Category Archives: Distinctive Collections

Read, Hot and Digitized: Maritime Asia: War and Trade

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.

Maritime Asia: War and Trade is a multi-media Drupal site which introduces viewers to the complexities of 17th century war and trade in East and Southeast Asia. The open educational resource (OER) is a collaboration among UT History Professor Adam Clulow, Professor Xing Hang at Brandeis University, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (RRCHNM). This open educational resource can be used effectively for outreach and teaching.

In the historical documents presented and examined on the site, six power contenders are involved: two armed maritime powers, the Zheng family of China & Taiwan and the Dutch East India Company (VOC), two major land agrarian powers, Qing China and Tokugawa Japan, and two continental trade powers, Siam (now Thailand) and Cambodia who took advantages in this global trade and diplomacy competition among major powers. It is interesting to note that the main actors involved were all extensively global.

The website for Maritime Asia: War and Trade has five main themes through which the viewer can explore this multifaceted history:

  • Maritime Exercise. This part of the website functions as an open educational resource (OER) classroom simulation exercise targeted to 11th and 12th graders and post-secondary students. An instructor’s packet of lesson plans and interesting and inspiring questions for student debate can be downloaded.  
  • Exhibits. Included here are exhibitions of documents that highlight the history of the Zheng family and the Dutch VOC. For example, the first generation of the Zheng family, Zheng Zhilong of southeast China, was globally successful in both piracy and trade from Japan to Siam (now Thailand).  As a player in the Ming Dynasty, Zheng Zhilong was appointed “Admiral of the Coastal Seas.” His son, Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga), was born in Japan to a Japanese mother. Koxinga continued his father’s powerful maritime trade and military pursuits after his father’s had surrendered to Qing China in 1644 (and was executed in 1661). Koxinga defeated the Dutch in 1662, forcing out their colonial powers from Taiwan, and he shifted the Zheng family stronghold from China to Taiwan. Another exhibit from the website displays Dutch VOC highlighting their ships and the fort they built in Taiwan.

  • Timeline.  This portion of the website graphically documents major events among the 6 powers throughout the 17th century, from 1600 to 1683.     
  • Key actors.  Exploring individual personalities is one of the most compelling ways to dive into history.  Included here are presentations of individuals such as Zheng Zhilong, the founding patriarch of the Zheng family, Joan Maetsuycker, a governor-general from the VOC, Tokugawa Ietsuna of Japan, Kangxi Emperor of China, King Paramaraja VIII of Cambodia and King Narai of Siam (now Thailand).
  • Archive.  The Maritime Asia website highlights and provides contextualized access to primary source documents.  While the physical artefacts are housed in the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, users can access the digital surrogates through the website. 

Further readings on related subjects:

大航海時代與17世紀台灣 Age of exploration and the 17th century Taiwan)
鄭成功來臺 (Zheng Chenggong came to Taiwan)
Two open source Chinese learning websites created by the Research Center for Digital Humanities, National Taiwan University.

Pillaging the Empire Global Piracy on the High Seas, 1500-1750. / Kris Lane. 2016.

Sea rovers, silver, and samurai: Maritime East Asia in global history, 1550-1700 / edited by Tonio Andrade and Xing Hang. 2016.

Encounters: the meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 / Edited by Anna Jackson & Amin Jaffer. 2004.

Maritime Taiwan: historical encounters with the East and the West / Shih-shan Henry Tsai. 2009.

The colonial ‘civilizing process’ in Dutch Formosa, 1624-1662 / Chiu Hsin-hui, 2008

Formosa under the Dutch: described from the contemporary records / by Rev. Wm. Campbell. 2019.

Lost colony: the untold story of China’ first great victory over the West / Tonio Andrade. 2011.

How Taiwan became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han colonization in the seventeenth century / Tonio Andrade. 2008.

The Dutch impact on Japan (1640-1853) / Goodman, Grant Kohn. Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1967.

Japan and the Dutch, 1600-1853 /  Grant Kohn Goodman. 2000.

The quest for civilization: encounters with Dutch jurisprudence, political economy, and statistics at the dawn of modern Japan / Okubo Takeharu. 2014. 

