ibn al-Arabi).

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

By BRITTANY ERWIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

This screen shot illustrates the transcription process in Transkribus.

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

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

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


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

Unlocking the Colonial Archive: Grant Will Bring Access to a Trove of Documents

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

Read, Hot and Digitized: Braceros Tell Their Stories

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.

A twenty-two-year program that began during World War II and is still relevant nearly sixty years after its conclusion in 1964, the Bracero Program was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments to permit short-term Mexican laborers to work in the United States.

In an effort to stem labor shortages during and after the war years, an estimated 4.6 million workers came to the USA with the promise of thirty cents per hour and “humane treatment.” Of course, we know that loosely defined terms like “humane treatment” present a slippery slope that can erase and omit stories. Fortunately, through the collaborative efforts of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute of Oral History, many of those once-hidden stories have been preserved and made accessible through the Bracero History Archive (BHA).  

The BHA offers a variety of materials, most notably over 700 oral histories recorded in English and Spanish. While the metadata fields for each oral history could be more robust, the ability to hear first-hand accounts and inter-generational stories is a dream come true for primary source-seekers. All audio is available to download in mp3 format for future use.  

Apart from oral histories, other resources are also available. Images, such as photographs and postcards, provide visuals of the varied environments that hosted the Braceros as well as portraits of the Braceros themselves.  

Again, further detail on these resources would benefit the archive. For example, the photograph above, titled “Two Men,” demonstrates a lack of context needed for a more profound understanding while also acknowledging the potentially constant transient nature of Bracero work. In fact, the very word bracero, derived from the Spanish word for “arm,” is indicative of the commodification and dehumanization of the human body for labor. Workers lived in subpar work camps, received threats of deportation, and lacked proper nourishment, especially given the arduous work conditions.  

Additional BHA resources include a “documents” section in which offspring share anecdotes about the Bracero Program and track down information about loved ones. Finally, the site offers resources for middle school and high school teachers to use in their curriculum. Here again is an opportunity to further build out the site for university-level instruction.  

The digital objects in the BHA are worthwhile for those looking to recover an often-overlooked subject in American history that still resonates with themes relating to immigration today. Indeed, farmworkers continue to be exploited and underappreciated despite their contributions to society. This has led to a number of movements, marches, and boycotts in efforts to improve living conditions and wages. 

For those interested in oral history collections at the University of Texas Libraries, look no further than the Voces Oral History Project and Los del Valle Oral History Project, both housed at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Similarly, collections related to farmworkers, and undoubtedly influenced by the legacies of the Bracero Program, include the Texas Farm Workers Union Collection and the María G. Flores Papers.  

Opportunity in Crisis to Build on the Platform

If there’s a single lesson to take away from this year, it’s that libraries are a lot more malleable than their long history may have given them credit for.

We’ve previously covered the Herculean effort by University of Texas Libraries’ staff to pivot from their natural in-person work environs to a distance service, then a subsequent limited return to the former, but a lot of that agility was due in no small measure to underlying efforts that were already underway when the health crisis washed over campus and the country.

Strategically, this institution has been focusing on the idea of the library as a platform: not just a storehouse for books or website of searchable journals, but an active ecosystem where resources, tools, services, spaces, expertise and community intermingle with a constantly variable presence of users to spin off scholarship and innovation back into the world. This idea factory of ever-evolving components works at its best when it creates opportunities for discovery through constant interaction of the various parts.

With the pandemic creating greater physical distance between the parts, though, it’s become essential that we focus on those tools that could best allow us to reach our users where they are, be that in an apartment in West Campus, or on the other side of the globe.

Last year, we announced the launch of a pair of systems designed to organize, preserve and create accessibility for digital iterations of physical materials that otherwise would only be available to people who could visit the Forty Acres. Our Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) was deployed in September, 2019, and in November, we published the Collections Portal on the Libraries’ website. The culmination of these two projects proved to be far more fortuitous than we could’ve imagined.

A couple months later as leadership at the Libraries was fleshing out a new strategic plan that placed special emphasis on the concept of Libraries as platform, the first case of coronavirus was discovered in the Pacific Northwest. Then, in March as the spread of the pandemic began to accelerate, The University of Texas at Austin announced first the delay of spring classes, followed quickly by a directive to move all but the most critical staff to remote work away from campus, and to shift to online learning for the remainder of the semester.

