Category Archives: Features

Read, Hot and Digitized: More is less? Less is more? Minimal computing in South Asian Lexicography

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

I had the lucky opportunity recently to catch Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara’s presentation on the University of Colorado’s Digital El Diario project at the UC San Diego Digital Initiatives Symposium wherein she advocated for the use of “minimal computing” to achieve “archival justice.” Deeply inspired by her comments but woefully ignorant of the corpus on minimal computing within DS/DH (what seems a combination of activist- and digital-turn on the “less process, more product” concept in archival work), I took it upon myself to learn more as I struggle with the constant nagging tension between achieving the immediate task at hand (“will a simple Google chart effectively communicate my point?”), exploiting technologies to their fullest extent (“boy, I sure bet I would impress folks if I used a sexy Tableau dashboard”), and justifying resources (“this will cost how much??”).  When, I wondered, is less actually more in DS/DH, when is more actually more, and how should we negotiate those differences?

Way back in 2017, Roopika Risam and Susan Edwards argued (in “Micro DH: Digital Humanities at the Small Scale”) that the fixation of everything “large” is not conducive to justice across our institutions, our staff, nor our data:

“Digital humanities practices are often understood in terms of significant scale: big data, large data sets, digital humanities centers… This emphasis leads to the perception that projects cannot be completed without substantial access to financial resources, data, and labor… While this can be the case, such presumptions serve as a deterrent to the development of an inclusive digital humanities community with representation across academic hierarchies (student, librarian, faculty), types of institutions (public, private, regional), and geographies (Global North, Global South).”

I found their argument compelling and wondered where I had seen these tensions in practice.  As a South Asianist, I had to look no further than the uniquely colonial way of knowing—lexicography–and the uniquely 21st century way of access–digital reformatting. 

For over 20 years, the Digital Dictionaries of South Asia (part of the Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago) has arguably been the gold standard for online South Asian language dictionaries.  Recognizing the inadequacies of OCR tools to convert images of most South Asian scripts to accurate text data, the DDSA has utilized strategies such as “double blind keying” to produce highly accurate digital editions of established and respected dictionaries.  The process is time-consuming and expensive but produces trusted full-text data that can be used and manipulated in a variety of ways, including those beyond dictionaries.  The institutional positioning of the University of Chicago has allowed for many successful grants over the years to fund DDSA, including those from the US Department of Education, the Mellon Foundation, the Association for Research Libraries and others.  The DDSA is truly extensive in scope and in impact.

At the other end of the spectrum is the DigitalRoses project.  In this pilot, an individual researcher, Gil Ben Herut, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida, presents another approach to digital dictionary making.  Rather than seeking a fully searchable, text-mineable dictionary, Herut suggests that simple encoding that operationalizes headwords alone (rather than the full-text) for navigation within a dictionary is sufficient for most user applications.  Using target words, the DigitalRoses approach “resolves a common problem in OCR text ingestion through the utilization of manual indexing of the first entry word on each page in physical media, [thereby… ingesting dictionaries at a fraction of the time and cost of full digitization,… streamlining searching by allowing partial, wildcard and fuzzy searches, and maintaining the richness of the printed layout.”

In comparision, then, we have two approaches to the same problem and therefore two solutions.  See, for example, a search for the Kannada word for “book,” Kitaba/ಕಿತಾಬು, in the DDSA version of Kittel’s Kannada-English Dictionary and in the Digital Roses version.

The thoroughly meticulous approaches used in the DDSA model produce a robust and unique digital experience built on fully manipulatable, multiscript data while the simple imaging and only partial inputting of the DigitalRoses project produces a quick digital surrogate to the analog counterpart. 

Turning back to “minimal computing,” these two projects offer up models to complicate our understanding of who gets to do what and how in our technologically informed research.  Grant funding allows for big data and big research at big institutional levels.  Minimal computing allows individuals and less resourced cohorts to also meaningfully contribute to the field.  Both approaches have the potential to positively impact users and the creation of new knowledge. 

I encourage you to consider where you fall on this debate: is less more? Is more more?  And when does it matter?


