Category Archives: Features

READ, HOT AND DIGITIZED: Digitizing, Repatriating, and Promoting Sound

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.


Financially supported by the Indian Ministry of Culture, the Virtual Museum of Images and Sound is an online platform drawing upon and digitally presenting the amazingly rich resources held in the American Institute of Indian Studies’ (AIIS) collections.  While the open access museum highlights a vast range of artistic expression that I encourage everyone to explore, this brief post highlights the audio recordings from the Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE). 

Grab your headphones, settle into your comfortable chair, and join in to listen and learn!

For those new to South Asian music traditions, the ARCE’s Music in Context section provides a great introductory overview as it organizes recordings thematically.  While one might expect a section on ragas, the ARCE site encourages one to listen to songs associated with life cycle events, with work, or with ritual traditions.  If curated thematic journeys aren’t your style, rest assured that the site also operationalizes a number of digital humanities methods to delve into the dizzying array of musical types.  For example, one can use the Mapping Music or the Music Timeline interfaces to discover recordings by geographical location or in their chronological context.  There are so many fascinating things to find here—for example, did you know that the American jazz artist Teddy Weatherford lived in Kolkata (the city then known as Calcutta) and was featured on India’s First Jazz Record in 1944?  Or that the 1978 “Jazz Yatra” brought the likes of saxophonist Sonny Rollins and sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan together?  One loses oneself in the midst of such resources.

Beyond the fun to be had on the site from wherever you are, it is important to remember ARCE’s compelling vision to support the study of ethnomusicology in India.  The original goals for the AIIS analog collection were to protect and preserve recordings made by foreign scholars in the course of their research which were subsequently deposited in archives around the world.  Troublingly, it was obvious that such recordings were rarely available in India itself.  Addressing this problem head on, ARCE declares that “repatriation of collections has remained a major aim of the ARCE, which houses collections… which were not [previously] available in India. Scholars and collectors from all over the world, as well as India, continue to deposit collections of their recordings regularly at ARCE.”  In addition, they see the collection and the wide array of associated programs and events anchored in the collection as a way to stimulate new ethnomusicological research worldwide.  Knowing this driving mission, it is no surprise that ARCE has made so many collections freely available online.  I commend them on this important work.

I further applaud ARCE on their partnerships to collaboratively digitize and make recordings openly available.  To cite one recent and impactful success, ARCE worked with grant funding from the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP) to preserve, robustly describe, and offer access to the “Recordings of Hereditary Musicians of Western Rajasthan.”  A scholarly collection formerly only on audio cassettes, the new online open access through ARCE and MEAP allows listeners worldwide to celebrate and enjoy Rajasthani music, culture and history.   

Learn more with these databases (restricted to UT affiliates):

Saarey Music provides streaming access to over 60 years of South Asian classical music including genres like Dhurpad, Thumri, Kafi, Tarana, and Ghazal.

Smithsonian Global Sound is a virtual encyclopedia of the world’s musical and aural traditions and includes material from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE).

Ethnomusicology: Global Field Recordings presents content from across the globe, including thousands of audio field recordings.

Music Online: Listening provides access to over 7 million streaming audio tracks, see in particular the “World Music” section. 

Read, Hot & Digitized: Baalbek Reborn

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.


“Baalbek Reborn” is a groundbreaking virtual experience offering free access to users worldwide. Utilizing cutting-edge digital technologies and insights gleaned from decades of archaeological research, the project presents 3D reconstructions showcasing the appearance of Baalbek’s ruins during the 3rd century CE. These reconstructions notably feature prominent structures of the Baalbek temple complex.

Nestled in the Biqā’ valley in Lebanon, northeast of Beirut, Baalbak is an ancient city that flourished as an agricultural and religious center for thousands of years. It is best known for its Roman temple complex, which was called Heliopolis after the Greek for “City of the Sun.” The complex has three temples honoring the Triad of Heliopolis: Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus, and the city flourished repeatedly under different religious groups’ administration because of its temple architecture. Baalbek remained a significant outpost through Antiquity and the Islamic imperial period, sometimes dramatically changing hands over the course of only months. As Europeans became acquainted with the city in the early modern period, their focus was––and has continued to be––on the remarkable ancient architecture of the temple complex. While the ancient Roman architecture is certainly significant, it is worth remembering that modern archaeologists cleared the Islamic town––which would have featured historic architecture as well––that had been built on the site in order to access the temples. The inclusion of Baalbek as a UNESCO World Heritage Site underscores its significance.

 The Baalbek Reborn collaborative project enhances accessibility to the site’s cultural heritage by offering a dynamic virtual exploration of its past and present beauty. Available as a free app for computers, mobile devices, and virtual reality headsets, the “Baalbek Reborn” tour provides interactive, 360-degree views of 38 locations within the city. Users can engage with expert audio commentary in Arabic, English, French, or German, and access additional images and text for detailed information about specific spots. One unique feature is the ability to toggle between the present-day appearance of the buildings and their historical reconstruction from nearly 2,000 years ago. The high resolution of both the photographs and reconstructions allows users to zoom in without losing clarity, while informative text and audio clips provide detailed explanations based on research.