More than ever, the adaptability of the Libraries to changes in user behaviors was the institutional characteristic that needed to be positioned in response to the extraordinary situation that fell so quickly upon us all. And refocusing our collective energies on tools with the greatest potential to serve the largest number of people while considering the long-term goals of the Libraries made these new systems a natural priority for applying institutional resources.

The DAMS

At its most basic, a Digital Asset Management System is a locally-developed digital repository designed to store, describe and manage digital assets of the Libraries. Digital assets are comprised of a primary digital files like scanned images, book pages, audio or video recordings, with varying component parts: metadata, or data about the data that includes information about the origin of the file, specifications and descriptive data used for locating the asset; additional secondary files that can be machine-readable and/or provide additional technical information; and derivatives, such as thumbnail images, other file versions, and PDFs. 

The DAMS serves as the central preservation and management hub for Libraries’ digital assets, built by the Libraries Information Technology Support (LITS) team in coordination with staff library professionals, who also manage the operations of the system. The DAMS project began in 2016, and in an effort to prioritize two of our most notable collections, staff at the Benson Latin American Collection and the Alexander Architectural Archive began preparing digital collections for the system.

“The digital asset management system was many years in the making,” says Jennifer Lee, Director of Discovery and Access. “And for many, many years before that it was just an idea, like an item on a collective wish list. Now, it’s become a reality. And over the past seven months in particular, we’ve made excellent progress on adding content.”

The Collections Portal

The Collections Portal serves as an access point on the Libraries’ website allowing users to undertake remote research and study utilizing rich resources that have previously only been available in person or through more time-intensive digitization on demand processes.

Developed in 2018-19 by LITS in close coordination with other Libraries professional staff as a logical progression from the DAMS, the Portal provides students, faculty, researchers and the broader public access to collections that have not been directly available in the past, and the project’s infrastructure creates a framework for a more consistent stream of new digital content in the future. Each item in the portal also contains contextual data – drawn from the DAMS – in order that users may learn underlying information about the material, locate physical counterparts and determine reuse rights for digital files.

The Relationship

The relationship between the DAMS and the Portal can create confusion since both systems deal with the same assets, but it’s useful to think about the interrelationship between the parts. The DAMS is the back-end storage and management environment, where preservation, description and accessibility of the resources are controlled. The Collections Portal draws on the information contained within the DAMS to make some of the content that exists there discoverable and accessible for remote use through a public web interface. The dual structure allows for our staff to determine what is suitable for partial or full public access based on issues like copyright or embargo status.

“These two are separate but closely connected software systems,” explains Mirko Hanke, Digital Asset Management System Coordinator, who has been one of the driving forces behind efforts to refine and build out the systems. “This overall architecture of having two separate systems allows the curators to choose which of the content they’re managing in the DAMS they want to make publicly available.”

Both systems were implemented by LITS staff using open source software components and they built software to bridge the two systems from scratch.

The Processes

The basic workflow for getting items from the shelves into the systems involves digitization, file management, metadata creation and ingestion.

The Libraries has been digitizing physical materials for decades, including thousands of items that were digitized previous to the development of the DAMS, and those files can be retrieved and processed for inclusion in the new systems. Accessing the digital forms of materials can extend the life of fragile special collections and makes near-immediate global access possible. Physical materials are often reformatted as digital files in their entirety to minimize handling and ensure future access to unrequested sections at a later date. Additional processes in digitization allow for the enhancement of usability of the digital iterations, as well, including optical character recognition, making scanned documents searchable and information contained within more easily findable. The automation of many digitization processes makes pagination and file structuring more manageable and speeds up ingestion and thus accessibility of content.

Requests for digitization are made either through a formal submission or directly to Libraries’ Digitization Services, with special priority given to our two notable special collections – the Benson Latin American Collection and the Alexander Architectural Archive – both of which are heavily used by the public and thus have significant back catalogs of digitized materials, making them fertile resources for populating the DAMS and Collections Portal. Special consideration has also been extended to time-sensitive projects, such as those slated for exhibition loan or items that are being or have been retired from other access points.

