On the night of March 24, 2022, the UT Tower will be lit in honor of the centennial of a crown jewel of our campus—the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Established as the Latin American library on campus in 1921, the collection is beloved by students and faculty, and visited by scholars from all over the world.
The collection was named in 1975 upon the retirement of revered head librarian and historian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who served as its director for thirty-three years, retiring in 1975. The stewardship of Mexico-born historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda from 1927 to 1943 was similarly indispensable in the library’s earlier years. In 2011, the Benson joined forces with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) in a partnership known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. This partnership has allowed for an expansion of the Benson in the areas of digital scholarship, post-custodial archiving and archiving of Indigenous languages of Latin America.
To honor the Benson Centennial, The University of Texas at Austin has invested in an interior redesign of the Benson’s main reading room—the first since its construction in 1971. The newly refurbished 6,734-square-foot room is the main entrance to the library and the heart of a place frequented by thousands of visitors each year.
The Tower lighting on March 24 coincides with the grand opening of this beloved space, renamed the Ann Hartness Reading Room, in honor of former head librarian Ann Hartness, whose thirty-eight-year tenure at the Benson enriched Brazilian studies and collections at the university. Its naming was made possible by a gift from Hartness’s son and daughter-in-law, who have also established the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the collection in the field of Brazilian studies. Graham and Ulmer have dedicated the remaining portion of their gift to create the Ann Hartness Benson Collection Matching Fund.
The Benson Centennial Tower lighting is a moment for hope—that this jewel of the University of Texas Libraries may continue to open its doors to the university community and beyond for many years to come, that we may continue to pursue digital projects that make our collections available worldwide through open access, and that support for the richness of this collection will be a means to continue its growth, its inclusiveness and its accessibility to an ever-expanding audience.
Though Heman Sweatt is the historical figure most associated with integration at The University of Texas at Austin, the first Black graduate to benefit from Sweatt’s efforts is getting a notable space in the university’s digital repository.
Thanks to a heads up from John Wallingford, professor in Molecular Biosciences, the thesis of Oscar Leonard Thompson is now available online.
Thompson became UT’s first black graduate in January 1952.
Born in 1907 and raised in Rosebud, near Waco, Thompson had his college career at Paul Quinn College in Dallas delayed by the Great Depression and further interrupted after a stint serving for three years in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. When he returned after the war, he used the GI Bill to complete his degree at Paul Quinn, then attended Tillotson College in Austin, and graduated magna cum laude from Samuel Huston College in 1949.
After the Sweatt v. Painter decision effectively integrated UT, Thompson came to the university in September 1950 to pursue a master’s degree in zoology, with an emphasis on genetics. He was 45 when he became the university’s first black graduate, and became a research scientist at the Human Genetic Foundation assisting UT geneticist C.P. Oliver investigate sickle cell anemia.
A mere four months after Thompson graduated, John Chase – who has previously been mistakenly identified as the university’s first black graduate – earned his Master’s of Architecture.
In 1956, UT admitted its first black undergraduates, of which there were about 75.
Thompson died in 1962 at 55, when he was working on his Ph.D. and teaching at Tillotson College in Austin. UT flew its flags at half-mast.
In a bit of irony, Thompson’s wife Irene – whom he met through his research and who typed his thesis for him – lived in a house designed by John Chase in East Austin.
LLILAS Benson mourns the passing of friend, scholar, and former colleague David Block III, on June 15, 2021. Block was head of the Benson Latin American Collection from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.
Born in San Diego, California, in 1945, Block grew up in Arkansas, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, igniting his lifelong interest in Latin America. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with historian Nettie Lee Benson. During his thirty-year career as a Latin American librarian, Block worked at Cornell University and at UT’s Benson Collection. He also served as president of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). Read Block’s obituary.
Block was a sought-after expert on the Andean region and the author of the book Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon (1994), which won the Conference of Latin American History’s Howard Cline Memorial Prize and was included in Obras de la biblioteca del bicentenario de Bolivia. He also penned the introduction to A Library for the Americas (2018), a contributed volume that showcases the Benson’s history with essays and rich illustrations.