For more on minimal computing, justice through DS/DH, lexicography, and Kannada, see:

Constance Crompton, Richard J. Lane and Ray Siemens, eds.  Doing digital humanities: practice, training, research (London; New York: Routledge, 2016)

Howard Jackson, ed. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Lexicography / [edited by] Howard Jackson. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022)

Ferdinand Kittel and Mariappa Bhatt. Kittel’s Kannaḍa-English dictionary. (Madras: University of Madras, 1968-1971)

Roopika Risam. New digital worlds: postcolonial digital humanities in theory, praxis, and pedagogy (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2019)

Read, Hot, and Digitized: Adventures in Data-Sitting

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

It will come as no surprise that I, the English Literature Librarian, was a nerdy little bookworm as a child. I actively participated in the Book It! reading program, a literacy initiative sponsored by Pizza Hut. The premise of Book It! was simple: After completing five books and getting the sign-off from my teacher, I would “earn” a coupon for a personal pan pizza. When I was in 5th grade, I read enough Baby-Sitters Club (BSC) books in a single week to earn three pizzas. I felt a tinge of guilt because I had skipped early chapters in each book where the text was reused, word-for-word, from previous books in the series. It was always Chapter 2!

Every devoted Baby-Sitters Club fan knows the text was reused to introduce the characters and the premise of the series. There were over 200 books published in the span of 13 years – of course some of it would be repetitive! But let’s take it a step further. What if we could quantifiably demonstrate the reuse of Chapter 2 text, while also comparing stylistic and narrative changes across multiple ghostwriters and cultural trends? And how would you do this kind of analysis of 200+ novels, spin-offs, and graphic novel adaptations? Well, a feminist collective of scholars called the Data-Sitters Club (DSC) is attempting to do just that. 

Cover art for the Data-Sitters Club, by artist Claire Chenette

The Data-Sitters Club describe their project as “a fun way to learn about computational text analysis for digital humanities”. They created a corpus of Ann M. Martin’s influential young adult series and have analyzed it using a variety of DH methods and tools (Python, R, TEI, Voyant, just to name a few). The Baby-Sitters Club has had a long pop culture shelf-life for Gen X and Millennial readers, with the recent Netflix reboot (which was sadly canceled after two seasons) and the podcasts Stuck in Stonybrook and the Baby-Sitters Club Club. According to the publisher Scholastic, the series has been in print since 1986 and has sold more than 190 million copies. Given the series’ immense popularity and continued pop culture influence, the books are a gold mine for researchers interested in gender, race, class, and sexuality, but, like much of girl culture, the books haven’t been the subject of serious research.

So the Data-Sitters Club saw opportunity for new research, while also making DH more accessible, especially to women and other marginalized groups often sidelined in DH projects. The DSC does this through a series of 16 blog posts on their GitHub site, written to mimic the narrative style of the book series, including titles that riff off the originals. Each blog post covers a use case for the BSC corpus and features a different tool, coding language or technique. Two of my favorites are DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus and DSC #5: The DSC and the Impossible TEI Quandaries. (A running joke throughout the blog is that later posts refer the reader back to “Chapter 2” to explain the corpus and how it was created, an intentional reference to the Chapter 2 in the original series that reused text to explain the series’ premise.)

Cover art for DSC #2: Katia and the Phantom Corpus, which parodies an original Baby-Sitters Club book cover that I’m pretty sure I read in 3rd or 4th grade. Image courtesy of the Data-Sitters Club

One thing you won’t find on the DSC GitHub site is the corpus itself. The team scanned print books to create a legal corpus, but as of right now, it’s not available publicly online. The DSC has used the project as an advocacy tool to promote the loosening of ebook copyright restrictions to build literary corpra for private research. In partnership with the non-profit Authors Alliance, they wrote to the Librarian of Congress asking for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 to access the full BSC corpus. Of all the DSC blog posts, I found DSC #7: The DSC and the Mean Copyright Law to be the most fascinating – and frustrating.

I would recommend the Data-Sitters Club blog to any emerging DH scholar or librarian looking to try a new tool or method. Much of the content is highly technical, but the fun, approachable tone of each blog post makes the content accessible. I hope they are able to get legal access to the full ebook corpus so we can see more research on the Baby-Sitters Club books and better understand their cultural impact on a generation of women and girls.

You can find print copies of the original Baby-Sitters Club series in the PCL Youth Collection, and I highly recommend the recent essay collection We Are the Baby-Sitters Club: Essays and Artwork from Grown-up Readers, available at the PCL.  