Jan Compagnie in Japan, 1600-1817; an essay on the cultural, artistic and scientific influence exercised by the Hollanders in Japan from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries / C.R. Boxer. 1936.

Dawn of Western science in Japan. Rangaku kotohajime / Genpaku Sugita.  1969

Students Use Digital Tools to reveal “Hidden” Collection of Pre-Colonial Objects

Nasca bowl with birds

Students in Astrid Runggaldier’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Peru class were tasked with an intriguing project this spring: take a collection of pre-colonial objects that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible, and make it visible using digital tools. Their efforts have come to fruition with a first-of-its-kind online exhibition titled Ancient Coastal Cultures of Peru: People and Animals at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The objects in question are part of the Art and Art History Collection (AAHC) at The University of Texas at Austin, a collection associated with the Mesoamerica Center and the Department of Art and Art History. Consisting of ancient artifacts, ethnographic materials, and historical objects primarily from the Americas, the collection, curated by Runggaldier, spans approximately 5,000 invaluable objects for research and studious exploration. These rare pieces do not have their own dedicated exhibition space, although since 2017, select objects rotate through the Ancient Americas gallery at the Blanton Museum of Art (see “Mesoamerican Artifacts Highlight Makeover at UT’s Blanton”).

Chimu spout-and-handle vessel with human effigy

Long focused on the need for a virtual museum to showcase the AAHC collection, Runggaldier looked to the field of digital humanities to devise a project with a few objectives in mind. “Approaching this project from a digital humanities perspective could simultaneously serve in the stewardship of the collection, create an educational resource at UT and beyond, and provide an opportunity for students to become involved in learning goals and tools of digital scholarship, as well as museum studies approaches to collection management and curation,” she said.

Nasca vase with trophy head

Enter the LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Curriculum Redesign Award. The award provides UT faculty and graduate student instructors with dedicated staff support by LLILAS Benson digital scholarship staff along with a grant of up to $250 to cover expenses incurred in the design or redesign of a course with Latin American, U.S. Latinx, and/or African Diaspora Studies content. Runggaldier applied and received the award, which she used to redesign the Ancient Peru class. For this endeavor, she has worked with Albert Palacios, LLILAS Benson digital scholarship coordinator.

Student’s final project, showing object comparisons

Palacios explains that the goal of the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office is to “introduce digital humanities principles, methods, and special collections meaningfully and with a critical lens” in the redesign of undergraduate and graduate courses. “Through lectures, class activities, individual assignments and group projects, we aim to strike a balance in the knowledge we impart as co-instructors,” Palacios continues, “so that students leave the course with a well-rounded understanding of the subject matter and course content, as well as information literacy and research methods, basic and more advanced digital skills, and knowledge of ethical issues surrounding collection development and use.”

Chimu vessel

First-year student Miguel Belmonte, a neuroscience major, attests to the success of this aim: Before this course, “I had never used or even known about digital scholarship tools. It was a unique experience.”

Nasca objects depicting chile peppers; postcard showing twentieth-century vendor

Students were divided into teams of four for the final project. Each team had to research objects in the UT collection from two different pre-colonial Andean groups—the Chimu and the Nasca. They then had to compare the objects they chose to an object from another museum collection. To provide context for visualizing the environments of Peru, Runggaldier selected images from the Benson’s Hispanic Society of America Postcard Collection, which has been digitized, described, and mapped by School of Information graduate student Elizabeth Peattie, who is the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship and Special Collections intern. Three other indispensable contributors to the success of this project were Brianna Crockett, collections assistant and Art and Art History undergrad, who assisted in the compilation and description of digital assets; Katy Parker, Humanities Liaison Librarian for Fine Arts, who provided research support for students throughout the semester; and Nicole Payntar, doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, who designed assignment grading criteria and rubrics for research and digital project components.

Student slide featuring Chimu objects and thematic postcard

“I truly enjoy seeing the aha! moment in students’ eyes as they figure out how to use open-source digital tools to make their research more dynamic and interconnected,” says Palacios. “For many, the learning curve is steep, so the digital scholarship staff’s role is to help them overcome this. Luckily, we continue to hear that the in-depth and intense experience was worth the challenge!”