Once files have been digitized, they are passed through specialized workflows based on the type of content and its historical origin that add and/or enhance metadata, secondary files and derivatives to create singular digital assets that can then be ingested into the DAMS and potentially projected out to the Collections Portal.

Staff professionals working with LITS professionals have developed scripts and processes that can help to speed up the packaging of digital assets both for newly digitized items, but also from previously digitized materials that exist from earlier Libraries efforts. There is ongoing work to track digitization, management and ingestion processes to create ongoing improvements to the workflows.

Hitting the Gas

Realizing the important potential of the two systems for remote users in response to the health crisis, the Libraries reconfigured workflows and redirected staff to accelerate work already occurring to populate and invigorate the DAMS and by extension, the Collections Portal. The first order of business was to formalize workflows to prioritize the digitization and processing of materials.

Resources at the Benson and Alexander Archive proved to be low-hanging fruit for their outsized use in research and because of existing expertise in digital preservation, so projects originating from those collections received significant attention.

Staff at the Benson Latin American Collection have been working on a project to digitize the Genaro García Collection – the Benson’s massive foundational collection, acquired in Mexico City in 1921 by university representatives on a diplomatic visit. The Libraries will next year be celebrating the 100th anniversary of that acquisition as the establishment of Latin American collections on campus, so the effort to provide online access to this important collection made it a priority for addition to the Collections Portal.

“Because we’ve established some good local practices for collection creation and we have a set of well documented requirements on the DAMS ingest side, it becomes much easier to develop batch processing workflows to prepare scans and metadata for upload into the DAMS without manipulating each collection object, one at a time,” says David Bliss, Digital Processing Archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection.

A team-based approach was coordinated by Latin American Archivist Dylan Joy. Staff Photographer and Library Specialist Robert Esparza spent several months carefully digitizing the Genaro García Imprints and Images collections in their entirety, following a process developed locally at the Benson. Concurrently, GRA Diego Godoy compiled item level metadata based on a template developed by Metadata Librarian Itza Carbajal. Bliss then worked to develop a script for ingesting the scans and accompanying metadata from the collection into the DAMS, bypassing hours of monotonous and error-prone work in favor of a process using existing metadata in a hands-off approach that occurs in minutes instead.

La Profesa, No.1: Colección de vistas tomadas en la revolucion, llamada de los Polkos, en Mexico el año de 1847. Genaro Garcia: Imprints and Images. Benson Latin American Collection, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

“We didn’t just wake up one day and decide to make our file naming practices more consistent and systematic or suddenly realize that we should be gathering good metadata,” says Bliss. “This kind of scripting work is only possible because significant resources were dedicated to equipment and project staff.”

Benson staff, in coordination with Libraries’ Content Management and Digitization Services teams, have worked prodigiously on the Benson Rare Book Collection, including the high visibility Primeros Libros – the first books published in the Americas prior to 1600; so far, 21 full volumes are published to the Collections Portal, with more in process. Libraries Technology Coordinator Benn Chang worked with Benson Latinx Studies Archivist Carla Alvarez to make newly available several hundred previously digitally-preserved photographs in the George I. Sánchez papers, which are now part of the Collections Portal, as well.

Vocabvlario en lengva misteca. Primeros Libros de las Américas. Benson Latin American Collection, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

“This work really does take a village and there is no one singular workflow or approach that suits all collections,” says Benson’s Head of Digital Initiatives Theresa Polk.

At the Alexander Architectural Archive, staff have been working to process both newly-digitized and legacy digital assets. “Architectural collections staff have worked closely with Digitization Services to adjust our workflow to include ingesting assets and metadata into the DAMS,” says Archivist for Access and Preservation Stephanie Tiedeken. So far, over 21,000 assets have been ingested into the DAMS from the Alexander Archives and Architecture & Planning Library’s Special Collections, and over 2,000 of those have been published into the Collections Portal, including 270 publications and over 1,800 digitized drawings or photographs.

Archive staff are also working to move legacy assets into the DAMS. The Alexander’s GRA, Alyssa Anderson, recently completed a project to ingest 262 legacy images of scanned drawings and photographs from ten sites, primarily missions, in Texas and Mexico images and create MODS metadata. Now that these items are in the DAMS, they are more usable and visible to researchers.