Keeping Tabs on Campus Trends

The only constant is change, as the old saying goes. As technological and social change affect how we interact and engage with one another, it’s critical that libraries continually seek information about the evolving expectations of our community. Observations and usage trends provide valuable data that help orient our direction, but sometimes the best way to surface user expectations is to just ask

At the end of February, the Libraries launched a campus-wide survey to a random sample of students, faculty, and—for the first time—staff. If you happened to be among those who received an invitation and responded, we offer our thanks. If you didn’t get an invite, maybe we’ll catch you next time. The Libraries typically undertake a survey every 2 or 3 years to make sure we’re keeping tabs on how we are doing—it’s a great way to see what’s working well, what we might consider changing and in some cases, what we might stop doing. 

The 2022 survey is particularly important because it is the Libraries’ first survey since prior to the pandemic. The original plan was to implement the survey in fall 2020, but things felt too different, too anomalous at that time to get an accurate picture. Many of us were not on campus, and many of our circumstances were strained or unusual. We wanted the survey to represent longer-term trends—inasmuch as those exist anymore—rather than a snapshot of perceptions during the campus’s most restrictive COVID-related policies. The last time we surveyed the campus was in spring 2018, so there’s an eagerness to see what has changed and what has stayed the same over the last four turbulent years. 

For the first time, we developed and wrote our own survey instrument. This has long been a goal of mine, not because there aren’t great survey instruments available to libraries, but because we wanted to be able to tailor our questions to our unique population and circumstances. Past industry-standard instruments that we’ve used such as those created by LibQUAL and Ithaka S+R allowed us to compare trends at UT to national trends—which is a valuable exercise—but this time we wanted to focus on the perceptions, experiences, and needs of the Longhorn community. With support from folks around campus (especially the staff in IRRIS) and a seasoned assessment team, we took on the challenge of writing, administering, and analyzing our own survey, designed to provide us with actionable feedback. 

In the coming months, we’ll be using this space to share some of the findings from the survey as we work through our analysis, and eventually, we will have full results to share with the public. Topics that you can expect to see addressed here include longitudinal insights (i.e., where we see trends and perceptions evolving over the long term), spotlights on insights gleaned about different demographic groups, and other interesting tidbits. We won’t just tell you what we find interesting, though—we want to highlight what we’re doing with the results. Expect to read about areas that we want to investigate further with focus groups and interviews, and changes that we’re putting in place based on what we learn. 

A sneak peak of a survey item focused on satisfaction shows that for the most part, folks are pretty happy with us…in particular, happy with the Libraries’ services.  But there is more still to be learned from a thorough review of the data:

  • Does that hold true across all demographic groups?  
  • What can we learn about those who aren’t satisfied?  

These are the kinds of questions we’ll be asking ourselves and our users, as we sift through the results. We invite you participate in an ongoing exploration of the data we’ve collected so that we can learn even more from the process of analysis as we seek to improve the work of these Libraries.  

The Libraries’ roadmap for success depends largely on hearing both the praise and criticism of our users, so take an opportunity to help improve your UT Libraries by providing your own input, feedback and observations as we plan together for the best possible future. 

Read, Hot and Digitized: New Era of Post-Pandemic Photo Exhibitions 

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.

This post was written by Sarth Khare, the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.


Josef Koudelka is one of the most respectable names in documentary photography. To many photographers like me, his work is as perfect as it gets. His enigmatic images immortalize the slivers of rare moments, spaces, and events that he witnessed in his extraordinary life. Whether they are of Warsaw Pact troops marching in Prague, of Roma Communities in Romania and Spain, or the large panoramas of landscapes across cities, his photos have the mystical power to transport the viewer into the time and world the photo was taken in.   

Ever since I got to know about his work, I would go online and look for his photos. I would easily spend hours, looking for the shades of grays, the composition, angles and emotive expressions that made his work so rare. But I never got the clarity or satisfaction that one would get by looking at a physical print up-close. The materiality of the paper, the grains shining through and the rich gradience in the tones always seemed to be absent in the digital scans of his work that were available online.  

In the middle of the global pandemic, the National Library of France announced an exhibition “Josef Koudelka. Ruins” which ran from September 15, 2020 to December 16, 2020. The exhibition highlighted panoramic landscapes taken by Josef Koudelka over 28 years across various archeological sites across the world.  