Runggaldier and Palacios had originally planned an in-person opening event to celebrate the going live of the online exhibition. Given the current closure of campus due to the covid-19 pandemic, this was not to be. We encourage readers to visit the online exhibition and to share their opinions on social media by tagging @llilasbenson and @UT_AAH and using the hashtag #digitalhumanities.

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More information: Contact Lauren Macknight, Art and Art History, or Susanna Sharpe, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Zines from the Russell Etchen Collection

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


Zines are do-it-yourself publications used by different cultural groups to share ideas and information. The zine name and format emerged in the 1930s from fanzines for the science fiction community. This same zine format – small circulation, handmade, often photocopied– was used by activists to disseminate social and political views in the 1960s. From the 1970s-1990s punk rockers and feminist groups often adopted the zine format as a way to express their views within their communities. During subsequent decades the appeal of zines has only grown for makers and viewers alike.  These light-to-hold pages of images and text are cheap to produce and to purchase, even fun to trade.  They have never been more popular.

The Fine Arts Library began collecting zines in earnest in 2010 under the stewardship of former Fine Arts Head Librarian Laura Schwartz. The reasonable cost of zines made collecting possible and the FAL emphasis was given to zines that related to art and music, as well as to local and regional zines. Schwartz also cultivated relationships with local zine dealers, including Russell Etchen, the owner of the former Austin bookstore Domy Books. When he moved from Austin, Etchen generously gave a collection of 302 zines to the FAL.  

zine cover, man in glasses with blue tint, title "cederteg Nº2, Nicholas Haggard, 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,11,12,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,36."

Among the zines in the Russell Etchen Collection are many created by artists. These zine artists were looking for a method to share work outside of traditional art world channels. Their artwork expresses every stage of the artistic process from preliminary sketches to carefully completed works of art. Although there are many themes that could be explored in the diverse, still-to-be cataloged, Etchen Collection, the exhibit, Art Zines From the Russell Etchen Collection, focuses on the contrasting ways in which six of these zine artists use the compositional devices of page layout, collage, and color to create and communicate. The exhibit will be of interest to any zine enthusiasts interested in do-it-yourself culture, as well as to scholars, artists, designers and art historians who can resource this distinctive zine collection for teaching and creative inquiry.

This is the first of three Omeka exhibits to focus on zines held in UT Collections. The zines for this exhibit were chosen by former Humanities Liaison Librarian for Fine Arts, Rebecca Pad. Print versions of these art zines from the Russell Etchen Collection are house in the Fine Arts Library.  Digitized copies of pages from these art zines, as well as more of the Etchen art zines, are to be found on Artstor under University of Texas – Art and Art History Visual Resources Collection

Sydney Kilgore is Media Coordinator for the Visual Resources Collection, Fine Arts Library.

Distinctive, Collaborative Collections Work in the Subcontinent

Regular travel “to the field” is an indispensable tool in the area studies librarian’s toolkit.  Firsthand knowledge of the cultural, political and intellectual context for the production and distribution of information resources is essential to maintaining both our expertise and currency in support of the global literacy being nurtured and developed here at UT.  I was fortunate to travel to India again this January due to the generosity of UT’s South Asia Institute and the many donors to UTL’s 2019 Hornraiser funding campaign.  I am immensely grateful to both for supporting this mission-critical acquisitions-, networking-, and professional development work! 

