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.
“It is astonishing how common this illness is, how it afflicts and torments so many with such grave accidents, that when a man or a woman barely turns 20-years-old they start complaining of melancholy and heartache. Some go about full of fears and shocks, and it is fixated in their imagination that they are about to perish. Others say that a who-knows-what climbs up from their spleen and their belly to their heart, shredding it to pieces.”
Such are the symptoms of depression as described in the first Spanish-language medicine book ever printed in the Americas (Mexico City, 1592), written by Agustín de Farfán. Even though the ailment has not changed, the way we access Farfán’s book has come a long way, from the extremely rare copy of an early American imprint, available in a handful of specialized libraries around the world, to the digital images easily discoverable through Primeros Libros.
What started in 2010 as a joint endeavor by two Texas university libraries and three libraries in the Mexican state of Puebla, is now a collaborative project in which 25 institutions, from California to Massachusetts, from Chile to Spain, have joined forces to digitize the books produced during the first century of the printing press in the Americas, up to 1601.
Primeros Libros is now an outstanding example of international library collaboration.
The goal is to provide digital access to a corpus of 136 titles published in the Viceroyalty of the New Spain (Mexico), where the printing press was established in the year 1539, and 20 titles published in the Viceroyalty of Peru, where the first master printer arrived in 1580.
Users of Primeros Libros might renew their appetite for browsing leisurely in a digital library of very rare books. They could look for the word agua in various indigenous languages, or visit the last pages of the naval engineering book by Diego García de Palacio in search of zingladura (spoiler: it means a day’s travel by ship). Aristotelian logics might be too intricate, at least compared with the modest joy of finding an acrostic poem at the end of Alonso de la Vera Cruz’s Dialectica Resolutio cum Textu Aristotelis.
When two or more member libraries own the same title, all copies are digitized and shared on-line, so that researchers can trace ownership, find missing pages, study pen facsimiles, and compare marginal annotations.
Although many a curious thing awaits the casual visitor to Primeros Libros, serious scholarship can be undertaken through this site.
The cross and the sword—religious zeal and military subjugation—were the tools of colonization of the Spanish empire. Primeros Libros is an invaluable resource for understanding the dissemination of the Catholic faith during a period of tremendously violent cultural clashes. To convert the native population, friars became linguists who learned and codified the most widely spoken indigenous languages.
Many titles in Primeros Libros, alongside catechism books that offer the basics of Catholicism, are grammars and dictionaries intended to help missionaries learn the native tongues so that they could preach and pray in the language of the natives.
This formidable linguistic enterprise was undertaken by friars with the aid of natives, not only as speakers of their languages, but also as interpreters and teachers—among the indigenous nobility, some youth were taught Latin and Spanish, and later participated in the elaboration of grammars and dictionaries. Linguistics, anthropology, history of the book, religious studies, philosophy, and history of science—these are some of the disciplinary perspectives enhanced by the Primeros Libros project.
Primeros Libros is a work in progress in which some institutions, already on board with the partnership, are in the process of digitizing their copies. Therefore, not all of the known titles in this corpus are already accessible online. The site will be greatly enriched when the first books printed in Peru become available. Even though the site is not always user-friendly, the inconveniences are minimal compared to the potential for research and education contained in this digital library.
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.
When speaking of digital humanities and the field of art history, cautioners of “digital art history” argue that using digital tools is useful only if those tools facilitate an actual rethinking about an object as to its identity and purpose. Certainly, applying quantitative digital methods to an art history project sometime fails to hit the mark for one reason or another. For example, network diagramming, first used with text-based DH projects, does not always successfully transfer to the study of the visual. See the map created in 2013 for the entry to MOMA’s “Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925”, which has been criticized for not providing much insight into the events surrounding the rise of Abstraction (https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/inventingabstraction/?page=connections). Or in another case, the wonderfully ambitious 2012 project “Mapping Gothic France” (http://mappinggothic.org/) that was originally financially supported by the Mellon Foundation, now languishes because of lack of funding and the untimely death of one of the project’s two creators.