Upon his retirement from the Benson in 2014, Block spoke about his time at the Benson as “the high point of my 35-year career.” One of the most significant events during his tenure was the establishment of the LLILAS Benson partnership in 2011, in which Block played a key collaborative role. “David’s accomplishments during his relatively short time at the Benson are too many to list,” says Benson director Melissa Guy. “He was a master bibliographer and scholar, and traveled throughout Latin America to secure materials for the collection. Most significantly, he was instrumental in launching and nurturing the LLILAS Benson partnership, now in its tenth year, working alongside LLILAS Benson director Charlie Hale to find new ways to link the world-class collections of the Benson to the top-tier scholarship and teaching of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. That, in and of itself, is quite a legacy.”
Prior to his colleague’s retirement, Hale reflected on Block’s personal qualities: “David cares deeply about others: he is gentle, compassionate, and kind, whether with a co-worker of many years or a stranger who happens into the Benson; he is scrupulously conscientious: holding himself to bedrock ethics and values, with no sense that this gives license to judge others; and his manner exudes an egalitarian ethos, always willing to step up to assure that collective goals are met, inspiring others by his example, and by the sheer pleasure of working at his side.”
The LLILAS Benson family extends our deepest condolences to David’s family. He left an indelible mark on many of us as both a scholar-librarian and a human being, and we are so grateful.
Honoring David Block
It is David’s family’s request that those wishing to honor him consider a donation to the Nettie Lee Benson Collection, Benson Centennial Endowment: bit.ly/Benson100. Check donations may be sent to TEXAS Development, PO Box 7458, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78713. Please make check payable to: The University of Texas at Austin and specify in memo: UT Libraries – Benson Centennial Endowment.
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is pleased to announce the publication of Portal magazine’s Benson Centennial edition, available online at llilasbensonmagazine.org.
In anticipation of the centennial of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection in 2021, this issue features articles by faculty, students, scholars, and staff that highlight a wide array of collections in areas as diverse as art history, feminist theory, Black diaspora, Indigenous studies, Mexican film, and more. A special selection of Staff Picks surveys items in the collection chosen and written about by staff in short feature pieces. Truly, this issue has something for everyone, including information on how to support the Benson Centennial Endowment.
Annotated contents of Portal‘s Benson Centennial issue follow below.
Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Decolonial Feminists Unite! Dorothy Schons and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz—Award-winning Chicana feminist author Alicia Gaspar de Alba explores the fascinating yet tragic story of UT scholar Dorothy Schons (1890–1961), whose groundbreaking research on the Mexican poet, intellectual, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was dismissed by her colleagues at the time.
Voices of Black Brazilian Feminism: Conversations with Rosana Paulino and Sueli Carneiro—Rosana Paulino is a visual artist and Black Brazilian feminist; Sueli Carneiro is an author and one of the foremost feminist intellectuals in Brazil. Both were keynote speakers at the February 2020 Lozano Long Conference on Black women’s intellectual contributions to the Americas. Interviewed here by UT faculty members Christen A. Smith (Anthropology, AADS, LLILAS, dir. of Center for Women’s and Gender Studies) and Lorraine Leu (LLILAS / Spanish & Portuguese).
Daniel Arbino, (Self)Love in the Time of COVID—Reflections from Benson head of special collections on themes of self-care and solitude in the Benson’s Latino zine collection.
David A. Bliss, Selections from the LADI Repository—Bliss, digital processing archivist at the Benson, highlights collections in the Latin American Digital Initiatives repository. These are vulnerable archival collections that are now available online due to Mellon grant–funded collaborations between LLILAS Benson and Latin American archival partners.
Albert A. Palacios, Student Activism in the Archives, 1969, 1970. Items from Texas and Uruguay are but two of the many examples of student activism in the Benson’s archives.
Dylan Joy, Ernesto Cardenal in Solentiname, 1970s, explores the spiritual artists’ community of Solentiname founded by the lateNicaraguan poet, priest, and politician Ernesto Cardenal (1925–2020), whose archive is at the Benson.