Head of Architectural Collections Katie Pierce Meyer worked with Mirko Hanke and staff from Digitization Services to develop a process for ingesting legacy digitized photographs from the David Reichard Williams collection, a regionalist and architect who documented vernacular architecture in Texas in the 1920s and 1930s. Colleagues from Libraries’ Branch and Borrow Services transferred data from finding aid, added descriptions of photographs, bringing expertise and fresh eyes to these historic images of buildings and places across the state.

Building on transformation processes and documentation work previously done by David Bliss and Benn Chang, and working closely with Mirko Hanke, Pierce Meyer was able to take the data, map it to DAMS metadata fields in the data editing tool OpenRefine, then export it and create individual metadata files for each image. The image and the metadata files could then ingested and published in large batches.

White Elephant Saloon (Fredericksburg, Tex.). David Reichard Williams collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

After materials were ingested from the David Reichard Williams photography collection at the Alexander Archive and became available via the Collection Portal, colleagues in Content Management conducted quality assurance on the ingested data and enhanced the metadata. Finally, Alexander Architectural Archives’ Curator Beth Dodd introduced these published assets to historic preservation professionals and donors to the Alexander Archives, who provided additional information to further describe and enhance information about the buildings in the photographs. Over the course of the project, the crowdsourced assistance of many participants have been instrumental to ingesting assets and enhance the metadata, making for a more robust and discoverable resource for future researchers.

“The Williams project has been a particular example of a collaborative, iterative process to transfer our legacy assets to the DAMS and publish them to the collections portal. It has also been a great learning opportunity and we are taking what we have done here to inform future collaborative work with our collections and metadata transformation” says Katie Pierce Meyer.

Another extremely visible digital collection has also played a significant role in the growth of DAMS and Collections Portal content. The PCL Maps Collection – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – is perhaps the most heavily used of our collection, largely due to the 70,000 items that are available through the Libraries’ legacy website. Visitation to the online maps has accounted for over 50% of all Libraries’ web traffic at points, and has exceeded 5 million views with consistent frequency. The Libraries’ launched a new website in 2018, and have begun to migrate the Maps Collection into the DAMS where it will be available through the Collections Portal. The legacy website remains active largely to maintain access to the collection, so ingesting the digital content from the Maps Collections is another high priority for the overall project.

Etain-A. 201 : tirage de 3 Aout 1918 Groupe des canevas de tir. Field Maps of Colonel Roland T. Fenton. Perry-Castañeda Library Maps, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The migration of the collection into the DAMS is providing the opportunity to greatly improve upon the associated metadata and, in some cases, to provide even higher quality digital scans for use by researchers. “In the DAMS we can store and serve larger format images, which is a great improvement and there are established organization standards, where the legacy site grew organically from its early adoption roots,” says Maps Collection Coordinator Kat Strickland. “Many of the maps in the collection have made their way here without any context. So being able to show somebody the image and describe with more robust metadata is also going to improve discoverability for people.”

“The DAMS is going to benefit users because collections can be organized in a way that will help users find the context of individual maps by linking to a subcollection of related maps.”

When the university shuttered operations in March and physical access to the Maps Collection was halted, only 77 items had been migrated to the DAMS. A short seven months later, there are over 14,000 maps in the system and Libraries’ staff are currently working on metadata for another 11,600 to make those available.

That experience mirrors the shift in focus since remote work has become the prevailing mode of service at the Libraries and online content has become the primary resources for users. In March, there were approximately 2,500 digital assets available through the Collections Portal. Today, there are over 20,000 assets available through the Collections Portal, and those numbers are expanding apace as more resources are committed to the work and staff adapt innovative approaches to their processes.

“There’s been an eightfold increase in content since March, which is just amazing progress and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many colleagues,” says Mirko Hanke.

Read, Hot & Digitized: Bulgarian Dialectology as Living Tradition

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.

Creating and publishing open access linguistic data is an invaluable way to support research in digital approaches to linguistics, and to lend support to making more scholarly research openly available to a broad audience. Bulgarian Dialectology as Living Tradition contributes to this body of open access data with its searchable and interactive database of oral speech in Bulgarian, representing a wide range of dialects recorded in 69 different Bulgarian villages. Data is presented in the oral recordings themselves and in the 184 transcriptions of those recordings, with a variety of features–such as tokens with associated tags for grammatical, lexical, and linguistic trait information–available for each text. This collection of Bulgarian linguistic materials is an important resource for studying the language, and the project will be of interest to anyone interested in computational linguistics, digital approaches to studying and analyzing languages, and, of course, in Slavic languages.