However, successful digital humanities/art history efforts are happening; one being “The Oplontis Project” (www.oplontisproject.org) impressively initiated 14 years ago, in 2005, here at UT Austin by faculty members, Dr. John Clarke and Dr. Michael Thomas.
This is a mind-bogglingly large project involving numerous specialists’ studies of a villa (Villa A) and a commercial complex at Oplontis, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Torre Annunziata, near Pompeii.
Still going strong, this project involves a growing database for sharing; a website, promoted through Facebook to reach a wider audience (https://www.facebook.com/pg/TheOplontisProject/photos/?tab=album&album_id=335748659810305); and eventually, 4 volumes of born digital, open access, e-books devoted to the Oplontis Villa A. The 1st volume of this e-book series, on the ancient setting and modern rediscovery of the villa, was published in 2014 (See https://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8986409~S29). The 2nd volume, which traces the decorations, stucco, pavements and sculpture, will appear this spring 2019. This second volume, alone, contains 2700 high resolution images, a feat that could never be realized in print format. In addition, the e-book format allows for quick links to other material like excavation notebooks.
With the help, among others, of UT’s own Texas Advanced Computer Systems (TAC) (https://www.tacc.utexas.edu/special-report/corral/archeology), members use digital photography and 3-D laser scanning and modeling of wall paintings, mosaics, and sculpture to layer what exists today with digital visualizations that allow the modern viewer to navigate through the rooms as if they were guests in the original villa. In addition, the site’s gardens were replanted based on pollen and seed analyses; and marble fragments have yielded information about ancient trade routes.
I think the success of this digital humanities project can be attributed to several factors. Notably, questions about chronology, function, social structure and landscape that have guided the research at this site, were posited from the very beginning. The huge team of involved specialists firmly grasp how to use digital and scientific tools in the service of research questions for the purpose of yielding new ways of looking at this site and it material culture. Ongoing funding has also been crucial. And finally, there is the way in which this DH project’s findings have been and will continue to be disseminated. As John Clarke says, “The 3D model, linked with the database will allow us, and future generations, to find material easily by clicking on find-spots; scholars will be able to share in our work and even add to the information in our database. The model complements the e-book and because the ACLS has graciously offered to make the Oplontis Project publications open access, scholars and laypersons worldwide can benefit from the work of our 42 contributors, coming from a wide range of scientific and humanistic disciplines.”
For more information about Oplontis and other surrounding sites see:
Uri Kolodney is the Hebrew, Jewish and Israel Studies Liaison Librarian as well as liaison for Film and Video at the UT Libraries. He recently took time to talk about his love of books and traveling abroad in search of rare volumes in a brief interview.
When did you start at the Libraries, and what made you decide to become a librarian?
Uri Kolodney: I started working on my Masters in Information Science (MSIS) at the Information School in Fall 2002, and got a job at the Libraries a couple of months later on December 2002. Worked as a GRA until my graduation, and started a full time position on September 2004.
I always loved books and reading and was a pretty nerdy child with thick horn-rimmed glasses and all. When I was 14 I even cataloged my own book collection at home (LOL). When I grew up I worked as a book restorer and paper conservator and also owned a book restoration business. Did that for around 15 years, and then decided to move to the States and get a librarian degree. So basically I worked with books all my life….
Do you keep up with your preservation skills? Also, I assume you have a pretty large personal library. What’s your favorite personal volume?
UK: I still keep my preservation ‘tool box’ with all kinds of scalpels, scissors, and knives, but I didn’t use it since I closed my business in Tel Aviv.
Favorite volume – tough question… I’d probably say the Hebrew translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey… and also The magic of walking (English) – a great book from 1967 about my favorite outdoor activity.
Can you characterize your current job responsibilities?