Zaria El-Fil, Black Freedom Struggle and the University, 1977, focused on the John L. Warfield Papers and written by fourth-year student Zaria El-Fil, the 2019–20 AKA Scholars Black Diaspora Archive intern.
Ryan Lynch, Manifesto ao povo nordestino, 1982, discusses a Brazilian political archive and showcases how political themes are discussed in cordel literature, cheap chapbooks popular in Brazil.
Susanna Sharpe, Camas para Sueños by Carmen Lomas Garza, 1985. The Benson is the repository for the archive of artist Carmen Lomas Garza, a native of Kingsville, Texas, whose highly popular and well-known artworks evoke many aspects of Chicano life and culture in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere.
Thirty five years ago, Dennis Trombatore arrived at the UT Austin campus, and from the start he was highly conscious of the long legacy of the Geology Library and that of the formidable librarians who had preceded him in the charge of that major collection. Despite feeling the strong gaze of Thelma Guion (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about), the singular personality who ruled over the geology information sphere as librarian between 1940 and the early 1970s, Dennis jumped in, immersed himself, and never looked back.
A self-described “professional generalist,” Dennis was formally educated in philosophy, but quickly developed a natural affinity and deep appreciation for the esoterica of geosciences information: geological survey reports, rocks, gems and fossils, maps and field trip guides. He loved working closely with and learning from faculty and students in the Jackson School of Geosciences.
“A good library is a place to go, and a person to talk to, who understands what you’re doing, who sympathizes with your worldview, who talks your language, and who is looking out for you in the world of information all the time.”
Ever-curious and always ready to help, his definition of what a library, and a librarian, should be, epitomized Dennis’s approach to his work in the Walter Geology Library.
Several defining objectives consistently guided his efforts to amass and share a wealth of information about all of the things of interest to his faculty and students, community experts and generalists like himself. Those were collection-building, access to collections, and the relationships that served as the fuel for the continuously-enhanced cycle of learning and sharing that positioned Dennis as an information hub within the Jackson School for more than three decades.
Dennis’ collection-building, through relentless painstaking searches and world-wide acquisition efforts, coordination of gifts, and tracking of UT research output, was always front and center in his activities. Maps were an integral part of that work, and Dennis curated a truly exceptional collection of map materials in support of teaching and research in the geosciences, the Tobin International Geological Map Collection (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/tobin-maps). He led the effort to build on UT’s existing map collections, through the acquisition of geospatial data sets, GIS technology, and the expertise to fully utilize the details therein. And he was a tireless advocate for and user of the UT Libraries renowned PCL Map Collection (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2015/05/22/you-are-everywhere-the-pcl-map-collection/). His understanding of the power and value of maps was evident not just in his efforts to build the Libraries collections, but even in references to maps in his own creative output (https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/82153) which in turn was shared openly with the world using the Libraries’ repository infrastructure.
Ensuring access to what he curated was key for Dennis. His strong desire to make the rich, multi-faceted fruits of his collection-building work discoverable prompted his early interest in web-based tools to ensure the discoverability and preservation of his efforts, including Texas ScholarWorks (TSW), our digital repository, our Texas Data Repository (TDR), and our nascent Texas GeoData portal.
Our Head of Scholarly Communications, Colleen Lyon, recalls that, “Dennis was instrumental in so many collections in TSW – he was one of the most active liaisons in referring users to us.” Several stand-out examples of unique submissions for Colleen include:
Memoirs on the Extinct Wingless Birds of New Zealand. It may have existed as HTML on the Walter Geology Library website, but she remembers, “Dennis wanted it to have a more permanent home and one that was easier to cite. He didn’t want to lose all the functionality that comes with having something as a website, so we uploaded all the pages/images and then created an image index that allows you to jump around to the different images (plates) within the work. This work has the most amazing drawings in it! That plate index has had over 1100 downloads.” You can see this in TSW at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/16251
The Virtual Landscapes Collection. This collection of Dumble Survey reports and many other documents was Dennis’ labor of love over many years. The content was migrated from the UT Libraries legacy website to TSW earlier this year, bringing all of the related documents together in a single location. Read more at: https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/69304
Another project that Dennis coordinated was the digitization of theses and dissertations. He sought out alumni to grant permission to digitize their master’s and doctoral theses and make them available through TSW. Thanks to his efforts, there are hundreds of geology theses in the repository, about half of which pre-date its launch in 2008 (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2018/09/26/happy-10th-birthday-texas-scholarworks/). Rather fittingly, quite a few of the theses and dissertations available in TSW include Dennis’s name in their acknowledgements sections, along with their authors’ heartfelt expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the guidance and assistance he had provided. One such acknowledgement aptly describes Dennis as someone “whose work and efforts are immeasurable and irreplaceable” – a statement which accurately captures the value of his contributions and the strength of the impression he left on others.