This year, I was able to visit 3 north Indian cities (Delhi, Lucknow and Varanasi) and I was able to achieve 3 major goals:

  • Acquire distinctive materials for UT’s collections, including materials specifically requested by UT faculty to advance their teaching and research but also books in Hindi and Urdu that will deepen our ever-growing South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection
woman in sales transaction with man in black coat and hat, in a book stall
Buying pulp fiction titles in Lucknow.
twelve people (from the english department at the university of lucknow and librarian mary rader) standing, smiling for the camera.
With the English Department at the University of Lucknow
  • Advance post-custodial open access efforts on South Asian Studies, including recently completed and collaboratively funded digitization projects, for example the newly available journals (Viplav, Viplavi Tract and Baagi), while simultaneously advocating the use of open access initiatives such as the South Asia Open Archive

One project I have been working on for the past 5 years exemplifies the type of work we UT global studies liaisons try to do while traveling abroad: the Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive.  The opportunity to digitize the papers of the 20th century Progressive Writer, Mr. Sajjad Zaheer, was brought to me back in 2014 by 3 UT professors—Kamran Ali (Anthropology), Akbar Hyder (Asian Studies) and Snehal Shingavi (English)—as all 3 used Sajjad Zaheer’s work in their scholarship.  As the Zaheer family had made an MoU with Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) to be the physical home of the collection, over multiple trips to Delhi and via countless email messages over the years, I worked with both the family members and with representatives of AUD’s Centre for Community Knowledge to inventory the collection, to get permissions to digitize the material, and to put the resulting files online in an open access repository.  Successful appeals to UT’s South Asia Institute and the South Asia Materials Project (SAMP) at the Center for Research Libraries for funding and eventual hosting of the archive enabled the work.  I used connections I had made on previous trips to facilitate the careful scanning work with digitization partners in India (the Roja Muthiah Research Library).  At our meeting this year in Delhi, we celebrated the completion of our initial objectives—digitally preserved and openly accessible copies of the collection

archival photo of three people (Sajjad Zaheer, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nehru's daughter) on a stone pathway in a garden
Photo from the Online Archive of Zaheer with his daughter and India’s 1st Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Digital collections are never done, however, so we also used this year’s meeting to put our heads together to explore ways to improve access and discovery of the archive (a digital humanities project currently underway at UTL, again generously funded by UT’s South Asia Institute) and to think of other authors’ work we would like to present in similar ways.  The project may have taken 5 years but they were productive, cooperative, and mutually beneficial years.  I can only hope for such success in future projects!

On the Road to Korea

Thanks to generous funding from donors to a 2019 Hornraiser crowdfunding effort and support from UT Libraries, I was able to visit Korea and Taiwan in October.  In this blog post, I highlight the Korea portion of my trip—if you’d like to learn more about Taiwan, just ask!  I’m happy to share my experience with all interested!  While in Korea, I was able to do much of my usual liaison librarian work but with considerably increased efficiency and depth because I was “in context.”  For example, I was able to (re)connect with vendors, to attend scholarly and cultural events, and to participate in conferences, all related to and in support of the Korean Studies programs here at UT.

The primary focus of my trip was to attend the “2019 Overseas Korean Studies Librarian Workshop”  sponsored by and held at the National Library of Korea (NLK) in Seoul on from October 14-17.I arrived in Korea a week before the workshop so that my colleague Julie Wang of SUNY Binghamton Libraries and I could attend the 24th Busan International Film Festival, one of the most significant film festivals in Asia, to visit vendors, and to meet with the Korea Foundation. At the film festival, we were lucky to have the opportunity to listen to a group of rising documentary Asian directors about their films—films in all languages not just Korean.

Meeting the directors of Asian Short Film Competition.

We also visited our database vendors KSI and Nurimedia to learn of their current programs and future plans. We were delighted to learn that KSI is working on an English interface for its database KISS  and that they expected to launch it in the summer 2020. (Nurimedia’s database DBpia & KRpia already have English interfaces.)  Along the way, we were joined by Wen-ling Liu of Indiana University and the three of us U.S.-based librarians to visit the Korea Foundation (KF). The Korea Foundation has been partially supporting our subscription of KSI and Nurimedia’s e-resources and providing the Library with print materials, both through annual grant applications. The Foundation headquarters is in Jeju Island (a 70-minute-flight away from Seoul) and so we were particularly grateful that three of the Foundation staff flew in to Seoul to meet with us, explain their programs, and listen to our concerns.