What was most exciting about the exhibition was the accessibility it provided during the pandemic. The physical curation of the exhibit was translated to an online tour using 360° shots. Anyone in the world could access the exhibition and travel through sixty points of view, including, through zooming tools, the ability to look at prints from close and far. One can read the texts on the picture rails along the prints, but more than that, from within the 360° shots itself, viewers can click to view high-resolution scans of the prints.   

This online experience completely changed the idea of exhibitions for me: I could simultaneously experience the detailed nuances of Koudelka’s photographs while  I could also enjoy moving in a world that was designed around them.  

I felt elated with this experience—that galleries and curators alike are striving to reproduce a similar sense of awe online. The push towards this novel approach was two-fold. Firstly, the need of making the exhibition reach people during the pandemic, and secondly, the current tools and technologies that can make this dematerialization of space possible across the internet. 360° virtual tools have been used in real estate and architecture for a while now but have only recently become sophisticated enough to get realistic renderings of spaces. Overlaying such 360° visualizations with high-resolution scans of the static images was a missing piece of the larger puzzle—and what makes this tour so engaging and memorable. 

Although the tour mimics the exhibition in all mannerism, and I believe it is one of the most perfect renderings yet, I can’t say that it was ideal in all means. To physically be in a space with such larger-than-life panoramic images and seeing their juxtaposition is an extraordinary experience. It teleports the viewer from the gallery into the space of the image and has the power to change the viewer. 

 Traveling within the computer screen, however, can become repetitive. But these are current limits of our technology. Within these limitations, this digital exhibition is a milestone. With the growth of virtual reality, I feel that future reproductions that build on this exhibition would become more integrated and holistic.   

I witnessed the exhibition, from my home in India, without having to go to France, and experienced the details and depth of the work of a master whom I truly admire. I must have already spent more than 10 hours roaming digitally along the exhibition spaces of the National Library of France. And I continue doing so now: long after its physical counterpart has ended the digital exhibit is still on display.  

I invite everyone reading this to click on the link below and experience this extraordinary event themselves.  http://expositions.bnf.fr/koudelka/  

UT Austin is also very lucky because the Harry Ransom Center is the home to about 200,000 original prints of Magnum Photos. Magnum Photos is the world’s most influential international photographic cooperative of which Josef Koudelka is a part of. One can access their archives and see the collection details at the following link:  https://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00502

One can also access Koudelka’s photobooks at the Fine Arts Library here at UT Austin. All of his major publications are available here including the forementioned project “Ruins” – https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991058227980106011

His seminal work “Exiles” can be found here as well- 
https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991021857199706011 

Read, Hot, and Digitized: OCR/HTR for all with eScriptorium

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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 perennial issue for digital researchers in non-Roman-script languages (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, or Ancient Greek) is the availability and utility of tools for automatically transcribing digitized text. That is, how can researchers make their print and handwritten materials, or digitized print materials, machine-readable, full-text searchable, and ready for numerous digital scholarship applications? Although emerging a little later than their Roman script peers, such tools have been under development for some time for non-Roman languages––and often with marked improvements over their digital brethren. One of the most remarkable tools developed to date is eScriptorium, an open-source platform for digitized document analysis. It makes use of the Kraken Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine, which was developed to address the needs of right-to-left languages such as Arabic.

While the purpose of eScriptorium is to provide a holistic workflow to produce digital editions, the first step in the process is the transcription of primary sources, and this is where the project has been focused until recently. Researchers can train the tool to machine-transcribe texts according to their needs. It has been designed to work with books, documents, inscriptions––anything that has been rendered into a digitized image. Adding such images to eScriptorium is the first step in the transcription process. As more and more libraries and archives make digital surrogates of printed and handwritten texts freely available on the Internet, researchers have ever-increasing opportunities to explore texts and create useful data for their research. eScriptorium has been designed to work especially well with handwritten texts, which means that it generally will work even better with printed texts. eScriptorium, as a tool, has the added benefit of working with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). This means that researchers can access images at a variety of institutions around the world directly and without the necessity of downloading and hosting those materials themselves. IIIF also facilitates the automatic import of available metadata with images, which can be a big time-saver.