Dennis delighted in telling stories and connecting people via the relationships he fostered, all of which enriched his contributions to UT’s research ecosystem. Mentoring students, both those doing research and those who were employees, was an ongoing part of who Dennis was, the role he played in the Jackson School, and how he remained in contact with so many graduates over the years. He was the type of person who would be proactive in reaching out to someone new on campus to welcome them, who would find a way to rearrange his schedule so that he could travel across town to attend a colleague’s presentation. His sincere enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and building real connections with others across the university community and beyond, was clearly evident in both his actions and words.
“The collection is an important component of what it is that we do in libraries, but it is the social network that the library represents that is the most significant, to me, aspect of librarianship. Three or four good people can do a lot more than an empty roomful of books in terms of helping people to advance their research.”
Some of his stories were about former Geology Librarian Thelma Guion’s stern demeanor and soft spot for the many student employees whom she supervised. (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/geo/about) The irony there is the similarity between Thelma and Dennis: while he suffered no fools, Dennis was always open to teaching his students about things and providing them with resources that would help them both with their research and in life. Establishing the Guion award fund for Geology Library employees was one of Dennis’ proudest achievements.
Ms. Guion’s close relationship to many faculty helped to expand and deepen the library’s collection in ways that would simply not have been possible with regular budgets, and Dennis modeled his collection philosophy after hers. Those relationships paid off in major gifts of unique and valuable materials for many years.
One such recent gift was from a prominent member of the local caving community, Bill Mixon — former book review editor for the National Speleological Society and friend of the Walter Library — who donated his unique collection of over 1000 books and more than 1000 periodical issues related to cave and karst research, literature, and culture, enhancing the Geology Library’s notable existing holdings (https://texlibris.lib.utexas.edu/2019/02/21/area-spelunker-donates-cave-collection/).
Over the years, gifts of materials included items from major oil company libraries, UNOCAL maps, materials from the American Geosciences Institute, Bureau of Economic Geology and Institute for Geophysics, and the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio, to name a few. All donations of materials required careful review and curation, as Dennis only retained items to augment areas of focus within the Walter Geology Library and research interest at UT Austin.
The symbiotic, reciprocal relationship between collections and the people who use, learn from and contribute to them often needs a catalyst, someone to prompt attention, encourage exploration and entice action at just the right moment. Dennis was that energetic, compelling force that spurred the dynamic flow of information to nurture productivity throughout the Jackson School, and that will continue to pulse through electronic arteries for decades to come.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.
Together with diaries and memoirs in print, audio-visual testimonies are primary sources that shed light on the lived experience of people who experienced the Holocaust. There are a few institutions around the world that produce, curate, and publish such testimonies; one of them is the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale university. The mission of the Fortunoff archive is to “record and project the stories of those who were there.” Established in 1981, and based on a donation of testimonies previously videotaped since 1979 by The Holocaust Survivors Film Project, the archive works to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.
Fred Alford, professor emeritus of the university of Maryland, researches the way trauma becomes embedded in nations, societies, and groups; upon his research in the Fortunoff archive, he asserted that “testimonies are important [because they] make a historical abstraction real.” Witnesses remind us that the Holocaust was made of people, victims, and executioners. He argues that a proper psychoanalytic interpretation can help us understand not merely the suffering of survivors, but can remind us of an equally important fact: “…. that for every torment there was a tormenter, for every degradation a degrader, for every humiliation one who inflicted it. For every death a murderer……”
He goes on to say that “We listen to witnesses in order to understand their suffering, and we seek to understand their suffering in order to understand better regimes of organized terror and the role they play in our lives……We listen to witnesses in order to remember better that their suffering comes at the hands of regimes that are made of people.”