The following week, we were all participants in the “Overseas Korean Studies Librarian Workshop,” a workshop generously funded by the National Library of Korea.  This workshop is designed for overseas librarians who are non-Korean-native and whose job responsibilities include Korean subject areas. Participants came from ten countries (in three continents!), including 17 librarians from academic, national, public and theological seminary libraries and one art historian from a university. None of the participants is solely a Korean studies librarian; in fact, a lot of us are East Asian or Asian studies librarians whose responsibilities also cover Korean studies. Only a few participants have “adequate” Korean language skills, most of us have very limited or not any Korean language skills.

In front of National Library of Korea.
In the classroom.

At the workshop, the National Library of Korea (NLK) introduced us to its digitization projects and services. Since 1982, it has been working with oversea libraries (China and Japan as well as western countries), local organizations, and private collections to digitize Korean rare books and to provide metadata and services through KORCIS: Korean Old and Rare Collection Information System. Currently, there are over 50,000 titles in KORCIS.

NLK also offers various international exchange & cooperation programs, the most notable is its “Window on Korea” (WOK). As of October 2019, NLK has signed MOUs with 25 overseas libraries for this program. To each WOK library, NLK provides funding for equipment (computers, chairs and desks, signboard etc.) in addition to 1500-4000 volumes of Korean books over a five year period. The mission of the WOK project is to introduce foreign researchers and ordinary library users to the history, tradition, culture, language and literature of Korea as well as Korea’s new achievements in the field of information technology.  I’m hopeful that UT Libraries might pursue an MOU with the Window on Korea program one day!   

 All workshop participants—including me!– gave presentations about Korean studies and Korean library resources at their home institutes or countries. This was one of the most interesting and valuable parts of the workshop for me. I regularly meet with our US colleagues at conferences but I rarely have opportunity to learn of Korean studies and Korean library resources in other part of the world.  For example, I heard about Korean Studies programs in Uzbekistan, France, Russia, Germany and beyond!

The memorable farewell dinner party was held at a traditional Korean building where we all changed to hanbok (traditional Korean dress). As you can see, people were having fun and wanted to take lots of photos in hanbok!

All participants in hanbok.
Having fun!

The cultural tours took us to National Hangeul (or Hangul) Museum and National Museum of Korea. At the Hangeul Museum, we used hammers to punch letters into leather to inscribe our hangul names. We also made a book from block printing and in traditional Korean binding. This kind of hands-on project reminded me of our own maker-spaces here at UT such as the Foundry.

Punching your hangul (Korean alphabet) name onto leather penholder.
Making block printing.
Demonstrating traditional Korean book binding.
In front of National Museum of Korea. Participants are holding the book he/she just made.

All eighteen participants stayed in the same hotel and had every meal together. The workshop provided a rare opportunity for participants to really get to know our fellow Korean librarians from across the world. We have learned from one another not only from the formal presentations, but also from chatting and discussions at each meal and on bus trips. At the end of the workshop, we all had become old friends. We have created a mailing list and have since begun to communicate with one another. Because of this unique experience, I now know whom to turn to especially when there are difficult questions involving Korea/Korean and the countries where my fellow participants come from.

My trip was made possible by funding from Hornraiser donors. Thanks to their generosity, I was able to fly to and from Seoul (and Taiwan for another workshop) and to extend my trip in Korea to attend the Busan Film Festival and to visit our vendors and sponsor.

Exhibition: Cuban Comics in the digital Era

Based on exhibition text by Gilbert Borrego

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of Cuba’s Revolutionary Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Curator

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


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

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

Read, Hot and Digitized: Footprints – The Chronotope of the Jewish Book

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.  

Working as a book conservator back in the days in Tel Aviv, I was always intrigued by the notes and scribbles found on flyleaves, covers, and pages of centuries-old books. It seemed that this text, which supposedly was not related to the actual content of the book in hand, had its own story to tell – about places, people, and events. Now this data is playing the main role in Footprints; these pieces of information could be interlinked, and show us a new spatial landscape of Jewish texts through generations.

The goal of the project, a collaborative initiative by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University, is to create a “database to track the circulation of printed ‘Jewish books’ (in Hebrew, other Jewish languages, and books in Latin and non-Jewish vernaculars with Judaica contents).”[1] Those notes, scribbles, and ‘marginal’ pieces of information are scattered in many forms. Footprints lists many types of evidence while documenting the movement of books, and presents visualizations of mobility, including mapping. Some types of evidence include owners’ signatures and bookplates; handwritten notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably received a copy of the product.[2]

Footprints website.