The second step in eScriptorium’s transcription process is line detection. eScriptorium can be used to annotate images of documents, show where lines of text are, and which areas of a page or image to transcribe––all as customized by the researcher. Researchers create examples of what they want the computer to do, and the tool learns from those examples. It then automatically applies its learning to other images. eScriptorium has a default system that can detect the basic layout of pages, and––thankfully––researchers can modify the results of the default line detection in order to improve the final result of transcription.

Once the lines have been identified, researchers move on to the transcription itself. Researchers define the transcription standards (normalization, romanization, approaches to punctuation and abbreviation, and so on). The tool learns from transcription examples created by the researcher and applies what it learns to the added texts. With eScriptorium, researchers can type the transcribed text by hand, import an existing text using a standard format, or copy and paste a text from elsewhere. After creating enough examples (an undefined number that will differ for each researcher’s needs), the tool learns from them and then can transcribe the remaining texts automatically. Some correction may be needed, but those corrections can then be used to train the tool again.

Of note is how eScriptorium has been selected for an essential role in the Open Islamicate Texts Initiative’s Arabic-script Optical Character Recognition Catalyst Project (OpenITI AOCP). It will be the basis of the OpenITI AOCP’s “digital text production pipeline,” facilitating OCR and text export into a variety of formats. eScriptorium encourages researchers to download, publish, and share trained models, and to make use of trained models from other projects. OpenITI AOCP and eScriptorium-associated researchers have published such data, including BADAM (Baseline Detection in Arabic-script Manuscripts). Researchers can even retrain other trained models to their own purposes. This can help researchers get going with their transcription faster, reducing the time needed for creating models by hand.

I encourage readers to consider using UT Libraries’ own digital collections (particularly the Middle East Studies Collection) as a source of digitized images of text if they want to give eScriptorium a try. UT Libraries also has worked closely with FromThePage, a transcription tool for collaborative transcription and translation projects. The crowdsourcing and collaborative options available with FTP will be useful to many projects focusing on documents too challenging for the capabilities of today’s OCR and HTR tools. Don’t forget to share your projects and let us know how these tools and materials have helped your research!

Dale J. Correa, PhD, MS/LIS is Middle Eastern Studies Librarian and History Coordinator for the UT Libraries.

Staff Highlighter: Meryl Brodsky

These Libraries’ are nothing without the folks who keep the ship on course, even in stormy weather.

Meet Meryl Brodsky, Liaison Librarian for Communication, who joined the Libraries in September 2019, just before a storm….

What’s your title, and what do you do for the Libraries?

My title is Moody College of Communication & School of Information Librarian. I work with faculty and students from both of these schools to help them with research and classes. I teach information and data-related classes and workshops, create learning materials, and select materials for our collections. 

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?

I am constantly learning, whether it’s about student or faculty research projects or new technology, I get to learn new things every day.

What are you most proud of in your job? 

I recently co-edited a book with a former colleague on Data Literacy, that is teaching people to find, evaluate, use and manage data. The ACRL Data Literacy Cookbook will come out in about a year.

What has been your best experience at the Libraries?

My best experiences have all been working with people, whether they are colleagues, faculty, or students. I really enjoy co-creating with others.

Which do you prefer: on campus or remote? Why?

I have a lot of experience in remote work from past employment so I am pretty comfortable with remote, though I also like the energy of being on campus. 

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

Paper quilting by Meryl Brodsky

I have a keen interest in paper and card making. I’ve been obsessed with something I call paper quilting, that is cutting paper to create quilt patterns. 

Dogs or cats?

Cats, though right now, it’s just one, Tigger, who makes an occasional Zoom appearance.

Favorite book, movie or album?

Book: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert? What’s your favorite food or dish?

 Breakfast: Coffee!! Though, coffee is good any time.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I hope to be upside down, have mastered a headstand.

Read, Hot and Digitized: The Texas Freedom Colonies Project

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


The Texas Freedom Colonies Project (TFCP) was founded in 2014 by Dr. Andrea Roberts as a multimodal research and social justice initiative to document and preserve Texas’ historic Black settlements. Affiliated with Texas A&M University, the TFCP is a unique digital scholarship project that highlights the resiliency of Black communities in Texas through GIS mapping, archival research and community outreach.