The website’s homepage.

The site breaks down its texts into lines, which are themselves comprised of associated tags for grammatical, lexical, and linguistic trait information. Each text can be viewed in three ways: the Glossed View, which shows tokens with grammatical information, English glosses, and Bulgarian lemmas; the Line Display, which shows a line of text and its English translation; and the Cyrillic Line Display, with the original Bulgarian lines in Cyrillic script. In addition to these views, there are five types of search available to users; from the website: the wordform search, lexeme search, linguistic trait search, thematic content search, and phrase search.

This project succeeds at its goal “to return the focus of dialectology to its source in living, natural speech, to provide a broad, representative covering of this speech throughout the chosen region, and to make this material accessible to a wide spectrum of users.” The use of field recordings not only makes these recordings broadly accessible in a way that may be difficult absent digital technologies, but allows users, whether casual browsers of the site or researchers in an academic setting, to hear the language and its many dialects as it is actually spoken. The foregrounding of this dialectal speech in its “natural village context” forwards forms of a language that are often markedly different from standardized, more urban ways of speech.

A map showing where interviews were recorded within Bulgaria.

The site’s creators took care to make the documentation of the site’s creation available publicly, so that others who might wish to create similar digital collections could draw on the work. The site was developed using the open source content management system Drupal, a framework that allows a greater ease of reproduction/repurposing of work and which  furthers the goals and values of open source software development by creating a healthier, more robust ecosystem of scholarship and digital humanities work using freely accessible technologies.

The wordform search interface.

The project serves as an important contribution to digital scholarship in Slavic Studies. The large volume and unique content of the recordings and texts make for a valuable corpus, and the creators’ commitment to supporting other projects by using open source software and making their documentation on the site’s creation publicly available is also very admirable. I hope to see it inspire other projects that likewise support open source within the digital humanities.

For more information on digital linguistic methods, open source projects, and the Bulgarian language, please consult the UTL resources below:

Blagoeva, Diana, Svetla, Koeva, Vladko, Murdarov, Georg Rehm, and Hans Uszkoreit. The Bulgarian Language in the Digital Age. Berlin : Springer, 2012.

Computational Linguistics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Journals, 1984.

 Crompton, Lane. Doing More Digital Humanities: Open Approaches to Creation, Growth, and Development. Milton: Routledge, 2020.

Gold, Matthew. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Dando um Zoom: As Oficinas Virtuais da LLILAS Benson e Arquivos Parceiros na América Latina

Read in English | Leer en español

Traduzido ao português por Tereza Braga

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.

Coleção Bordados, Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (MUPI, San Salvador, El Salvador). Este bordado da Comunidad de Santa Marta, Honduras, descreve a vida no refúgio, incluindo vários tipos de trabalho. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/mupi03

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).

Capa, MOAB: A Saga de um Povo, por Maria Aparecida Mendes Pinto. Livro sobre os 25 anos do MOAB, ou Movimento dos Ameaçados por Barragens na região do Vale do Ribeira (SP, PR). EACCONE, Coleção Quilombos do Vale do Ribeira SP/PR. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/eaacone01

Outros arquivos parceiros que conseguiram participar da série de oficinas online foram o  Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (San Salvador, em El Salvador), Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG, na Cidade de Guatemala), Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, em Buenaventura, na Colômbia), e Equipe de Articulação e Assessoria às Comunidades Negras do Vale do Ribeira (EAACONE, Vale do Ribeira, no Brasil).

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.

Fotografias, Colección Dinámicas Organizativas del Pueblo Negro en Colombia, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN, Colombia). Esta foto foi tomada numa reunião da assambleia geral do conselho comunitário do Rio Yurumangí. https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/pt-br/pcn01

“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”.

Marta, a coordenadora do projeto de digitalização do PCN (esquerda) trabalha com Itza, bibliotecária de metadados da LLILAS Benson, durante uma visita em 2018 para organizar e fazer inventário dos materiais na coleção PCN. (Foto: Anthony Dest)

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.