Take for example the literary work titled ʻAḳedat Yitsḥaḳ (“the Binding of Isaac”) – a collection of philosophical homilies and commentaries on the Torah by Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494).

This text is represented by five different imprints. Each imprint is represented by various unique copies, and each copy has between one to nine ‘footprints.’ For example, the imprint published in 1547 in Venice, Italy, has five unique ‘holdings’ in the database. One of these copies is traced through six different ‘time stamps’, owners, and locations, from 1599 (Modena, Italy) through 1986 (New York, NY). Another fascinating example is the journey of a copy of Masekhet Nedarim (a Talmudic tractate) printed in Venice in 1523. In 1663 it was bought (and sold) in Yemen. Between 1842 to 1894 it was owned by Alexander Kohut in New York, and since 1915 this particular copy has been owned by Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)
Inscription with details of the sale of Masekhet Nedarim in Yemen, 1663. (https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/footprint/6085/)

Librarians and researches from Europe, Israel, and Unites States are constantly adding new information and validating accuracy of current entries. The database currently includes 7638 unique footprints, and is searchable by keywords, footprint year, and publication year. Here in Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is also collaborating with Footprints; data gleaned from the Center’s early Hebrew books holdings, mainly those dated pre-1800, will be uploaded soon to the database.

Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool; it uses a PostgresSQL, an object-relational database system, which is available on Github. As such, it is both a digital humanities project and a global collaborative project. The digital platform makes public the very process of scholarship performed by trusted crowd sourcing. The collaborative platform invites immediate feedback, editing, and revision.[3] The project owners anticipate future uses to include inferential statistical analysis and network visualization. They anticipate that “cultural historians and statisticians would leverage their mutual areas of expertise to offer a statistical analysis that takes into account social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.”[4] In addition, they plan to visualize networks of book movement showing connections between places, and networks connecting individuals to each other or to other places.

Footprints brings to mind Bakhtin’s Chronotope, where time and place are merging into one meaningful experience. A physical printed book travels through times and places; created, owned, and used by various individuals, carrying with it ideas and intellectual meaning. A Chronotope of the Jewish book, Footprints is a multidimensional bibliography, which highlights and makes use of previously unknown resources in a way that re-imagines the practice of Jewish book history.


Further reading (all available at Perry-Castañeda Library)

Pearson, David. 2007. “What Can We Learn by Tracking Multiple Copies of Books?” In Books on the Move : Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade, edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote, 17-37. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press ; London : British Library.

Walsby, Malcolm and Natasha Constantinidu, eds. 2013. Documenting the Early Modern Book World: Inventories and Catalogs in Manuscript and Print. Leiden: Brill.

Dweck, Yaacob. 2010. “What is a Jewish Book?Association for Jewish Studies Review 34: 367-376.

[1] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/

[2] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about02

[3] Michelle Chesner, Marjorie Lehman, Adam Shear, Joshua Teplitsky. “Footprints: Tracking Individual Copies of Printed books Using Digital Methods.” 2018. Medaon, 23. https://www.medaon.de/en/artikel/footprints-tracking-individual-copies-of-printed-books-using-digital-methods/

[4] http://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/about/#about05

 

 

Area Spelunker Donates Cave Collection

Caves and karst (eroded limestone terrains) are tied to the whole of human history – as shelters, as sources of water, as places of mystery and worship, and as research topics in geology, biology, hydrology and engineering. The Walter Geology Library as a respected research library in earth sciences, has a strong collection in caves and karst research, particularly since Central Texas has many caves and karst features, and the region has long hosted an avid caving community.

Volume from the Bill Mixon cave collection.
Volume from the Bill Mixon cave collection.

One member of that local caving community, Bill Mixon — former book review editor for the National Speleological Society and friend of the Walter Library — recently donated his unique collection of over 1000 books and more than 1000 periodical issues related to cave and karst research, literature, and culture. Remarkably, this entire collection is all material new to the UT Libraries, significantly broadening and enhancing our existing collections.