Settlements founded by formerly enslaved people after the Civil War up until the 1930s were known as “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. These rural communities were established by Black Texans as self-sufficient colonies and offered refuge from the treacherous systems of debt bondage and sharecropping in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Although 557 Freedom Colonies are known to have existed, the project notes that “Freedom Colony descendants’ lack of access to technical assistance, ecological and economic vulnerability, and invisibility in public records has quickened the disappearance of these historic Texas communities.” [1]

That’s where the Texas Freedom Colonies Project’s Atlas comes in. The project’s interactive map displays Freedom Colonies’ physical locations alongside records of the settlement’s history documented in primary and secondary sources, community websites and other media. So far, the project has mapped the points of 357 colonies in Texas and has documented all known 557 colonies in its Atlas database.

Screenshot showing newspaper coverage attached to the mapped record of the South Toledo Bend settlement.
Screenshot showing newspaper coverage attached to the mapped record of the South Toledo Bend settlement.

Built with ArcGIS StoryMap, the atlas utilizes dynamic GIS layers to show current development and ecological threats to surviving communities. The project’s use of external datasets as custom map layers distinctly illuminates the power and significance of this digital mapping project by revealing the interconnected history and present of Texas Freedom Colonies. 

For example, the “Texas Harvey Affected Counties” layer shows Texas counties that were affected by hurricane Harvey in 2018. The TFCP notes that 64% of Freedom Colonies were located on land that FEMA designated as disaster areas (!). Viewing the Atlas with this particular layer is a striking visual reminder of how vulnerable these communities are as they were often founded on land prone to natural disasters.

Screenshot showing the Harvey Affected Counties layer filtered on top of Freedom Colonies mapped points 
Screenshot showing the Harvey Affected Counties layer filtered on top of Freedom Colonies mapped points 

The TFCP is also a testament to the power of grassroot activism, harnessing the knowledge of living communities, descendants and volunteers. One way the public can be active participants in the preservation of Freedom Colonies is through community mapping. “Community mapping” or “participatory mapping,” is an application of critical cartography that emphasizes the importance of community knowledge as markers of place and belonging. Users can submit details of Freedom Colonies like locations and photos of cemeteries, churches and schools through a crowdsourcing form built on ArcGIS Survey123. This documentation helps preserve communities that may not be physically apparent on a map and actively counters presumptions by the state of what history is worth preserving.

Screenshots of figures showing user contributions to the TFCU Atlas.[2] 

Figure 54 shows a screenshot of Camptown Cemetery Polygon put on the map by a user.

Figure 55 shows a screenshot of the pop-up window for Camptown Cemetery showing information, documents, pictures uploaded by a user.
Screenshots of figures showing user contributions to the TFCU Atlas.[2] 

The Atlas is an impressive showcase of the combined efforts of volunteers, scholars and living communities to assert the history and resilience of communities that have not often been recognized and financially supported. You may notice that the project logo depicts a Sankofa, a bird frequented in traditional Akan art that symbolizes the importance of reflecting on and reclaiming the past to build a better future. And that is exactly what the Texas Freedom Colonies Project project is doing.

See More

Saving Texas Freedom Colonies

Shankleville Community Oral History Collection

Texas Freedom Colonies: A Bibliography

Interested in volunteering for the Texas Freedom Colonies Project? Click here to learn more about the research community of practice dedicated to locating freedom colonies and information about freedom colonies.

Pruitt, Bernadette. The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941. Texas A&M University Press, 2013.

Roberts, Andrea R. “Documenting and Preserving Texas Freedom Colonies.” Texas Heritage 2 (2017): 14–19.

Sitton, Thad, and James H. Conrad. Freedom Colonies : Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow. Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.


[1] “What Are Freedom Colonies?,” The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, 2020, https://www.thetexasfreedomcoloniesproject.com/what-are-freedom-colonies.

[2] Biazar, MJ, “Participatory Mapping GIS Tools for Making Hidden Places Visible: A Case Study of the Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas” (Master’s Report, Texas A&M University, 2019), https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/bitstream/handle/1969.1/177491/MJBiazar_Masters_Final_Paper_Report.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

WHIT’S PICKS: TAKE 10 – GEMS FROM THE HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Whit’s immersion in local music history and performance qualifies him as an authority as he explores and discovers some of the overlooked gems in this massive trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4Take 5Take 6Take 7Take 8, Take 9

Davie Allan & The Arrows / Cycle-Delic Sounds

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Hardly a proponent of the 1960’s peace and love movement, underground guitarist Davie Allan melded surf music with psychedelic fuzz to create and inhabit a menacing motorcycle rock milieu. Think grungy, not groovy. Hell’s Angels instead of hippies. Gaining notoriety from his Blues Theme (featured in Peter Fonda’s The Wild Angels)Allan and The Arrows dove deeper into the mayhem on this collection, and stretched the noisy boundaries of what a recording studio at that time could produce. A huge influence on guitarists as disparate as Eddie Van Halen and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.