UK: I am currently wearing two hats at the library – I manage the Hebrew/Jewish/Israel studies collection, and I also manage the library’s budget (across all subjects) for film & video. For each of these main areas, I am responsible for research support, scholarly communication, digital scholarship, collection development, engagement, and outreach.
Tell me a bit about your collections strategy for your subject areas. How do you decide what to buy, and how do you acquire it?
UK: The decision in what areas to collect has to do with the actual scope of the current collection, current research on campus, and the bibliographer who was/is curating the collection. When UTL started collecting Jewish and Hebrew resources almost 100 years ago, naturally the first items acquired were rabbinic literature, Kabbalah, Jewish history, philosophy, and law. By now we hold almost every seminal text in these subjects. During the years, different librarians collected in various subjects according to their own professional and personal connections, as well as their own interest. Those before me concentrated on Jewish items in Hebrew and Yiddish published mainly in the US, South America, and South Africa, with less attention to modern Israeli resources. Faculty and student requests are a great selection tool, as they reflect the current intellectual interest on campus. This intellectual ‘activity’ should be reflected in the collection. Communicating with ‘my’ faculty members, I know what are their research topics, so I’d select items that would fit their preferences. Sometimes, collection decisions have to do with cooperative initiatives among colleagues and universities across the US. For example, when it comes to Israeli cinema, my peers know that I am ‘taking care of it,’ so they would not duplicate efforts. On the other hand, I know that Ohio State and Arizona State collect extensively in other areas (literature/poetry and fanzines respectively), so I would be much more selective when it comes to those subjects.
For the mainstream Hebrew/Jewish/Israeli collection I rely on vendors’ catalogs, and once every few months I’d sit down and select relevant titles. I also select items ‘on the fly,’ or when the opportunity arises – either through correspondence with vendors, special offers, unique item that come up in an auction, etc. By now vendors I work with in Israel already know what I’m looking for and would let me know if anything that falls under my criteria comes their way. Consuming all sorts of media content in Hebrew (newspapers/blogs/social media), sometimes I would learn about a new ‘cool’ publication which would be a good candidate for the collection. Jewish resources in English are obviously purchased locally, and are much easier to get. Acquisition trips are another way to enrich the collection with unique items that cannot be purchased remotely online. Networking with vendors and collectors in the ‘field’ allows me to put my hand on rare items which I could not get any other way. These items are what makes our collection so special, as in many cases we are the only holders of these items.
Currently the prioritized subject areas I collect are Israeli cinema and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that means everything which is and about these topics, either in Hebrew or English. Rarely I’d collect in other languages as well. Other topics of importance are Jewish and Israeli literature.
As for film & video, I solely rely on faculty and student requests, as our priorities in this area lie with teaching and curriculum needs on campus. Sometimes I would cooperate with subject liaisons and we would share expenses according to our funding policy. All of these purchases are done online, communicating with distributors, production companies, and individual directors/producers.
How do Libraries collections in your subject areas complement other notable special collections on campus, say for instance the Gottesman Collection or Isaac Bashevis Singer papers at the Ransom Center, or the Texas Jewish Collections at the Briscoe? Do the presence of those local collections impact your own area collections practices?
UK: While the Briscoe mainly holds personal archival collections of notable individuals, the UTL collection would hold the actual published works by those individuals, or works they have owned. For example, the Briscoe holds the Henry Cohen papers. Cohen (1863-1952) was a prominent Rabbi in Galveston between 1888 and 1949. But his personal library was donated to UT Libraries in 1948; it included over 5000 volumes related to rabbinical literature, Jewish history, as well as general sociology, psychology, and literature. Upon receipt, the Hebrew portion of the collection was named “The Henry and Mollie Cohen collection of Hebraica and Judaica.” During the years, when collections were moved around and re-arranged, this collection was included in the general PCL collection.