The collection is largely international in scope, and among the items included, almost 1/3 of the books are not only new to UT, but not held otherwise in any US libraries, or not held anywhere at all. Another 20+% of the materials are held in fewer than 5 North American collections.

The literature of caving is largely produced by specialists for specialists, and much of it is only shared among informal networks, or is only available locally or regionally — not the kind of stuff you can buy on Amazon. For this reason, this gift of personally-curated material from around the world is a tremendous asset, representing years of effort on the part of the donor to amass such a significant cross section of the world’s cave publications.

We are grateful for the gift, as it adds significantly to our existing strengths, and will give future researchers the benefit of having guides, exploration reports, and research on most of the world’s major cave and karst systems all in one place.

Why Caves Matter. 

Caves are:

  • Hidden time machines and an historical record of previous natural and human activity
  • Essential filtration tools and sources for water
  • Home to unique critters and life forms, including bats, spiders, microbes
  • Great sources of fossils of all kinds
  • Key to the study of climate
  • Important areas of earth science research
  • Home to early man, later man, hiding man, man at war
  • Repositories of early human art
  • Important risk factors in construction
  • Irresistible explorers’ temptation

Who cares?

  • biologists
  • geologists
  • hydrologists
  • engineers
  • military
  • historians
  • explorers

Vibrant but Vanishing Lending Libraries of South Asia

Inside Eashwari Lending Library.
Inside Eashwari Lending Library.

Throughout the fall of 2018, I was honored to be able to convene UT South Asia Institute’s Seminar Series, “Popular | Public | Pulp: form and genre in South Asian cultural production.”  Throughout the series, speakers explored printed examples of South Asian popular culture—mysteries, romances, comics—as they underscore and grapple with historical and contemporary concerns such as identity, power, & representation.  In addition to interrogating literary approaches, speakers in the series further addressed questions of gender, of sexuality, of caste & religion, and of authority, helping readers and scholars alike challenge what qualifies as “worthy” both in terms of style and substance.

One goal of the series was to draw attention to UT Libraries growing collection of popular and pulp fiction in South Asian languages, a collection that is nationally and internationally unique in gathering and preserving popular materials and subsequently making them available for users.  Beyond publicity, however, the series was also intended to uncover reading and distribution networks for these materials so that I might continue to creatively and productively acquire them while on acquisitions and networking trips to South Asia.  In November and December, and with the generous funding of both UTL and the South Asia Institute, I was privileged to travel to India and more deeply explore a venue repeatedly invoked in the fall speaker series: small lending libraries.

Small lending libraries are a cultural phenomenon throughout South Asia which support themselves through highly localized, neighborhood-based memberships.  Unlike UT Libraries which has a long-term and “long-tail” research agenda, the mission of these lending libraries is to support current and highly popular reading practices, not unlike many small public libraries in the U.S.

Senthil Lending Library.
Senthil Lending Library.

While in Chennai, I was able to visit two lively lending libraries—Easwari and Senthil—to observe their operations, to ask questions about the popularity of particular authors, and to acquire second-hand materials.  Both libraries carry all the bestsellers—in English [Mills and Boon, Harry Potter, James Patterson] and in Tamil [Rajesh Kumar, Indira Soundarajan, Raminichandran]—and experience high circulation of their books.  Because preservation is not part of their mission, the libraries are willing to sell the most ephemeral of their materials, namely monthly periodicals which include crime, detective and “women’s” fiction (romances as well as family dramas).

Eashwari Lending Library.
Easwari Lending Library.

Inside Eashwari Lending Library.
Inside Easwari Lending Library.

Despite the vibrant activity I observed at both these libraries, I am told that lending libraries are slowly vanishing from the South Asian landscape, ceding space to other entertainments and ways of “time pass.”  I was happy to have had the chance to visit these libraries and I do hope they will still be open and serving their readers on my next visit.  If not, though, I am comforted knowing that UT Libraries is participating in documenting and preserving some of this literary and cultural history for researchers long into the future.