Introduction section with flyover.

Upon starting the app, users are treated to a five-minute introduction to the site, along with basic instructions on how to navigate the virtual experience. For those seeking a more comprehensive understanding, a detailed tutorial is available for the app’s features. The app offers two main modes of exploration: a guided tour lasting 38 minutes, highlighting the key features of the Baalbek temples, or the option to explore points of interest directly from the map of the temple complex. It is the latter option that some users may find rather disjointed: it is not easy to move seamlessly between points of interest. However, those who wish to explore further are encouraged to view the ruins on Google Streetview for a virtual walk, albeit without the detailed commentary provided in the app.

Baalbek ruins in Google street view.

The collaborative effort behind this endeavor involved three key partners: Flyover Zone Productions, a virtual tour company responsible for the platform’s development; members of the German Archaeological Institute, who contributed content and provided archaeological expertise; and Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities, which oversees the protection, promotion, and excavation activities related to the country’s national heritage sites. Together, these partners have combined their expertise to create a comprehensive and immersive experience that brings the ancient beauty of Baalbek to contemporary audiences.


For further reading in the UT Libraries’ collections, consider the following scholarship:

Librarian Lens: “All of Us” Research Program

The Librarian Lens is an occasional column featuring librarians who support the research lifecycle across a range of disciplines sharing research tips, updates about both Libraries-provided and open source resources, and related topics intended to intrigue, demystify and highlight topics of interest to the research-curious. Posted columns are provided or curated by librarians from the University of Texas Libraries STEM and Social Science Engagement Team.


Calling all researchers, students and anyone interested in exciting developments in health and medical information…read on to find out about the exciting All of Us Research Program that is on a mission to accelerate medical breakthroughs!

The All of Us Research Program is part of the National Institutes of Health. It is actively collecting data from a diverse population of participants across the United States. As of April 1, 2024 the program has 783,000+ participants, 432,000+ electronic health records and 555,000+ biosamples received according to the program’s Data Snapshots, which are updated daily. The program continues to enroll people from all backgrounds and is aiming for 1,000,000+ participants.

The Data

The program aims to connect the research community with the data, which is longitudinal and from a diverse population, including those typically underrepresented in biomedical research. The data are from participants’ survey responses, electronic health records, physical measurements, Fitbit records and biosamples. DNA from participants’ biosamples supply genomic data, including genotyping arrays and whole genome sequences. The data undergoes a curation process with rigorous privacy protections. On average the data is pushed out once a year. The All of Us Research Hub stores the data in a secure Cloud-based space, where it must remain. Imagine the possibility of all the research project opportunities, especially those on precision medicine, with the ability to combine genomic data with phenotypic data and analyze it on a large scale!

Public Access

There is a terrific way to get a better idea of the data that are available whether out of curiosity or for more in-depth study and that is through the program’s Data Snapshots and interactive Data Browser that anyone can access through the All of Us Research Hub. No prior authorization or account is required to explore the aggregated, anonymized data. In fact, this public access data can serve as a great jumping off point for developing a research project question! In addition, the Research Projects Directory, which currently  lists over 10,000 projects, can be viewed by anyone and is a great place to browse for inspiration or collaboration opportunities. For students, it is a wonderful way to see examples of scientific questions and approaches. Papers resulting from these research projects are listed on All of Us Publications and anyone can read them because they have been published open access. The total number of publications is close to 300!

Researcher Access

The All of Us Research Hub provides access to more granular data along with tools for analysis through the Researcher Workbench. To access granular data either on the registered tier or the controlled tier, researchers must complete registration and be approved. Registration is a four step process. The first is to confirm your institution has a Data Use and Registration Agreement (DURA) in place with All of Us. At the time of this writing, the University of Texas at Austin has a DURA in place. The next step is to create an account and verify your identity. The third is to complete mandatory training. Additional training is required to analyze the controlled tier data because that is where the genomic data is stored. The fourth and final step is to sign the Data User Code of Conduct. Steps two through four take about two hours to complete but do not have to be done all in one sitting. After completing registration, researchers will be able to access the data once they receive notification of approval from the All of Us program. The data can then be accessed and analyzed through the Researcher Workbench where researchers create Workspaces and submit descriptions of their research projects for listing on the Research Projects Directory. The program makes it easy for researchers to invite other registered users from their own institutions or from other institutions to their Workspaces for collaboration. This is especially helpful if a researcher needs someone else to run analysis with R or Python, the two options currently available. The program encourages and supports team science!

Access Cost & User Support

Even though there is a cost to researchers for analyzing and storing data for their research projects in the Cloud, there is good news. The program provides researchers $300 initial credits upon creating Workspaces in the Researcher Workbench to help them get started on their research projects. Researchers can get information on how to run their data cost effectively from the program’s User Support Hub. They can also speak with the program’s support team to get an idea of cost before analyzing data.