The Fortunoff archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 36 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).
While the database allows for various searching, sorting, and limiting options – using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) as a form of a common controlled vocabulary – it also has more advanced Digital Humanities tools which were developed together with the Yale DHLab.
Let them speak (LTS) is a digital anthology of testimonies from three different collections – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California (USC VA), and the Fortunoff archive. The anthology includes a search tool that employs corpus query language which allows for more sophisticated searches like Lemma searches. The goal is to demonstrate the value of these linguistics tools for exploring large numbers of audiovisual materials, as well as make a first attempt to bring collections of testimonies into the same digital space. The LTS tool is slated to go live by December 2020.
The Collection metadata dashboard is a visual representation of the collection descriptions, as it allows filtering by various parameters, such as date (birth year and recording year), birth place, subject, gender, language of testimony, and affiliate programs from which testimonies were received. One could access each testimony directly from the dashboard. A useful functionality is the ability to search for subject headings in the dashboard and limit the results further by additional parameters. For example, a search for the term “childbirth” would reveal five subject headings related to the term; clicking on “childbirth in concentration camps” would bring up 98 testimonies.
The Testimony citation database shows data on cited testimonies, publications that cited them, and the authors of those publications. Some authors’ names are linked to the author’s website, their page on the OCLC WorldCat Identities database, or their authority file on the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) database. Searching for Fred Alford, the scholar cited above, one would realize that he has made 60 citations to 26 testimonies in 5 publications. These testimonies and publications are linked from the results page.
The Fortunoff archive is open to any student or researcher either on site, or online through an ‘access site.’ Currently there are 84 access sites around the world in academic libraries, museums, and research centers. The University of Texas Libraries has joined the project as an access site in summer 2019. The archive is accessible to UT affiliates both on and off campus, as well as to non-UT walk-in visitors on campus. All users would need to create an account with Yale’s Aviary, the archive’s digital access system. Searching and browsing is done through that personal account. There is no cost involved. UT affiliates could also access their Aviary account, and the archive, through a proxy connection to UT and/or a VPN.
The UT Libraries holds 390 items (in print and online) that deal with personal narratives and testimonies of holocaust survivors. Most of these items are autobiographies or diaries, while others are audiovisual materials, research and analysis of personal narratives, and collections of individual testimonies. The Fortunoff database itself is also accessible through the library catalog.
 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), The Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, The British Library (London), and The University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation.
Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan poet, priest, and revolutionary, died in Managua on Sunday, March 1. He was 95.
Admired and controversial, Cardenal was a towering figure in Central American culture and politics. As Nicaragua’s minister of culture under the Sandinista government, which took power in 1979, he oversaw a national program that taught poetry to Nicaraguans of all ages and all walks of life.
As a priest, ordained in 1965, Cardenal defied the Vatican of Pope John Paul II by embracing liberation theology and joining the Sandinista revolutionary armed conflict. His priestly authority was revoked by Nicaragua’s bishops in 1985. Pope Francis absolved Cardenal of “all canonical censorships” in February 2019.
Cardenal’s long and rich life can almost be said to be several lives rolled into one. His spiritual path would take him in the 1950s to Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in Kentucky, where he met and befriended monk and writer Thomas Merton. In the 1960s, he founded an artistic and spiritual community in the Solentiname archipelago in Nicaragua, where he taught literature and painting. He fought in the Nicaraguan Revolution to depose dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and serving in the Sandinista government, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and became highly critical of President Daniel Ortega.
In 2016, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Ernesto Cardenal Papers, an extensive archive consisting of correspondence, writings by Cardenal, newspaper clippings and writings by others related to Cardenal, photographs, biographical materials, and audiovisual materials.
“We are honored that Ernesto Cardenal chose the Benson Collection as the permanent home for his personal archive. Already, students and scholars from around the globe have been able to consult the materials for their research. We know this accessibility was important to Father Cardenal, and we are committed to the preservation of his life’s work,” said Melissa Guy, director of the Benson Collection.