Another example is the HRC South African Judaica collection. While this collection mainly holds books, the PCL collection of South African Jewry complements it with many rare and unique holdings of South African Jewish periodicals. My predecessor in this position, Nathan Snyder (1944-2009), had personal and professional connection in South Africa and managed to build a unique collection of South African Jewish periodicals.
In my collection efforts I am trying not to duplicate holdings which already exist at the Briscoe or the HRC, as my goal is to strengthen our current collection with items not yet available on campus. Yet, since HRC and Briscoe holdings do not usually circulate, in some instances one could find a circulating copy of a specific title at PCL. From time to time, if I come across an item which would complement existing subject areas at PCL, I would definitely consider it for purchasing, even if it would not fall under current collection priorities.
Tell me a bit about your acquisitions trips. How do you decide when and where to go, and how have you established or built relationships with vendors overseas?
UK: Since the distinct language I collect is Hebrew, the only geographical area appropriate for international travel is Israel. Materials in other languages that have to do with Jewish, Hebrew, and Israel Studies could be purchased remotely either in the US or Europe. Depends on budget, I would usually go once a year during summer, usually around June. This is the time when the Israeli “Book week” is taking place around the country, and it is a good opportunity to come across alternative/non-mainstream items with reduced pricing. Sometimes I would plan my trip around specific conferences or film festival, in order to take advantage of opportunities to meet vendors and colleagues. Book fairs or film festivals present one-time opportunities, with limited edition publications which could not be purchased once the event is over. For example, in July 2016 I attended a reception at the Jerusalem Film Festival and managed to put my hand on a limited edition of the first issue of a new Israeli cinema periodical. It was never sold in the marketplace, and ceased publication in 2017, after its second issue was published. UT Library holds both issues and is the only institution outside of Israel to do so.
When I go on an acquisition trip, I would usually take one week to visit the big cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa), and by now I know to which stores or markets to go to and where I could find what I am looking for. The second week I would travel to more remote or less-known locations, such as special book stores in kibbutzim, or institutions and organizations which are in the ‘periphery’ of the country. Planning the trip, I would schedule with individual collectors or vendors who live and work away from the main cities, and these are usually the locations where I would find the most valuable ‘treasures.’
Another aspect of an acquisition trip is the invaluable networking with colleagues and vendors. During the years I managed to establish professional relationships with both mainstream, well-established vendors, as well as individual collectors, book shops’ owners, and auction houses. Since the marketplace is pretty small, it’s easy to make contact and get introduced. The personal face-to-face encounters are always the best way to get to those unique items I am looking for. Sometimes I would make the contact via email while planning my trip, and then would meet ‘in the field.’ Then, while visiting and meeting face-to-face, more contacts are ‘revealed’ and since I’m already there, I could go and pay a visit to newly introduced vendors. For example, just last month, during a private vacation in Tel Aviv, I accidently realized via social media that a well-known local collector is selling his collection. While paying him a visit two days later, I got introduced to other vendors and collectors; when I came back to Austin, this encounter already proved to be useful, as I have purchased additional materials from those new acquaintances.
I’m sure over the last 15 years, you’ve seen the Libraries undergo a lot of changes. What hopes do you have for the future, and what parts of the library tradition do you expect to (or want to see) hang around?
UK:Indeed, I’ve seen many changes during my time here, in services and spaces we offer, as well as in budgetary and curatorial priorities. Understandably, changes and shifts are part of life; also those in the workplace and the profession itself are unavoidable, and in most cases, highly appreciated by patrons. My hope is that the Libraries would continue to put patrons at the top of its priority list. Our patrons, students and faculty alike, are those who create and advance research, and we need to make sure we accommodate their needs, in any level and any field.
I like it that patrons see the Libraries as a hub on campus, and I like it that they see us as experts they could approach for help. I wish it would continue this way!
White, heterosexual men have long dominated archival records. However, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has a new archival exhibition that indicates the times are changing.