Bernard Fanning / Tea & Sympathy 

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Practically unknown outside of his home country, Aussie Bernard Fanning enjoys rock star status Down Under from his years fronting the band Powderfinger. This, his first solo record, is a fourteen track tour de force of Americana songcraft. Country rock more in the vein of the Stones vibing in Muscle Shoals, or CSN & Y, except more melodically pop than rock and roll. There are a few almost-raucous moments (Which Way Home?, Sleeping Rough) but by and large, it’s Fanning’s wistful lyrics, moody vocals, and acoustic instrumentation that set the table here to provide this folkie-inspired feast.  

The Mysteries Of Life / Distant Relative

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

The pride of Bloomington, Indiana, Mysteries of Life deftly mix pop hooks with roots rock and indie folk on their charming third album, Distant Relative. Set free from major label hassles, husband and wife team Jake Smith and Freda Love Smith take their own sweet time cooking up tasty musical layers and slathering on overdub icing. Jake’s lead vocals edge oddly close to Joe Jackson’s on occasion, while Freda’s bare-boned drumming keeps everything nicely grounded in a no-nonsense heartland kind of way. Massive pop stars these two would certainly be in an alternate (and smarter) universe.

Robyn Ludwick / Too Much Desire

Available at Fines Arts Library Onsite Storage

Little sister to celebrated troubadour brothers Charlie and Bruce Robinson, Robyn Ludwick is a Texas-sized talent of a singer-songwriter in her own right. As the album title might suggest, Too Much Desire ultimately breaks the listener’s heart with its small town longing and despair. Sparse and gorgeous poetic lyrics have life breathed into them by Ludwick’s sultry alto voice, as Austin roots guitar hero Mike Hardwick provides six-string grit and warm high-end production. Cinematic in sound scope, close-up in the personal narrative, these hard-luck story songs satisfy with a soulful simplicity.

Isaac Freeman and the Bluebloods / Beautiful Stars

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

This legendary bass vocalist was not only a giant in the gospel music world, but throughout his storied career he worked with and influenced many a pop and rock star alike. Alabama-born, Midwestern-bred, Freeman achieved fame with The Fairfield Four and other singing groups. His lone solo record, Beautiful Stars, is American Music 101 and should be required listening for all tax-paying citizens. Backing band the Bluebloods bring their downhome grooves, and the album as a whole is part revival, part nostalgic introspection. For believer and skeptic alike, this collection is a cause for celebration.


Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. A celebrated poet, he is the longtime guitarist for the indie rock band Cotton Mather, and his solo projects include the lo-fi bedroom pop Daily Worker, as well as the retro funk GERVIN.

Illuminating Explorations: Elsewhere and Otherwise

By Nathan Alexander Moore, doctoral candidate, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies

“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 am so very excited and deeply honored to present my spotlight exhibition, “Elsewhere & Otherwise: Imagination & Worldmaking in the Black Queer Studies Collection.” As a Black transfemme writer and scholar, these materials means the world to me. Literally, this collection of writers, thinkers, theorists, and filmmakers opened up a whole new world for me in terms of creative expression and critical inquiry. The works highlighted in this exhibit are both canonical and cutting edge, instantiating a tradition but also charting out new territories of possible exploration.

It is my hope that various users and audience members will be inspired to engage these works, while also understanding just how impressive their creators are. Sadly, more often than not, Black queer creators are asterisks in the historical record, overlooked, and sequestered in some minor corner in the archive. What the Black Queer Studies Collection demonstrates is how prolific and significant Black queer creators have been and still are. This exhibit presents how imperative it is to have Black queer cultural productions centered in the telling of our collective history and the charting of our most audacious futures. 