Virginia Garrard, director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, and professor of history and religious studies, knew Cardenal personally and has long been inspired by him. “Ernesto Cardenal was a fighter: for justice, against dictatorship, for equality, for his faith, and for the power of art and beauty to shine light in a dark world. He was tireless in this lifelong struggle, striving until his final days for a better Nicaragua and true justice for all people. LLILAS Benson is proud to help to carry on his legacy,” Garrard said. (LLILAS Benson is a partnership between the Benson and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, or LLILAS, established in 2011.)
Cardenal visited the UT Austin campus in November 2016 to celebrate the opening of his archive with a poetry reading before a packed house. During his stay, he was also able to view some of the Benson’s archival treasures and visit with students in a more intimate setting. In honor of the Cardenal archive, and of LLILAS Benson’s emphasis on Central American scholarship and collections, Garrard established Cátedra Ernesto Cardenal, which sponsors a yearly symposium on a topic relating to Central America, and funds research visits to the collection.
Cardenal’s connection with the Benson opened the door to unprecedented access to the man himself, and he granted an interview to former Benson librarian José Montelongo in spring of 2016. Excerpts of the interview, in Spanish with English subtitles, can be viewed at Interview with Ernesto Cardenal.
In 2017, LLILAS Benson published Spanish and English versions of a poignant essay by Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante, who discusses the impact of Cardenal’s writings on him as a young man growing up during the Chilean dictatorship. (Read “Cardenal in Hard Times” / “Cardenal en tiempos difíciles.”)
“It is an extraordinary gift that Cardenal’s papers arrive at the Benson Latin American Collection, in Austin, Texas,” Cárcamo-Huechante wrote. “And it is likely that once again, Cardenal’s writings, and the ethical, political, spiritual, poetic, and human voice that resonates in them, will accompany us at these latitudes of the planet, in the hard times that seem to be upon us.”
Curated by Carla Alvarez, US Latina/o Archivist, Benson Latin American Collection
On Thursday, February 13, the Benson Latin American Collection and Latino Studies celebrated the opening of the archive of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) with a reception, exhibition, and a staged reading of some of the archive’s contents. The reading told the emotional and powerful story of the Center’s birth, in the voices of those who fought—sometimes at their own professional peril—for an institutional commitment to Mexican American Studies by the University of Texas.
The room was full, and emotions were palpable and visible. Audience and participants ranged from students to faculty to individuals whose history with CMAS extends back decades. Read an account of the event in the Daily Texan.
Founded in 1970, the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at The University of Texas at Austin benefited from Chicano student activism of the 1960s. Members of the Mexican American Student Organization (MASO) and later the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) demanded equitable representation and resources be devoted to Mexican American studies on the UT campus. After years of activism, the Center was established. It stands as an institutional recognition of the importance of Mexican Americans and Latinos in the history, culture, and the politics of the United States.
Since its founding, the Center has fostered Mexican American studies and Latino studies on campus and nationally through partnerships. A founding member of the Inter-UniversityProgram for Latino Research (IUPLR), CMAS has worked toward shaping Latino scholarship and to support the next generation of Latino studies scholars.
For nearly thirty years, the Center operated an in-house publishing unit, CMAS Books, which began as a publisher of academic monographs, providing a means for affiliated faculty to share their research with other scholars, but blossomed into an imprint with a broader cultural and scholarly reach. CMAS Books published a series of monographs and several periodicals including journals and newsletters for the Center and sponsored entities like IUPLR.
In addition to supporting Mexican American studies on campus and nationally, CMAS had another goal from the beginning—to establish a presence and engage with the larger community. This community engagement has evolved over the years and included partnerships with the Américo Paredes Middle School;La Peña, a community-based arts organization, the Serie Project and Sam Coronado Studio; and a Latino radio project, proudly launched in the early 1990s. That initial radio project eventually developed into the nationally syndicatedLatino USA. The Center has thus firmly established a legacy of expanding and enhancing knowledge of Mexican Americans’ and Latinos’ contributions to the history and culture of the United States.