The Benson Collection is pleased to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Thursday, May 2, at 4 p.m., with a visit from the author herself. During the presentation, Gaspar de Alba will read from her published creative writings as well as participate in a discussion with Mexican American and Latina/o Studies faculty member and community activist Lilia Rosas. Additionally, a selection of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers will be on view in an exhibition titled “This is about resistance”: The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Benson acquired these papers in fall of 2017 through a generous donation from the notable Chicana feminist scholar, professor, and author.
The exhibit highlights the intersections of Gaspar de Alba’s scholarly and creative endeavors. Early poetry, essays on identity as a queer Chicana feminist, journal entries, research notes for novels and scholarly work like Desert Blood (2005) and Making a Killing (2010), correspondence with UT Press, novel manuscripts, and photographs will all be on display for visitors.
Gaspar de Alba is a native of El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, but has lived for over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, where she is a founding faculty member and former chair of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is currently the Chair of the LGBT Studies Program and has affiliate status with the English Department. A celebrated writer and scholar, she has won various awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel (Desert Blood) and the American Association of Higher Education Book Award for [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (2015).
This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.
About the Benson Latin American Collection
The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.
A packed house at the Benson Latin American Collection was treated to a stunning set of music for the 17th annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture, held April 4.
To be in the audience for “Cantos y Cuentos,” with singer-songwriters Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez, was to be drawn into an intimate conversation, an evening of poetry and song and sentiment that was poignant and personal, and at times delightfully humorous.
“Embodied in you is the history of thousands and thousands of years and hours of work and activism and human rights and cultural work, so I want to give you a round of applause for being here with us tonight,” said Pérez, before opening the concert with her song “Remolinos.”
In a set that was arranged song-swap style, Hinojosa followed with “Amanecer,” a love song written for her mother.
The emotional range of the concert was among the details that made it remarkable. One of the most touching songs of the evening was Hinojosa’s “The West Side of Town,” the tale of her parents, Felipe and María, which she wrote for her children so that they would learn about their grandparents, both of whom died before Hinojosa’s children could know them. Following that number, Pérez turned to her friend and said, “Tish, that’s a beautiful song, and I just wanted to tell you … I admire you, your beautiful voice, your songwriting—your beautiful songwriting—and I look up to you. Thank you for everything you’ve done in your life and your career.” These words, and this moment of one performer responding to the other, capture the authenticity of the evening.
Pérez’s wonderful sense of humor was on display with the songs “Héroe” (about a messenger dog, written in the poetic form known as décimas) and “A tu amor renuncio” (I Resign from Your Love—a breakup song for the digital age). In introducing the lovely “Roses Around My Feet,” Hinojosa claimed it was as close as she could come to a breakup song; the lyrics were inspired by the saying “No me estés hechando flores”— don’t be a flatterer—taught to her by her mother.
“Carrusel,” by Pérez, stood out as a stirring commentary on our time: “Diez mentiras repetidas son igual a una verdad” (“A lie, repeated ten times, equals the truth,” she translated.) In the haunting refrain, Pérez sings, “¿Qué veo? Nada. ¿Qué oigo? Nada. Y, ¿qué hago? Nada.” (What do I see? Nothing. What do I hear? Nothing. And what do I do? Nothing.)
The artists closed the concert with two duets, Hinojosa’s tender and enduring “Manos, Huesos, y Sangre,” written for Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and Pérez’s anthem-like “Tengo la vida en las manos” (I Have Life in My Hands).
Before teaching the chorus of “Tengo la Vida” to the audience, Pérez spoke: “We still have the opportunity of creating spaces of freedom of speech. Who would have known that it was so threatened?” And she acknowledged the importance of places like LLILAS Benson, and of “this opportunity to celebrate life, to go into institutions of higher learning to tell our stories, and to straighten up the story that is being told” about us. (Adding another dimension to this statement, Hinojosa’s archive is housed at the Benson Latin American Collection.)
I have life, I have life,
I have life in my hands.