The All of Us Research Program’s investment in medical breakthroughs could not be more clear with the amount of thoughtful, varied support it has put together to help researchers access and analyze the data. The User Support Hub has video tutorials, articles, a help button, and an event calendar that lists the support team’s upcoming office hours among other events. Support resources for the Researcher Workbench range from getting started to working with the data to credits and billing. The support articles are kept current and are on topics such as using RStudio on the Researcher Workbench. The support team is responsive and ready to help! Help is provided by actual people, not chatbots. The program welcomes feedback and uses it to make the program better. For instance, if there is certain data not being collected that would be helpful to collect, let the program know!

iPad Showing Genomic Data
Credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI. Public Domain

The Impact

By collecting data from the United States’ diverse population, especially from traditionally underrepresented groups in biomedical research, the All of Us Research Program strives to make the medical data that is currently available to researchers more complete. With researchers having access to not only genomic data, but also phenotypic data, their studies can fuel insights into our health on an individual level; thus potentially allowing for healthcare providers to provide better, more tailored care to each of us. To see the research studies made possible so far by the availability of the All of Us data, take a look at the All of Us Research Highlights today, and check back regularly to keep an eye on advancements and breakthroughs!

The All of Us Research Program seeks to connect the research community with its dataset, which is one of the largest, most diverse ever assembled, to spur research that will improve health for all of us. If you are feeling inspired as a researcher or want to become a participant or are just curious to find out more about the program, visit the program’s websites at researchallofus.org or allofus.nih.gov.

Read, Hot & Digitized: Black Classicists in Texas

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.


For the past two years, I have been delighted to work on the Black Classicists in Texas exhibition project, a collaborative endeavor to tell the story of Central Texas’ early Black educators and their passion for the study of antiquity. This joint initiative, led by Dr. Pramit Chaudhuri, Dr. Ayelet Haimson Lushkov and myself, involves collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Classics, University of Texas Libraries, the Benson Latin American Collection, Huston-Tillotson University and the Carver Museum & Cultural Center. At its core, the project’s exhibitions underscore advocacy for classics, 20th century African American advancement and highlight a vibrant community of scholars, students and public intellectuals.

Although the physical exhibitions concluded in December 2023, their legacy endures through an online exhibition that emphasizes the relationship between education about the classics, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the historical trajectory of education in Austin. Leveraging digital platforms, the online exhibition employs multimodal approaches including story maps, virtual tours and digitized archival materials to provide users with a dynamic exploration of the individuals and institutions intertwined in this narrative.

The website, a cornerstone of the project, exemplifies the initiative’s collaborative efforts. Choosing the education-friendly Reclaim Hosting allowed for easy hosting, a custom domain and installation of web applications with the built-in installer, Installatron. Through Installatron, we were able to build a custom website with WordPress, assisted by the exceptional team at UT Austin’s Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services and beautifully designed by the creative studio, In-House International.

Screenshot of the Explore the Materials page, showing the three exhibition institutions
The landing page of the Explore the Materials section.

The “Explore the Materials” section of the website provides users with access to digitized versions of the physical exhibition materials, alleviating the need for researchers to physically visit archives to view the items. As someone intimately involved in the project’s archival research process, I am delighted to offer researchers an easy access point to these materials, each complete with detailed metadata and sourcing information, ensuring folks can find the original materials even now after the physical exhibition is over.

A screenshot of metadata and thumbnail for R.S. Lovinggood's 1900 pamphlet, "Why Hic, Haec Hoc for the Negro?"
A digitized item on the Huston-Tillotson University section of the Explore the Materials page.

Archival research often presents challenges, whether the archival finding aid is detailed, vague or non-existent. That’s why it’s particularly exciting to preserve items that might not be found through traditional methods. These include a photograph of Samuel Huston College President Matthew Simpson Davage, discovered in a box of unprocessed photographs brought to the research team by the former Huston-Tillotson University Archivist. Similarly, hard to track down documents like the 1976 report of UT’s affirmative action compliance from the Black Diaspora Archive and custom exhibition panels and maps are now digitally accessible.  

Beyond digitized materials, the website features technologically innovative elements, including 3D models of the physical exhibition spaces courtesy of our collaborators at In-House. Hosted on the freemium 3D platform, SketchFab, these interactive models preserve the essence of the physical exhibitions, offering users an immersive experience. They even allow users to see some of the materials in greater detail than possible in-person.

Screenshot of the SketchFab 3D model showing the physical exhibition
Screenshot of SketchFab 3D model of the physical exhibition in the Benson Latin American Collection Rare Books Reading Room, as it appeared in 2023.

Additionally, the ArcGIS StoryMap linked on the site, “This is My Native Land: Tracking the “Classical” Legacy Across Texan Historically Black Colleges and Universities”, adds another interactive element to the story of Black Classicists in Texas and their legacy. While many of the tools we used in the project came at a cost, we were fortunate to create an ArcGIS Story Map for free.

Landing page of the StoryMap, "This is My Native Land". Photographs from the exhibit are scattered in the background.
StoryMap created by project researcher, Elena Navarre.

Moreover, pages dedicated to resources on Black history and culture in Austin, alongside preserved interviews originally showcased at the Carver Museum, provide invaluable context and insight into the broader socio-cultural landscape surrounding the Black Classicists in Texas narrative.

By showcasing the contributions of Black Classicists in Texas, the website and associated tools shed light on underrepresented voices in the study of antiquity and Texas educational history. They serve as a testament to the diversity and resilience of these scholars, enriching our understanding of their invaluable contributions and histories.


Explore more in these UT Libraries resources:

Cook, William W., and James Tatum. African American Writers and Classical Tradition. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Greenwood, Emily. Afro-Greeks Dialogues Between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Hairston, Eric Ashley. The Ebony Column Classics, Civilization, and the African American Reclamation of the West. University of Tennessee Press, 2013.

Cásarez, Adriana. “Diverse Adaptations of Classical Literature.” University of Texas Libraries Exhibits, 2020. https://exhibits.lib.utexas.edu/spotlight/diversity-classics.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Italian Poetry, Translated and Sonorized

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.


For most of human history, poetry has been an oral tradition, with poets singing their verses to an audience rather than writing them down and disseminating them in print. Italianpoetry.it, an independent digital humanities project without academic affiliation, aims to share the beauty and lyricism of recited Italian poetry with a wider audience, offering recordings of Italian poems alongside the original text and English translations.

The site, which is frequently updated with new poems, focuses on a simple but very effective content model. Poems are published in their entirety in the original Italian, with the English translation of the text beneath each line. An audio file containing the recording of the poem is embedded at the top of each page. When the audio file is played, the word being read is highlighted in both the Italian and the English translation, allowing users to follow along with the recording and to see how the word order and phrasing in the translation compares to the original text. This allows for a streamlined, user-friendly experience that facilitates appreciation and enjoyment of the original text—both for its sonority and its meaning—regardless of the user’s knowledge of Italian. Each poem also has a brief write-up by the site’s creator at the bottom of the page, providing additional context for the work. A guide to navigating the site is also provided to make it easy for new users to interact with its content.

Screenshot of a poem from the site.
The page for the poem “A una zanzara.”

The site is intentionally simple and, per the author, “unapologetically retro-looking” in its appearance, allowing users to focus on the site content without interference from unnecessary or distracting web elements. Focusing on simplicity is not only an aesthetic choice, though, as it helps make the site more accessible for users with slower or unstable internet connections who may have trouble browsing more complex webpages. The site uses the BAS Web Services set of tools to synchronize the poems’ texts with the audio recordings. The BAS Web Services are provided by the Bavarian Archive for Speech Signals, and provide a broad and valuable set of tools for speech sciences and technology.

Screenshot of a list of poem titles available on the site.
The selection of all poems available on the site, including options to sort by composition date, date added to the site, author, and title.

In addition to the main pages created for each poem, there is also an audio-only podcast version of the poems for those who would like to listen to the audio without the interactive elements of the main site. The site’s creator makes clear that the poems selected are in no way representative of Italian poetry as a whole, and that they were chosen at the author’s discretion. This adds a personal touch to the site sometimes absent from more comprehensive digital projects.

Screenshot of the site's podcast offerings.
The podcast audio files included on the site.

Italianpoetry.it is a valuable resource for those wishing to explore Italian poetry, regardless of their experience with the Italian language or knowledge of its history. While intentionally a personal selection rather than a wide-ranging survey of the Italian poetic tradition, its content offers a great introduction to that tradition that can spur further interest and exploration. It also provides a very interesting and accessible way to explore the relationships between written and spoken text, sonority and textual structure, and translation and original texts.


For more information, please consult the UTL resources below:

Picchione, John, Lawrence R. Smith, John Picchione, and Lawrence R. Smith. Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry : An Anthology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Lind, L. R. (Levi Robert). Lyric Poetry of the Italian Renaissance; an Anthology with Verse Translations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.

Lucchi, Lorna de’. An Anthology of Italian Poems, 13th-19th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922.

Bonaffini, Luigi, and Joseph Perricone, eds. Poets of the Italian Diaspora : A Bilingual Anthology. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

Staff Highlighter: Yi Shan

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

Yi Shan: My title is East Asian Studies Librarian. I manage all East Asian language materials at the UTL and support the research and teaching of East Asia-related topics and disciplines on UT campus.

Any library (UT or otherwise) memory worth sharing?

YS: I can never forget my research trip to the Seikado Bunko Library in Tokyo. It’s a relatively small private collection but holds some of the rarest and most valuable premodern Chinese books. The reading room rules are very strict. You have to leave your shoes outside (like many Japanese places), wash your hands, and leave your electronics before entering the reading room. Interestingly, however, you can eat (!) your lunch inside the reading room. There is a designated lunch table at least by the time of my visit in 2019.

I found a lot of valuable primary sources for my dissertation there, and the librarian was so kind, knowledgeable, and helpful. The most exciting story is that I was so lucky to stumble upon a presumably Ming dynasty (1368–1644) manuscript that one 18th-century collector that I studied rescued from a stack of old scrap paper.

You’ve lived in many places. How does Austin compare?

YS: Austin is such a lovely city! Having lived in a few giant cities, I find the size of Austin perfectly manageable. In some way, I surprisingly find that the view of Zilker and Barton Springs area resembles a lot to my hometown, Taiyuan, at least in the way it appears in my memory. I used to say that I was okay with the cold but not the heat. Now I guess I am getting there to make my body think otherwise. Anyway, I spent my college years in one of the most notorious four “oven” cities in China, and having survived last summer in Austin, I guess I can cope. But how the heat has been trending for the future does scare me a lot.


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

YS: I love to cook. This interest in culinary art started during my grad school, and I always went to the occasion cooking lessons at the student union. Another version of myself always dreams to own and operate a restaurant. I’m pretty familiar with cooking in Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese styles, and now I am foraying into Thai. I like to bake as well, but the oven has not been treating me as kindly as the stove has. Or when I bake a cake, it starts to hate me. 

As a historian, what makes you gravitate to the past, and how does it influence your perspective on the future?

YS: Trained mostly as a premodernist, I think what makes me excited about the past is you really have to use imagination to understand it. There’s the saying that “past is a foreign country,” but I think it is more than that. It’s like a whole different phenomenological and ontological universe. By imagination, I don’t mean that historians are inventing things and events that never existed or happened. It is that we so often need to question the take-for-granted categories and ways we thought what the past was like.

I think the future, like the past, invites bold imaginations. Building a better future, like understanding the past, needs us both to engage and work with the structures we have today but also to break free from their constraints. It’s all about defamiliarizing the familiar and bravely embracing the unfamiliar with an open and empathetic heart.

I understand you may be a train enthusiast. What is it about trains?

YS: I think my enthusiasm for all mass-transportation vehicles, trains, civil aviation, etc, all comes down to my like to travel to faraway places. I spent a big chunk of my childhood in my grandparents’ apartment right next to a train station (the complex and the station share a wall). My grandfather would tell me, “Look, this train is bound for Beijing, that is for Shanghai, that is for Xi’an,” and I always wanted to take the trains to those places.

And most times I just like the feeling of being on the way, and it has to be a long way that you don’t have to constantly worry about missing your stop. The sound of a train ride or the engines of an aircraft kind of calms me down, and I like to read and write on my way. However, I do hate packing for a trip and spending time at a train station or an airport. 

Favorite book, movie or album?

YS: Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko is my favorite of all fiction (very few) I’ve read since 2019. Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone (Honglou meng) is an all-time favorite. Since 2022, I’ve been following the #readingthestone reading-together project (mostly listening to their podcasts) started by Prof. Eileen Chow at Duke University. If you are interested in getting small doses of this greatest piece of Chinese literature (in both original and translation), this is the perfect place to start.

Recently I’ve started Four Treasures of the Sky, a fiction inspired by the Dream of the Red Chamber, and I am loving it.

Favorite food or drink? Make it at home or go out (and where)?

YS: My favorite food recently is Cantonese roasted duck. Ho Ho Chinese Barbecue’s roasted duck is, so far, the best that I’ve found in town. It’s very difficult to make at home, and best to leave for the pros. 

What’s the future hold?

YS: There are so many new developments in Higher Education that make the future both exciting and scary. But knowledge/expertise and a strong collection should always be our best assets to embrace the challenges and grow from them. Right now, I am exploring OCR and automated textual processing of CJK (the library jargon for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) texts and also identifying strategic growth points for our East Asian collections.

In the long run, together with my UTL colleagues and the learning community on campus, I hope to build such a collection that makes UT a strong and unique resource for East Asian studies in the world. I hope this collection will not only serve the existing and emerging research and pedagogical needs but also foster, nurture, and inspire scholarly and pedagogical innovations.

Librarian Lens: Customer Reviews Data

The Librarian Lens is an occasional column featuring librarians who support the research lifecycle across a range of disciplines sharing research tips, updates about both Libraries-provided and open source resources, and related topics intended to intrigue, demystify and highlight topics of interest to the research-curious. Posted columns are provided or curated by librarians from the University of Texas Libraries STEM and Social Science Engagement Team.


Customer reviews data are what you look at when you’re deciding which product to buy, which restaurant to eat at, or which hotel to reserve. The data consists of star ratings and the written or video reviews from customers. Most people consult customer review data when making online purchasing decisions.

Customer reviews are also considered a form of advertising. In advertising lingo, customer review data is known as “electronic word of mouth,” meaning it comes from a customer’s experience, not the manufacturer or service provider. Traditional “word of mouth” advertising, especially from people we know, is the most trusted form of advertising. Electronic word of mouth can also influence purchase behavior. Academic researchers have measured that influence and concluded that the most trustable and influential reviews are those that are high quality, i.e., they contain a lot of detail and the reviewer posts regularly.

However, is trusting reviews from people we don’t know a good idea? Like the answer to many questions involving human-centered behaviors, the answer is, it depends.

On its face, customer review data is a compilation of crowd sourced wisdom. If we believe that people are genuinely reporting their experience with the product or service, then why not rely on customer review data?

Guilt

There are many reasons why people don’t always give their honest opinions in a review. They may feel guilty about leaving a poor review. This is common for services such as ridesharing or house rentals in which a consumer’s written opinion can impact the service provider’s ability to earn income. It also happens because service providers can review the consumer. No one wants to be labeled as difficult. These reviews are not always reliable.

Distraction/Hidden Agenda

Other reasons for consumers not giving honest reviews may be unrelated to their experience with the product or service. They could be hungry or in a hurry or they may not read the product’s instructions. Or they could have a political disagreement with the company. There is no way for you as a consumer to know about these conditions unless you research the reviewer and check their other reviews. You may not have time for this kind of investigation.

Consumer Reports tests electric lights in different ways, including for longevity and brightness. Consumer Reports, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Expertise

Another reason to consider not using customer review data is because people leaving the reviews may not be experts in the field. In fact, most reviews are from people who do not have special expertise. You may have noticed this in movie reviews. Film critics review films differently from most people, such as in the case the Netflix show Squid Game: The Challenge. This is why it is interesting to look at a site like Rotten Tomatoes which contains reviews from both experts (Tomatometer) and regular folks (Audience Score).

In situations in which you are not spending a large amount of money, it may not matter all that much what the reviewers write. After all, how much difference is there between one type of hand lotion and another? More details help. The reviewer could write I live in a dry environment, and this product improved my skin’s texture. This why sites that sell clothing often ask reviewers to fill in other criteria such as age and body type so that you can try to choose a reviewer that matches you so that you can use their review to make your best guess about whether to make a purchase.

If you are spending a large amount of money, or procuring something for a child, it’s a good idea to use expert reviews. For investment advice or car purchases, please turn to the folks who work in this field. Or for safety considerations for items such as car seats or booster seats, consult the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For technical products, such as hardware or networking equipment, use sources such a CNET or PC Magazine.

Another consideration is durability. Some organizations, such as Consumer Reports and Wirecutter are testing experts. They don’t specialize in a particular industry, but they have expertise in testing. For home products such as microwaves or washing machines, it’s a good idea to read reviews from these organizations, because they’ve done the kind of tests where they’ve held a watch under water for 8 hours, or slammed an oven door repeatedly, unlike the regular consumers who post reviews to Best Buy or Lowes. 

Fake Reviews

In a recently published article, New York Times reporter Stuart A. Thompson said that fake reviews are so pervasive that nearly every online shopper has most likely encountered one.  Amazon blocked more than 200 million suspected fake reviews last year and Google said it removed 115 million rule-breaking reviews from Maps in 2022. It is an on-going problem. In some case, people are paid to write fake reviews, so the reviews are coming from individuals, not bots. Sometimes fake review writers are given a script to use, so searching for a phrase that comes up repeatedly could indicate a fake review.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence, or AI could help or hinder the fake review problem. You may have noticed that Amazon now provides summaries of reviews for products. If you click on Reviews, there’s a section that says “Customers say” which summarizes comments about product attributes. In small text beneath the summary paragraph, it says “AI generated from text of customer reviews.” It’s likely that fake reviews are included in this collection, and that skews the summary to be more positive, since fake reviews are almost always positive. One way to combat this is to read the negative reviews.

Customer Review Data was the subject of a UT Libraries’ Data & Donuts Workshop in October 2023. Please link to the Zoom recording for more information on customer reviews.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Fashion History Timeline — Dress Across the Ages

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 Fashion History Timeline is an online, open access resource that seamlessly marries dress history with modern technology, offering users an interactive and engaging way to explore the world of art and fashion. Its roots started in art history, when Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) faculty and students developed a pilot project in 2015, aiming to make fashion history accessible to everyone, regardless of background or prior knowledge. This innovative platform boasts an array of features that redefine how we learn about and appreciate costume throughout the ages.

Screenshot depicting both menswear and womenswear in the early 1900’s.

For example, if I were curious about western garments in the early 1900’s, I would simply click on the appropriate time period, which is available in the main drop down menu. The page features an overview of styles worn and when scrolling further, displays recommendations for primary or secondary sources to further my research. The site also offers articles dedicated to both historical dress in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ cultures. Contributors to Fashion History Timeline range from academic professionals and experts within the fashion and art history fields around the world.

Screenshot showing the visual appearance of Fashion History Timeline’s source database.

One of Fashion History Timeline’s standout features is its reliance on and promotion of published writings.  For example, the source database, a curated annotated bibliography wherein users can dive into citations for a vast bibliographic list of textbooks, catalogs, and monographs that span across time and cultures. I found this to be helpful for digital research, with these particular sources being used as foundational pieces in building the database. The visual approach with information transforms the learning experience, allowing users to gain a deeper understanding of the context and significance attributed to each source. In addition, the website also has a Zotero database, where students and researchers can draw information as well as contribute to the wealth of bibliographic information. The sources are organized in a similar manner as the Fashion History Timeline website, emphasizing cohesion as a goal across the indexing.

As a former apparel design student, I would have loved to explore the Fashion History Timeline in my time as an undergrad. I highly recommend researchers, sewists, and anyone who is interested in costuming to utilize it. Comprehensive images and information for fashion history are not always easy to come by and this database fulfills a longtime need for accessible, reliable information about dress.


Want to learn more about fashion history? Check out these resources from the UT Libraries:

Cumming, V., Cunnington, C. W., & Cunnington, P. E. (2000). The dictionary of fashion history (2nd Ed.). Bloomsbury Academic.

Mahawatte, R., & Willson, J. (Eds.). (2023). Dangerous bodies: New global perspectives on fashion and transgression. Springer International Publishing.

Sposito, S. (2021). Fashion – the ultimate history of costume: From prehistory to the present (2nd Ed.). (K. Krell, Trans.). Promopress.

Want to get started on using Zotero? Check out this LibGuide about citation managers.

Read, Hot and Digitized: Rabbinics, Meet Analytics

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 E-lijah Lab (text in Hebrew) is a digital humanities lab in the Department of Jewish History & Bible Studies at the University of Haifa in Northern Israel. Among many projects that map the history of Jewish culture, HaMapah (Hebrew for ‘The Map’), founded in 2018 by then PhD students Elli Fischer and Moshe Schorr (now a Rabbi and a software engineer respectively), “aims to bring modern tools of quantitative and geographic analysis to Rabbinic literature[1].” Mapping ‘rabbinic networks’ that are based on responsa (Jewish legal texts written in the framework of questions and answers), the project reveals new data that “shows spheres of influence through time and across space.”

Schorr explains that “a true responsum, the answer that a rabbi writes to a query posed by another rabbi, is the basic unit of rabbinic authority. It orders the two correspondents hierarchically; the one asking acknowledges the greater expertise of the one answering, thereby expanding the latter’s influence.” Moreover, “because the hierarchy is … emerging implicitly from the deference of the secondary and tertiary elite, it can tell us more about the dynamics of influence, reputation, and expertise than many other forms of legal authority.”

The metadata of responsa – when they were written, to whom, by whom, from where, and to where they were sent – can be digitally quantified and visualized in different ways. HaMapah examines the effects of national and cultural borders on the spread of rabbinic authority. Data visualization shows the ‘reach’ of Rabbis who lived near one another, either at the same time or in succession, demonstrating rabbis’ authority.

For example, while mapping Noda Bi-Yehuda, a two volume responsa work by Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda HaLevi Landau (1713-1793) who was an influential authority in halakha (Jewish law), the researchers discovered significant differences between the two volumes, as they represent distinct parts of his career.

Volumes 1 & 2 ‘heatmaps’ of Noda Bi-Yehuda (https://tinyurl.com/2pzmv4t7)
Volumes 1 & 2 ‘heatmaps’ of Noda Bi-Yehuda (https://tinyurl.com/2pzmv4t7)

The responsa in volume 1, published in 1776, are scattered across a wider geographic area than those in volume 2 (published posthumously in 1810), even though it contains only about half the number of responsa and was composed earlier. Those in volume 2 are much more densely concentrated in Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary, whereas Volume 1 includes more responsa to Germany and Poland. It seems that the publisher, who was actually Landau’s son, wanted the contents of the book to shape and perhaps geographically expand his father’s reputation. The knowledge gained through visualization leads Fischer to assert that “the implication is that Rabbi Landau had a certain geographic consciousness. He was aware that a greater reach implied greater halakhic authority and had a mental map of his sphere of influence, or at least of the sphere of influence he wished to project to his readers.”[2]

The success of HaMapah has branched out to adjacent projects, including a Searchable Map of Hebrew Place Names, and the comprehensive database of Prenumeranten. Similar to today’s crowdfunding campaigns, the Prenumeranten were lists of readers who presubscribed to books before publication. Those lists were printed in around 1700 Hebrew books published during the 18th-20th centuries. They document almost 10,000 distinct places of Jewish residence, mainly in Europe, as well as the names of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Each subscription – noting a specific person, living in a specific place, buying a specific book in a specific year – is a data point in a vast network of cultural interactions. For example, Fischer used this vast data set to reconstruct the itineraries of three booksellers as they sold subscriptions throughout Europe in the mid-19th century. He also researched the reception of specific authors and their works in various communities, such as that of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (1720-1797), better known as the Vilna Gaon.

“Rabbinic Wanderlust and Cultural Transfer” – a visualization of some of the trips taken by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a collector, dealer, copyist, and publisher of Jewish manuscripts.
Rabbinic Wanderlust and Cultural Transfer” – a visualization of some of the trips taken by Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a collector, dealer, copyist, and publisher of Jewish manuscripts.

The HaMapah and Prenumeranten projects effectively combine historical documents and cutting-edge technologies to shed new light on the intersections of travel, book culture, and Jewish history.  While these projects are still in their infancy, I encourage readers to visit the website for conference papers on their early findings and to learn more about these important projects.


Additional reading:

Fischer, Elli and Schorr, Moshe. Analysis of Metadata in Responsa : Methods and Findings. Innovations in Digital Jewish Heritage Studies – the 1st International Haifa Conference. July 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV9N1Zt15Uc (video).

Haas, Peter. Responsa : literary history of a rabbinic genre : Atlanta, Ga. : Scholars Press. 1996.

https://openlibrary-org.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/books/OL8151172M/Responsa

Freehof, Solomon Bennett. The responsa literature : Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991031462519706011

Flatto, Sharon. The kabbalistic culture of eighteenth-century Prague : Ezekiel Landau (the ‘Noda Biyehudah’) and his contemporaries : Oxford, UK ; Portland, Or. : Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. https://search.lib.utexas.edu/permalink/01UTAU_INST/9e1640/alma991035983629706011 

Fischer, Elli and Ganzel, Tova. A Glimpse of Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann’s Methods as a Decisor of Halakhah (Hebrew). JSIJ – Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal.

https://jewish-faculty.biu.ac.il/sites/jewish-faculty/files/shared/JSIJ22/ganzel_fischer.pdf

Fischer, Elli. The Prenumeranten Project: Digitizing Pre-Subscriber Lists. Digital Forum Showcases, European Association of Jewish Studies. January 21, 2022. https://www.eurojewishstudies.org/digital-forum-showcase-reports/the-prenumeranten-project-digitizing-pre-subscriber-lists/


[1] Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, is the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing. In academic research, Rabbinic literature includes the Mishnah, Halakha, Tosefta, Talmud, Midrash, and related writings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbinic_literature).

[2] https://blog.hamapah.org/mapping/super-rabbi/

Archive of Prominent Nicaraguan Writer and Political Figure Gioconda Belli Comes to Texas

AUSTIN, Texas—The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archive of prominent Nicaraguan writer and activist Gioconda Belli.

The acclaimed author of nine novels, a memoir, two volumes of essays, nine poetry collections and four children’s books, Belli is the recipient of several major literary prizes over her decades-long career, including the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry (1978) and the Reina Sofía de Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2023).

Known for her feminist writing and erotic poetry, Belli has a broad international following, with works translated into at least 20 languages. The English translation of her memoir, The Country under My Skin, was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times book prize. 

A woman in her sixties with light brown wavy hair stands at a stone wall at a place where the wall separates. Her hands rest on the parts of the wall beside her on each side. She smiles at the camera. She is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, black short-sleeved jacket and pants, and a bright red necklace made of two strands of large beads.
Gioconda Belli, photo by Daniel Mordzinski

Belli was among the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, and she worked in support of the Sandinista government until 1993. Amid her increasingly vocal criticism of the Daniel Ortega–Rosario Murillo regime, Belli was forcibly expelled, stripped of her citizenship and declared a traitor to her country in February 2023 along with 93 other Nicaraguans. This is her second exile.

A faded newspaper page from La Prensa Literaria has the name Gioconda Belli at the top in large sans serif capital letters. The page contains various poems and other text. The legend "Poemas y prosemas" appears in large blue serif type in the middle of the page. Along the righthand side of the page there is a large black cartoon illustration of a Classic-age woman who holds a long sword in one hand and, aloft, the severed head of a man, blood dripping from it, in the other.
Newspaper clipping, “Poemas y prosemas,” published in La Prensa Literaria, 1970s. Benson Latin American Collection.

In celebration of her archive’s arrival at the Benson Collection, Belli will visit the campus of The University of Texas at Austin from March 19-22, 2024, for a series of events, including a public lecture.

Belli discussed her work, the contents of her archive and her decision to entrust it to the Benson in an interview with Benson director Melissa Guy. Read the interview in Spanish here or in English translation.

“As a longtime admirer of her literary work and her activism, I am honored that Gioconda has entrusted the Benson with her collection,” Guy said. “We look forward to engaging students and faculty with the archive, and to welcoming Nicaragua’s greatest living poet to Austin in the near future.”


For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.