The Center for Mexican American Studies will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the 2020–2021 academic year.The Center now exists as one of three units under Latino Studies at UT, a powerhouse of Latino thought and advocacy that also includes the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and the Latino Research Institute. Visit liberalarts.utexas.edu/latinostudies for updates on all anniversary festivities, including special events, public conversations, digital retrospectives, and interactive campus installations.
CMAS at 50 is on view through July 2, 2020, in the second-floor gallery of the Benson Latin American Collection, SRH Unit 1. To view the list of archival materials online, visit the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) CMAS.
“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, many in the Latinx community are gearing up to celebrate both Christmas as well as Las Posadas. A lesser known celebratory act performed during the holiday season are the plays known as pastorelas. Pastorelas can be traced back to the 16th Century when Franciscan monks leveraged the strong artistic culture of the Mexica people in Tenochtitlan to evangelize them by incorporating Christian ideals into their performance tradition.
Historically, pastorelas have told the story of how Satan attempted to thwart the travels of the shepherds following the Star of Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. While pastorelas have maintained the general premise of good vs. evil, the roles of what constitutes both the good and the evil have changed to encompass contemporary issues that have faced the Latinx communities. Immigration, racism, politics, and a plethora of other topics have been incorporated into pastorelas to transmit opinions and ideas to audiences, both religious and secular.
Please visit the digital exhibit to see the beautiful illustrations in “el Triunfo” as well as some of the other spectacular rare books available to view from the Benson Collection. Also, peruse Zayas’ entire book, which has been digitized and can be viewed at Texas ScholarWorks.
Gilbert Borrego is the Digital Repository Specialist for Texas ScholarWorks, UT’s institutional repository (IR).
Few can claim a career as long or legacy as lasting as Harold Billings. He began working for the University of Texas Libraries as a cataloger in 1954 while still pursuing his Master’s in Library Science and by 1978 was the director of the general libraries. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2003. Throughout his career Billings was able to navigate the immense changes in technology and constant challenge of keeping faith in value of libraries. Billings achieved this by inviting innovations that others of his time resisted. As a result of his leadership, UT Libraries thrived, growing its collections, introducing new digital services, and building its reputation as one if the highest ranking research libraries in the nation.
Today, technology and UT Libraries seem inextricably intertwined as students conduct research using their access to hundreds of online databases, use software in the computer labs, and create 3-D printed projects in the Foundry makerspace. When Billings first entered the field, libraries looked and functioned very differently. Throughout his career, Billings pushed UT libraries toward incorporating innovative technology from early searchable databases and the online card catalog to resource sharing and partnership with other libraries through TexShare.
While leading the general libraries forward in incorporating new technologies, Billings simultaneously continued to build the print and research collections at UT Libraries. A literary scholar himself, Billings’ love of research and books carried over into his many roles over his career at UTL. He maintained a close relationship with Harry Ransom, acquiring collections for the Center, and corresponded with several authors both regarding his own scholarship and to help bring literary collections to UT. The general libraries also saw tremendous growth of their collections over his career, from acquiring their 1 millionth volume while Billings was still a cataloger to holding over 7 million volumes by the end of his tenure as director.
Billings’ love of books, research, and collecting extended beyond his role at UT. Inspired by his admiration for and friendships with writers and artists, Billings published literary works and criticism throughout his career and well after. Some of these publications include a biography of one of his favorite poets, Edward Dalhberg, and Texas Beast Fables, a bestiary of Texas folklore. Billings also built a personal collection of art favoring local artists as well as Newcomb pottery and Elvis memorabilia. From his early education through his retirement, two facts are undeniable: Harold Billings loved libraries and he loved Texas.
An exhibit highlighting these aspects of Billings’ career and life will be on display in the Scholars Commons beginning November 1st, and an online component can be viewed on Scalar. Borrowing the title of his 1995 essay on the future of libraries, we’ve given the exhibit a name that we think embodies Billings’ role as an innovative leader in the field: The Tomorrow Librarian.
Virginia Barnes and Rachael Zipperer are graduate research assistants from the university’s School of Information.