It is a consequence of being a woman.
It is a consequence of being human.
And then we all sang,
Tengo la vida, tengo la vida, tengo la vida en las manos.
Es consecuencia de ser mujer, es consecuencia de ser humano!
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love— In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.
Working as a book conservator back in the days in Tel Aviv, I was always intrigued by the notes and scribbles found on flyleaves, covers, and pages of centuries-old books. It seemed that this text, which supposedly was not related to the actual content of the book in hand, had its own story to tell – about places, people, and events. Now this data is playing the main role in Footprints; these pieces of information could be interlinked, and show us a new spatial landscape of Jewish texts through generations.
The goal of the project, a collaborative initiative by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, University of Pittsburgh, and Stony Brook University, is to create a “database to track the circulation of printed ‘Jewish books’ (in Hebrew, other Jewish languages, and books in Latin and non-Jewish vernaculars with Judaica contents).” Those notes, scribbles, and ‘marginal’ pieces of information are scattered in many forms. Footprints lists many types of evidence while documenting the movement of books, and presents visualizations of mobility, including mapping. Some types of evidence include owners’ signatures and bookplates; handwritten notations of sales; estate inventories; references to exchanges of books in correspondence of scholars or merchants; unpublished booklists copied in flyleaves; printers’ colophons; subscription lists, and lists of approbations indicating backers or patrons of the books who presumably received a copy of the product.
Take for example the literary work titled ʻAḳedat Yitsḥaḳ (“the Binding of Isaac”) – a collection of philosophical homilies and commentaries on the Torah by Isaac ben Moses Arama (1420-1494).
This text is represented by five different imprints. Each imprint is represented by various unique copies, and each copy has between one to nine ‘footprints.’ For example, the imprint published in 1547 in Venice, Italy, has five unique ‘holdings’ in the database. One of these copies is traced through six different ‘time stamps’, owners, and locations, from 1599 (Modena, Italy) through 1986 (New York, NY). Another fascinating example is the journey of a copy of Masekhet Nedarim (a Talmudic tractate) printed in Venice in 1523. In 1663 it was bought (and sold) in Yemen. Between 1842 to 1894 it was owned by Alexander Kohut in New York, and since 1915 this particular copy has been owned by Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Librarians and researches from Europe, Israel, and Unites States are constantly adding new information and validating accuracy of current entries. The database currently includes 7638 unique footprints, and is searchable by keywords, footprint year, and publication year. Here in Austin, The Harry Ransom Center is also collaborating with Footprints; data gleaned from the Center’s early Hebrew books holdings, mainly those dated pre-1800, will be uploaded soon to the database.
Footprints is an open-source and open-access tool; it uses a PostgresSQL, an object-relational database system, which is available on Github. As such, it is both a digital humanities project and a global collaborative project. The digital platform makes public the very process of scholarship performed by trusted crowd sourcing. The collaborative platform invites immediate feedback, editing, and revision. The project owners anticipate future uses to include inferential statistical analysis and network visualization. They anticipate that “cultural historians and statisticians would leverage their mutual areas of expertise to offer a statistical analysis that takes into account social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.” In addition, they plan to visualize networks of book movement showing connections between places, and networks connecting individuals to each other or to other places.
Footprints brings to mind Bakhtin’s Chronotope, where time and place are merging into one meaningful experience. A physical printed book travels through times and places; created, owned, and used by various individuals, carrying with it ideas and intellectual meaning. A Chronotope of the Jewish book, Footprints is a multidimensional bibliography, which highlights and makes use of previously unknown resources in a way that re-imagines the practice of Jewish book history.
Further reading (all available at Perry-Castañeda Library)
Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.
Not your typical ethereal shoegaze, Durham, NC’s Free Electric State lays its smoky slab of Carolina alt-rock down heavy upon your picnic plate. Shirlé Hale’s lead vocals stun alongside her band’s densely distorted drone. The song structure and guitar wash of Ride or MBV, but with a more radio-friendly fist-pumping feel. Crank it, of course.
Chicago blues legend Willie Buck steps out from the shadows of Muddy, Buddy, and Howlin’ Wolf on this high-spirited lowdown collection of classics. A native of Houston, Mississippi, Buck drives his boogie-woogie combo further on up the road with a mixture of juke joint whimsy, suave Windy City certainty, and undeniable Delta-cred.
The self-titled debut album by this London psych-folk outfit made quite the critical splash across the pond with its shaggy-bearded nods to Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and the Byrds. Behold the acoustic Celtic shimmer! The chiming electric jangle! Behold those bittersweet Summer of Love harmonies!
California’s Brigitte DeMeyer serves up some serious heartland soul on this Brady Blade-produced roots rock record. The Buddy Miller and Steve Earle covers (with backing appearances by both) lend an Americana helping hand, but it’s DeMeyer’s own tracks here that truly stand out and shine.
Haunting solo piano from Canada’s fellow traveler jazz genius, John Stetch. Classically avant-garde at times (only to be leavened by his family’s ancestral folk songs), Ukrainianism thrills with life-affirming highs, then breaks the heart with slow and dissonant lows. Contains historical notes for each song. A masterful work of art for a nation and its people.
[Harold Whit Williams is a Library Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources Cataloging for Content Management. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is proud to present “Cantos y Cuentos: An Evening with Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez” for the 17th annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture, coming to the Benson Latin American Collection, 2300 Red River Street, on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at 7 p.m.
In “Cantos y Cuentos,” San Antonio native Tish Hinojosa and Puerto Rican–born Lourdes Pérez will share the stage for song and conversation, giving the audience a front seat to the stories and histories behind each composer’s music, and glimpse of a friendship that spans many years.
Hinojosa is one of 13 children born to immigrant parents. The Southwest has been a focal point for her songwriting in English and Spanish, in styles ranging from Tejano to singer-songwriter folk, border music, and country. In a career spanning more than three decades, she has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, recorded in English and Spanish as an independent artist for major record labels, and has been a featured artist on Austin City Limits and A Prairie Home Companion. Hinojosa was praised by the Chicago Tribune as “a first-class songwriter,” and her supple voice lends itself well to a variety of genres. Her most recent album, West, includes new originals and an eclectic mix of covers.
Hinojosa was an invited performer at the White House at the invitation of President Bill Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Clinton. She has performed with Joan Baez, Booker T. Jones, Flaco Jimenez, Pete Seeger, and Dwight Yoakam. The Benson Latin American Collection is the repository of Hinojosa’s archive.
When she began touring in the early 1990s, Lourdes Pérez was one of the only out Latina lesbians in the music world. Known for her soulful contralto voice, she takes on difficult topics in her songs, such as war and social justice, but also pens beautifully crafted lyrics on a range of topics. She is one of the few female writers of décimas, a form of Spanish poetry. Pérez’s performances have taken her to war zones and contested areas such as Chiapas and Palestine, and she has collaborated onstage and off with songwriters and performers in those areas and others, including translating lyrics from Arabic into Spanish.
In 2006, Pérez was one the first five artists in the US to be awarded a United States Artists Fellowship for Music, naming her “one of the finest living artists in the country.” Pérez is also a poet and oral historian. Her most recent project, Still Here: Homenaje al West Side de San Antonio, is a book and CD with original compositions by Pérez, performed by a variety of artists, inspired by oral histories of some of San Antonio’s most revered elders. The release of the project included a multimedia performance.
Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.
Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.
GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.
While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.
Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?
MS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.
For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can. Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.
How did you become a specialist in GIS?
MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.
As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.
This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.
What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?
MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.
addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.
What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?
MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.
In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.
Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love— In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars, and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline. Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study. (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)
I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. 
In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest. William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”
The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.
What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.
This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.” The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.
 See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29