This exhibit is far from exhaustive in displaying all the holdings in the Black Queer Studies Collection, and purposefully so. Rather than trying to pin down one definitive master narrative of the collection, this exhibit has been constructed as a point of departure, a space of generative wonder, a line of flight. Rather than attempting to capture and document all the knowledge held within the collection, this exhibit is my endeavor to open multiple doors into viewing and appreciating Black queer art and thought. This exhibition is a suggestion, an offer, an invitation.

Won’t you come elsewhere with me, and imagine otherwise?

Nathan Alexander Moore (she/they) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and Good Systems Humanist-In-The-Loop Graduate Research Fellow at the Harry Ransom Center.


This exhibit was completed as a part of the Humanist-in-the-Loop project, funded by UT’s Good Systems grand challenge. The project aims to bring graduate students in the humanities and their expertise into the loop of library data projects.

Read, Hot & Digitized: Land and Belonging

BY DANIEL ARBINO

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries 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.

At a recent talk I gave, an audience member asked me, “What are the strengths of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection?”

It’s a question I receive often, though I don’t know if I’ve ever given a satisfactory answer. I often point to our historical Mexican archival collections, our collections of women writers and artists, and our US Latinx collections pertaining to civil rights. The truth is that I think the Benson does everything well. We have outstanding Brazilian collections, unique and important Caribbean materials, and strong representation in the Southern Cone. We know we can’t collect everything, but we sure try to anyway.

Some of our most recognizable materials are the Relaciones Geográficas, late-sixteenth-century surveys with maps that came with the Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta purchase in 1937. The aim was for the Spanish crown to have a deeper understanding of the provinces surrounding what is today Mexico City. Were there waterways to transport goods? Mines to excavate precious gold and silver? The Relaciones have been the subject of books and digital projects, confirming their relevance for posterity.

Relación de Cuzcatlán (1580), located in present-day Tlaxcala. Benson Latin American Collection.

I mention the RGs, as we affectionately call them, because they came to mind when I recently viewed a 1614 painting of a Bogotá savanna in Colombia titled La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá. Like the Relaciones Geográficas, art and cartography combine in this stunning piece, which was used as evidence in a trial to determine if landowner Francisco Maldonado y Mendoza had defrauded the Spanish crown on his way to accruing vast tracts of land at cheap prices.

La Pintura de las tierras pantanos y anegadizos del pueblo de Bogotá (1614) blends cartography and art to help settle a legal dispute.

This map became the focus of a digital project called Colonial Landscapes: Redrawing Andean Territories in the Seventeenth Century, in which Dr. Santiago Muñoz Arbelaez led a team from across the Americas, including the University of Connecticut, la Universidad de los Andes, Neogranadina, and la Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, to explore the social and political environment of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Colombia while considering land rights and Indigeneity. The project, which is available in Spanish and English, goes well beyond the digitization of one piece. In the “tour” section of the site, context is provided with the use of stunning rare materials. A portrait of Maldonado y Mendoza allows us to visualize the land baron. Other primary sources, both 2D and 3D, such as early textual and cartographic descriptions of cities and towns provided by Colombia’s national archive, are utilized to delve deeper. In the “Explore” section of the site, users can engage with different aspects of the main map in question.

1758 Map of Sopó, Colombia

However, the highlight of this project is taking a map that discusses landownership between two European entities (Maldonado y Mendoza and the Spanish crown) and inserting Indigenous rights and notions of belonging into the matter. The Muisca are considered at length in this project as the rightful inheritors of the land. The Muisca Confederation was a group of loosely affiliated sovereign regions that made up nearly 10,000 square miles in Colombia when the Spaniards arrived.in 1499.  They had the knowledge to cultivate crops in the savanna and to understand the region’s flora and fauna as well as extensive knowledge of metalworking and salt-mining. Images of Muisca ceramic figures demonstrate a rich culture whose trajectory was upended with the arrival of European colonizers. To that end, the exhibit also shows how Europeans created negative representations of the Muisca to justify the violent imposition of a new order. As land acknowledgements are negotiated and spoken in conversations emanating from sites of power, it is precisely this portion of the project that makes it so timely and necessary. Projects like Colonial Landscapes propose interesting pathways toward digital repatriation while contextualizing our understanding of the past and present. 

Muisca votive figure (600-1600), currently housed in Colombia’s Museo del Oro

Feature image: Relación de Atengo y Misquiahuala, 1579. Benson Latin American Collection.


Daniel Arbino is head of collection development at the Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin.