Category Archives: Technology

Latin Americanists Worldwide Unite to Decipher the Benson’s Spanish Colonial Archive

By Albert. A. Palacios, PhD

It is no secret that the Benson Latin American Collection preserves one of the most important Spanish colonial archives in the United States. Within the pages of hundreds of volumes and archival boxes in its stacks are countless historical gems documenting the lived experience of colonized people, colonizers, and everyone in between. However, these perspectives are largely inaccessible: archaic penmanship and obscure writing conventions encode these histories on brittle paper.

Detail of a document listing the instances in which Mixquiahuala’s corregidor, the district’s royal administrator and judge, defrauded the Tepatepec Pueblo, circa 1570–1572, Genaro García Manuscript Collection.

For years, the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office has been experimenting with digital technologies to transform this “unreadable” Spanish colonial archive into accessible humanities data for scholars. However, we tried something new this past year and reversed the equation: We convened colonial Latin Americanists online to transform handwritten words on pages into digital text that they could then use to make the digital humanities (DH) more accessible. This resulted in the “Spanish Paleography and Digital Humanities Institute,” a free online program that provided scholars with practical training in the reading and visualization of 16th- to 18th-century manuscripts in Spanish. The program’s syllabus and logistics were designed by Abisai Pérez Zamarripa, LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate in history, and myself. Anyone with advanced Spanish-reading proficiency was invited to apply.

“I found this institute thoughtful, generative, and inspiring. The coordinators made every effort to show the participants relevant tools and encourage our progress. It was uniquely helpful to identify DH methods and tools that would make sense in an early modern context and to discuss questions that relate to our field.”Fall 2021 participant

Geographic distribution of 2021–2022 institute participants

Colonial Latin Americanists from all over the world applied. While we were only planning to lead one institute, the overwhelming response to our call for applications prompted us to offer two, one in the fall (November–December 2021) and another in the spring (January–March 2022). In all, we accepted 60 participants, including 35 graduate students, eight junior faculty, eight tenured professors, five archive and library professionals, and four independent researchers. By the end of the academic year, we had trained scholars in 11 countries and 18 U.S. states who had varying experience in Spanish paleography and the digital humanities.

“The facilitators were very supportive, and the workshop itself was an invaluable opportunity to meet scholars from across the U.S. and Latin America despite not being able to travel, and to experience a variety of digital humanities tools relevant to our work.”Dr. Mallory E. Matsumoto, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin

Various Early Modern Spanish handwriting styles represented in the Benson Latin American Collection

One of our main objectives was to help participants obtain and hone Spanish paleography skills. We invited experts from Germany, Portugal, France, and Mexico to provide introductions on specific colonial institutions and their records to expose students to specialized writing conventions and abbreviations. Each Friday, we would break the cohort into groups so that they could collaboratively read and transcribe the week’s case study in a shared Google Doc, which enabled us to give them live feedback and corrections on their transcriptions.

“The group transcription sessions every Friday were invaluable as they allowed us to decipher and discuss doubts with colleagues throughout the [transcription] process, while learning from those with greater knowledge.” — Spring 2022 participant

The spirit of collegiality during these sessions was truly inspiring. We witnessed how scholars, especially those with advanced Spanish paleography skills, actively supported each other in deciphering the texts. After the institute ended, some commented that they considered this group work as “one of the most enriching experiences from the institute.”

A corrected document transcription in FromThePage

After the collaborative transcription sessions, participants continued to hone their paleography skills through assigned weekly homework. Each scholar transcribed two to four pages in various handwriting styles using the University of Texas Libraries’ instance of FromThePage, a platform that enables collaborative transcription work and version tracking. Once they were done with a page, Abisai and I reviewed and corrected the transcriptions, which FromThePage documented and showed, as seen above, to further the students’ understanding of the scripts and abbreviations. 

Published institute transcriptions in the Texas Data Repository

Besides learning how to read the archaic penmanship, scholars were simultaneously helping us enhance the accessibility of the Spanish colonial collection. One the one hand, the cohorts transcribed, and consequently made intellectually accessible, over 90 documents (1,000+ pages) preserved in the Benson Latin American Collection. We are currently publishing them in the Texas Data Repository and will soon ingest them in the University of Texas Libraries’ Collections portal with the images of the original materials to broaden access.

Training of a handwritten text recognition model for a Spanish colonial handwriting style in Transkribus

On the other hand, participants also helped us leverage machine-learning technologies to automate this work in the future. As part of the “Unlocking the Colonial Archive” NEH-AHRC grant project, we are reusing these transcriptions to train handwritten text recognition (HTR) models for each of the handwriting styles we commonly find in Spanish colonial documentation. We are then running these models on untranscribed materials at the Benson and in other digital archives to obtain usable automatic transcriptions. To see a list of participants who made a significant contribution to this effort, visit the project website.

Annotation of the “Genealogy of the descendants of Nezahualcóyotl,” circa 1550–1580, Ex-Stendahl Collection, in Recogito (https://recogito.pelagios.org/document/yere0vydklv9s4/part/1/edit)

With transcriptions in hand, students then used them to learn several free and open-source digital humanities tools. Each Monday, we demonstrated how to extract, visualize, and analyze data from these transcribed texts in different platforms, including Recogito, Voyant-Tools, ArcGIS, and Onodo. As a capstone experience, we asked participants to develop and present a pilot digital humanities project using these tools and texts relevant to their research.

“I honestly did not know what to expect going into this institute. My focus was to improve my paleography skills with the digital programs as a benefit. Now, not only am I more confident in my paleography skills, but I have a plethora of digital tools to use for my projects.”Spring 2022 participant

Network visualization developed by a spring cohort member, Francisco Javier Fernández Rivera, Universidad Iberomexicana de Hidalgo, who considered the DH workshops “a great opportunity to learn about our documentary past through technological advances.”

Given the positive reception and subsequent demand for such training, we will be leading another round of institutes this fall, August 15–September 30, 2022, and next spring, January 23–March 10, 2023. So if you are interested, check out the call for applications and join the collaborative “unlocking” of the Spanish colonial archive!

“I think it is a very complete and ambitious program. You taught me many tools that changed my way of doing history, of thinking about the social sciences and the humanities. I am very grateful to you. I hope you continue to be very successful and that this project continues to grow.”Fall 2021 participant

These institutes would not have been possible without the support of these individuals:

  • Dr. Manuel Bastias Saavedra, Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany)
  • Dr. Berenise Bravo Rubio, Researcher-Professor at the National School of Anthropology and History (Mexico)
  • Brittany Centeno, Preservation Librarian, UT Libraries
  • Dr. Guillaume Gaudin, Researcher-Professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès (France)
  • Dr. Lidia Gómez García, Researcher-Professor at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (Mexico)
  • Ryan Lynch, Head of Special Collections, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Kelly McDonough, Associate Professor at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, The University of Texas at Austin (United States of America)
  • Dr. Patricia Murrieta-Flores, Professor in Digital Humanities and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at Lancaster University  (United Kingdom)
  • Dr. Javier Pereda, Senior Researcher at the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at Liverpool John Moores University (United Kingdom)
  • Theresa Polk, Head of Digital Initiatives, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Dr. Miguel Rodrigues Lourenço, Researcher at the Center of the Humanities, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal)
  • Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)
  • Katherine Thornton, Digital Asset Delivery Coordinator, UT Libraries (United States of America)
  • Krissi Trumeter, Financial Analyst, LLILAS Benson (United States of America)

This initiative was generously sponsored by:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (United States of America)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom)
  • LLILAS Excellence Fund for Technology and Development in Latin America

Albert A. Palacios, PhD, is the Digital Scholarship Coordinator at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, The University of Texas at Austin.

Enhancing Search to Highlight Diverse Resources

Access Systems staff have been exploring available functionality in UT Libraries’ Alma resource management system to help support the integration of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) principles into the unit’s efforts. Subsequently, they recently announced a new Featured Collections pilot in the Primo discovery interface, serving to highlight the rich diversity of UT Libraries’ collections.

Working closely with DAC and the Discovery Services Advisory Group, and employing an IDEA lens, Access Systems staff will identify, aggregate, and highlight select resources in Alma, while also coordinating with existing collection promotion efforts where possible to support messaging continuity.

The first three Featured Collections are already existing, discrete collections having bibliographic local notes and online promotional content, enabling Access Systems to readily assemble and highlight them in Primo:

  • Black Queer Studies Collection
  • Latinx LGBTQ Collection
  • Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies

Future Featured Collections will be identified from the wealth of Libraries’ content in Alma and aggregated around IDEA-related themes, and will be available via a new link in the top navigation, of the Libraries search page.

The staff working on this project plan to rotate in three new features each semester. The approach for selection and rotation of Featured Collections comes from close consideration of the work required by Access Systems and Content Management staff, and sustainable capacity for such work going forward.

We’re excited to implement this new functionality in Alma/Primo in support of IDEA initiatives at UT Libraries, and hope to further promote the breadth and depth of UTL’s amazing collections. 

Behind the Numbers: UX

This post will focus on how the Assessment Team has begun officially dipping our toes into User Experience (UX) research by conducting a usability test focused on part of the main navigation of the UT Libraires website. Why, you might ask, is this assessment-focused column talking about UX?

In many ways, my assessment practice has always incorporated a good bit of user experience work, though I haven’t typically labeled it as such. Past endeavors such as dot poster surveys (used to learn how students were using new library spaces) and a branch observation project (that was interrupted by the pandemic) employed user experience methodologies, and I see user experience and assessment as complementary and overlapping approaches to asking and answering questions aimed at improving what we do.

When the Libraries redesigned our website a few years ago (which was a huge accomplishment involving many of my talented colleagues), the site redesign process incorporated user feedback by conducting A/B tests, usability tests, focus groups, and more. Now that the site has moved out of development and into sustainment, there are fewer resources devoted to conducting user tests. My colleagues have been busy producing great new tools like portals for our digital exhibits, our digitized and born-digital items, and geospatial data, but we were not sure how to best incorporate them into our site navigation. Members of the Web Steering CFT have conducted user tests as needed/possible, and the Assessment Team decided to help in the effort and take on a UX project this spring to help answer questions we had about our navigation menu choices.

A screenshot of the "Find, Borrow, Request" menu that includes links to Library Catalog, Articles, Databases, Journals, Course Materials, Collections Showcase, Digital Collections, Digital Exhibits, Maps, and Geospatial Data.

Along with a small team of other colleagues, we designed a series of questions and tasks focused on the “Find, Borrow, Request” portion of our website and recruited 10 students to participate in brief UX tests conducted through Zoom. While the pandemic has made many aspects of user research more difficult, we were easily able to recruit students through an email invitation, and were overwhelmed with the volume of interest we garnered. We just finished conducting tests earlier this week and haven’t analyzed the results yet, but I already learned through my role in conducting tests that terms like “Collections Showcase” and “Digital Exhibits” are not self-explanatory to the majority of our students. Most surprisingly, the label “Maps” (which we did not expect to be confusing) was misleading to most of the students I conducted or observed tests with. Students generally expected to find a map of library locations or library floorplans at the link, but the link actually leads to our collection of digitized maps of places all over the world. This underscores the importance of conducting frequent user testing. We never would have learned that “Maps” was confusing if we hadn’t been testing adjacent links! Clearly we need to rethink our labels.

I’m excited to analyze the full results and turn them into recommendations for improving the site. I’ve even more excited about expanding our team to include a librarian focused on UX so we can increase our ability to conduct tests like this. We just posted a position for a UX Librarian to join the Assessment and Communication Team to help us ensure that our spaces and services (both web and physical) are welcoming and functional for our users. The eventual end of the pandemic provides ample opportunity for rethinking how we have always done things, and we hope that a UX Librarian will help ensure that the changes we make help our users have great experiences at the UT Libraries.

LIBRARIES Joins the Change the Subject Movement

Daniel Arbino is the Librarian for US Latina and Latino Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection.

In late summer 2020, I brought up the possibility of the University of Texas Libraries (UTL) participating in Change the Subject. This movement, documented in the 2019 film by the same title, was begun by students and librarians at Dartmouth College, who lobbied the Library of Congress to change anti-immigrant language in subject headings.

I partnered with Sean O’Bryan, Assistant Director of Access, who shared my admiration for the movement and who also had the technical know-how to foster the change. Thinking about ways to work toward continued inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) of the Libraries’ collections, we began to explore the possibility of joining the Change the Subject movement. Today, I am proud to say that the UT Libraries has made strides in tackling outdated and often derogatory Library of Congress subject headings. Below, Sean gives a brief summary of the origins of the project and the resistance encountered by the Library of Congress when they eventually tried to update their terminology. We also describe how UTL participated in this project, considering local opportunities within our library catalog.

Background

Change the Subject started in 2014 when students and librarians at Dartmouth College initiated a collaboration with the Association (ALA) and the Library of Congress (LC) to formally change LC subject headings that contain the terms “illegal aliens” and replace them with terms that recognize the humanity of migrants and are less racially insensitive. 

The Library of Congress put forth a plan to formally change subject headings containing “illegal aliens,” but members in the U.S. House of Representatives (led by representatives from Texas) intervened in 2016 by applying conditions to a funding bill and requiring the retention of the term “Illegal aliens” in authorized Library of Congress subject headings. This effectively ended Library of Congress’s participation in the project. 

Despite the change in course for Library of Congress, libraries across the U.S. have joined in support of this project in various ways. Some have removed the authorized LC heading from their bibliographic records and replaced it with less biased local subject headings. Others have retained the authorized subject heading in their bibliographic records but have changed the rules in their discovery interfaces to replace the term displayed with a less biased one (similar to the option that UTL implemented; see below).  

Option for UTL Participation

Access Systems staff reviewed participation by other institutions (most notably the State University of New York as well as the California State University system) and investigated various options for UTL to participate. Based on this review and given the Libraries’ infrastructure, the most effective option was to modify the display of subject terms in Primo, our discovery interface. Normalization rules in Primo were then created to display local, alternative terms such as “undocumented immigrants” as opposed to the existing Library of Congress subject terms (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “illegal immigrants,” etc.) in the brief display.

The UT Libraries retained the authorized LC subject headings (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “illegal immigrants”) in our local bibliographic records. This allowed the authorized LC terms to continue to be indexed and searched in our system. However, rather than display those authorized LC terms, the brief record results that users now see in Primo display locally determined alternative terms in their place. Again, this was done without altering the underlying bibliographic records.  While it is important to note that this alternate display only impacts our local records, we are pleased to say that nearly 2,000 local records have been positively impacted with this change. Sadly, we are unable to change the display for records that are managed by ExLibris in the Alma Central Discovery Index (please see the last example in the section below).

Examples

A current advanced search in Primo with the LC subject “illegal aliens”:

A title selected from the former returned results displays the following brief record details (note the authorized LC subject heading):

Subject heading(s) in the brief record display is now configured to show alternate local terms (compare the view below with the one above):

The normalization rules that allow for the alternative display above impact local records in Primo (accounting for nearly 2,000 local records that underwent change).  As noted above, we could not alter the display of non-local records, so they continue to display the authorized LC heading:

The Final Step

Prior to implementing the alternative subject headings, Sean and I worked with the Diversity Action Committee to make sure that our choices fostered values of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, as put forth by UTL’s IDEA platform. The Diversity Action Committee is a well-respected group within UTL precisely for their dedication to social justice and change. Presenting them with the alternative terms that we planned to implement was the final step to doing this the right way. Their expertise was much appreciated. To that end, this project was a group effort, with many people offering invaluable input, and I am grateful to everyone.

Never Too Late

In the middle of February 2021, reports surfaced that the Biden administration directed the Department of Homeland Security to refrain from using dehumanizing language like “illegal aliens.” Our hope is that the Library of Congress will soon follow suit. However, even if that happens, I do not believe that this project was in vain. For the library to take a stand in defense of the humanity of all of its users is never a waste of time.

Additional Information

If you have questions or an interest in additional information about the Change the Subject project, please contact Daniel Arbino.  Those with questions or an interest in additional information about the technical aspects of implementing the option for participation described above, should please contact Sean O’Bryan.

Learn more about related work to update subject headings in intersectionality of gender, sexuality and U.S. Latinx identity in a post at the blog of the Libraries’ Diversity Action Committee.

The Royal Inspection through a Digital Lens: Interactive Exhibit Examines Spanish Colonial Bureaucracy

By BRITTANY ERWIN

For almost three hundred years, the Spanish monarchs ruled over an expansive empire stretching from the Caribbean to the southernmost tip of South America. World history narratives situate Spain within a centuries-long clash between major powers over territory, resources, and authority in the Americas that ended with the wars of independence. However, these histories tend to devote less attention to the day-to-day processes that sustained imperial rule. My dissertation explores this question through an analysis of the underlying mechanisms that bound the people to their faraway king. A LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship helped me to create an online exhibition that demonstrates what the bureaucracy of empire looked like on the ground. (Visit the Spanish version of the exhibition.)

This interactive website serves as an interface with a section of the vast holdings of the Benson Latin American Collection: the Genaro García Collection. Through the exhibition, teachers, students, and community members can explore the events that unfolded when the king ordered a visita—or royal inspection—for New Spain (roughly, modern Mexico) in 1765. The inspection allowed the monarch to keep up to date on local happenings while also identifying areas that could be reorganized. This visita involved approximately seven years of examinations and reforms carried out through a cooperation between the monarch’s appointed visitador—or inspector—and local government workers.

Cover page for this collection of visita documents. G206-01.

The website offers high-resolution images of the thirty documents from the Genaro García Collection that pertain to this procedure, in addition to brief content descriptions, full transcriptions, information on the individuals involved, and maps of prominent regions mentioned in the sources. All of this information appears in an interactive timeline so that users can experience the process of bureaucracy at work.

The TimelineJS chronology features high-resolution images of the documents included for each date.

This project benefited from the use of several digital humanities tools, including TimelineJS, FromthePage, and Transkribus. TimelineJS allowed for the creation of an interactive chronology containing the step-by-step process that the visitador followed as he inspected and reorganized the government of New Spain. For users looking to examine the documents beyond the site’s overviews, FromthePage and Transkribus generated full transcriptions of the sources.

This screen shot illustrates the transcription process in Transkribus.

These texts provide opportunities for further exploration, such as data analysis. For example, by feeding the transcriptions into the Voyant Tools website, I was able to generate a word cloud of the most commonly appearing words and phrases in the documents.

Voyant Tools allows for the creation of word clouds, like the one featured above.

The Benson Latin American Collection holds documents covering many regions of the Spanish world across the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries. During this time, Spain’s hold over its American territories required the constant interaction between royal officials and local populations, and that crossover was often messy. The 1765 visita of New Spain sheds light on the complexities of this process. My hope is that this online exhibition will expand the ways in which people can interact with these sources without having to visit the University of Texas campus in person, and learn from them about the day-to-day experience of imperial management.


Brittany Erwin is a PhD candidate in history. She was a LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Summer Fellow in 2020.

Unlocking the Colonial Archive: Grant Will Bring Access to a Trove of Documents

Game-changing innovations that use artificial intelligence (AI) tools will improve access to Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives. “Unlocking the Colonial Archive: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Indigenous and Spanish American Historical Collections” is a collaborative project led by LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin, the Digital Humanities Hub at Lancaster University, and Liverpool John Moores University. The project will transform “unreadable” digitized Indigenous and Spanish colonial archives into data that will be accessible to a broad spectrum of researchers and the public.

The project will be funded by a $150,000 collaborative grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as well as €250,000 (approx. US$304,000) from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the joint New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions program. Kelly McDonough, associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Albert A. Palacios, digital scholarship coordinator at LLILAS Benson, will manage the project at UT Austin.

The Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin possesses one of the world’s foremost collections of colonial documents in Spanish and Indigenous languages of Latin America. Yet even when digitized, such documents are often neither searchable nor readable because of calligraphy, orthography, and the written language of the document itself. In tackling this problem, the collaborators propose to employ and develop interdisciplinary data science methods with three goals in mind: to expedite the transcription of documents using cutting-edge Handwritten Text Recognition technology; to automate the identification and linking of information through standardized vocabulary ontologies using Linked Open Data and Natural Language Processing techniques; and to facilitate the automated search and analysis of pictorial elements through Image Processing approaches.

The research will be based on three digital collections under the aegis of LLILAS Benson and one from the National Archive of Mexico. The LLILAS Benson collections are digitized Benson Collection colonial holdings, including the Relaciones Geográficas, 16th-century painted written and pictorial documents describing the geography and peoples of New Spain; the Royal Archive of Cholula at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla (Mexico), which was digitized through a Mellon-funded post-custodial grant; and the Primeros Libros de las Américas, a digitized collection of books published in the Americas before 1601.

McDonough and Palacios say that the project will further colonial Latin American studies not only at UT, but beyond, significantly facilitating the discoverability and interpretation of these materials. “While the work will begin with collections at the Benson and its Latin American partners, the technology developed will be accessible to libraries and archives worldwide, who can use it to automatically transcribe their digitized manuscripts,” Palacios said. In addition, “through the public workshops that are part of this project, we will train humanists on new innovative approaches that leverage the potential of machine learning to facilitate research,” McDonough added.

The geographical diversity among the project’s leadership and collaborators reenforce its global reach. The PIs are McDonough and Palacios of UT Austin, Patricia Murrieta-Flores of Lancaster University (UK), and Javier Pereda Campillo of Liverpool John Moores University (UK). Other collaborators hail from Germany, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Among the numerous participants from Mexico is Lidia García Gómez, history professor at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, who was involved with the digitization of the Royal Archive of Cholula.


For more information: Susanna Sharpe, Communications Coordinator, LLILAS Benson, The University of Texas at Austin

Archiving for the Future: AILLA Launches Free Online Course

BY SUSAN S. KUNG, AILLA MANAGER

The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is delighted to announce the launch of a free online course called Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections, available at https://archivingforthefuture.teachable.com/. The course material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-1653380 (Susan S. Kung and Anthony C. Woodbury, PIs; September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2020). The course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Logo, Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections

The course is a resource to aid people of all backgrounds in organizing born-digital and digitized language materials and data for deposit into any digital repository (not just AILLA) for long-term preservation and accessibility. The target audience for this course is anyone who is engaged in creating materials in or about Indigenous, endangered, under-documented, or minority languages as part of language documentation efforts, including language rights, maintenance, and revitalization. It was designed particularly for individuals or groups made up of academic researchers and/or Indigenous or endangered language speakers and community members, though anyone may benefit from it.

The curriculum follows simple steps to guide participants through three phases of work to organize language documentation materials for archiving, and it explains in detail what to do before, during, and after data collection to facilitate the long-term preservation of the data. The course is designed to be informative, engaging, and accessible to anyone, especially to those with no previous experience archiving collections of language materials.

Infographic showing the three phases and nine steps on which the curriculum is based

This course was developed by four members of the AILLA staff: Susan Kung, AILLA Manager and grant co-PI; Ryan Sullivant, AILLA Language Data Curator; Alicia Niwabaga, Graduate Research Assistant 2017–2018; and Elena Pojman, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019–2020. Sullivant and Kung interviewed representatives of various DELAMAN (delaman.org) archives and other digital data repositories in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and Cameroon. Niwagaba collaborated with Kung and Sullivant to develop an early version of the course that the AILLA team taught live at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang 2018) at the University of Florida in Gainesville during June 18–22, 2018. Niwagaba created the educational animated videos that are embedded in the course to illustrate key aspects of the curriculum. Pojman researched curriculum platforms in which to build the online course. Teachable was selected for a variety of reasons, including its simple yet attractive aesthetic that displays all course modules in the left side bar (see illustration below); its ease of use and progress tracking for enrolled students; its responsiveness to different technology; and the built-in ability to quickly and easily set up the same course in multiple languages. This last feature is especially important since AILLA staff plan to translate the curriculum into Spanish and Portuguese to make it more accessible to AILLA’s Latin American audience. Once the curriculum software was selected, Kung and Sullivant expanded the original 2018 workshop curriculum and wrote the additional content. Pojman wrote the objectives and activities for each step, built the English course in Teachable, and created all of the graphics that are used in the curriculum.

Screenshot of the Teachable student interface, including an embedded video developed for this curriculum

In funding and academic environments where it is becoming increasingly common for researchers to be responsible for archiving their own research data, the AILLA staff saw a need to train language researchers to do this work so that the resulting language collections would be well organized, well described, easy to navigate, and available to reuse for further research and education. While there are some language documentation programs in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand that train language documenters to do these tasks, most do not, and almost no training on how to archive language documentation is available in Latin America. The AILLA team created this course to fill these gaps. 

Digital Stewardship Prevents Permanent Loss of Archives

Vea abajo para versión en español / Veja em baixo para versão em português

In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is the final installment in a series of five. Read part onepart two, part three, and part four.

BY ASHLEY ADAIR, Head of Preservation and Digital Stewardship, University of Texas Libraries

The UT Libraries’ Digital Stewardship unit supports digital preservation work across the University of Texas Libraries. When Libraries repositories, such as the Alexander Architectural Archives, LLILAS Benson, or the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America begin new digital projects, the Digital Stewardship unit often helps develop initial processing plans. Unit staff install tools and provide training to recover data from older media such as floppy disks and Zip disks, or for acquiring files produced by partner organizations and depositing researchers. Processing of these materials must be planned and undertaken very carefully since data may be at risk of permanent loss due to obsolete formats and media, or because of political or physical issues in local environments.

Floppy disk from a UT Libraries archival collection

Taking a life-cycle approach, the unit also coordinates long-term safekeeping of these valuable and sometimes vulnerable files. Digital Stewardship developed file organizing, naming, and description practices for uniformly storing all of UT Libraries’ diverse preservation data in keeping with international standards. When repository staff complete processing, the Digital Stewardship unit takes in copies of data to be preserved, vaults them to long-term storage, maintains detailed centralized records, and manages off-site backup copies. The unit collaborates with UT Libraries repositories continuously over time to enhance organization-wide digital preservation practices, adapting to new developments and the growing scale of data to be preserved.

Still from Sustainable File Types video, visible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JCpg6ICr8M&feature=youtu.be.

Administración digital

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi, PhD (@jenniferisve)

La unidad de Administración Digital de las Bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas (UT) apoya el trabajo de preservación digital en el conjunto de bibliotecas de la universidad. Cuando repositorios como el Archivo de Arquitectura Alexander, LLILAS Benson o el Archivo de Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica comienzan nuevos proyectos digitales, la unidad de administración digital ayuda a desarrollar planes de procesamiento. El personal de la unidad instala herramientas y provee entrenamiento para recuperar datos de medios antiguos como disquetes o discos Zip, o para la adquisición de archivos producidos por organizaciones colaboradoras e investigadores que depositan sus archivos en los repositorios. El procesado de estos materiales debe ser planeado y realizado con mucho cuidado puesto que los datos pueden estar en peligro de borrado permanente debido a formatos o medios obsoletos, o por cuestiones políticas y de tipo medioambiental.

Disquete de una coleção archival de las Bibliotecas de UT

Con un enfoque de ciclo de vida de los datos, la unidad también coordina la custodia a largo plazo de estos archivos valiosos y a veces vulnerables. La administración digital desarrolló prácticas de organización, denominación y descripción de archivos para almacenar de manera uniforme todos los diversos datos de preservación de las bibliotecas de UT de acuerdo con los estándares internacionales. Cuando el personal del repositorio completa el procesamiento, la unidad de Administración Digital toma copias de los datos para preservarlos, los guarda en un almacenamiento a largo plazo, mantiene registros centralizados detallados y administra copias de seguridad en otras localizaciones. La unidad colabora con los repositorios de las bibliotecas UT continuamente a lo largo del tiempo para mejorar las prácticas de preservación digital de toda la organización, adaptándose a los nuevos desarrollos y la creciente escala de datos a preservar.

Niels Fock con dos hombres cañari en Tacu Pitina, Ecuador, 1974. Archivo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259355 Foto © Eva Krener

Gestão digital

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

A unidade de Gestão Digital da UT Libraries apoia o trabalho de preservação digital de todas as bibliotecas do sistema. Quando um dos repositórios das Bibliotecas, seja o Alexander Architectural Archives, a LLILAS Benson ou o Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, inicia um projeto digital novo, a unidade de Gestão Digital geralmente auxilia a criar os planos iniciais de processamento. Os profissionais da unidade instalam ferramentas e dão treinamento para recuperar dados de mídias mais antigas como floppy disks e discos Zip ou para adquirir arquivos produzidos por organizações parceiras e pesquisadores com trabalhos depositados. O processamento desses materiais deve ser planejado e empreendido com muito cuidado, pois os dados podem estar expostos ao risco de perda permanente causado por formatos e mídia obsoletos ou por problemas políticos ou físicos em ambientes locais.

Disquete de uma coleção arquival das bibliotecas UT Libraries

Utilizando uma abordagem de ciclo de vida, a unidade também coordena a guarda a longo prazo desses arquivos valiosos e às vezes vulneráveis. A Gestão Digital desenvolve práticas para organizar, dar nomes e descrever os arquivos visando a armazenagem uniforme de todos os diversos dados de preservação da UT Libraries em conformidade com as normas internacionais. Quando os funcionários de repositórios concluem seu processamento, a unidade de Gestão Digital providencia cópias dos dados a serem preservados, armazena-os em sistema de armazenagem segura de longo prazo, mantém registros centralizados detalhados e providencia cópias de reserva em local externo. A unidade colabora de modo contínuo com os repositórios da UT Libraries ao longo do tempo para aprimorar as práticas de preservação digital em toda a organização, sempre se adaptando aos novos avanços e ao aumento em escala do universo de dados a serem preservados.

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

Nasca bowl with birds

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

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

Chimu spout-and-handle vessel with human effigy

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

Nasca vase with trophy head

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

Student’s final project, showing object comparisons

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

Chimu vessel

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

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

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

Student slide featuring Chimu objects and thematic postcard

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

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

________________________________________________

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

Digital Preservation and the LLILAS Benson Post-Custodial team

Vea abajo para versión en español / Veja em baixo para versão em português

In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part four in a series of five. Read part one, part two, and part three.

By DAVID BLISS (@davidallynbliss), Digital Processing Archivist, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections @llilasbenson

Over the past decade, LLILAS Benson has undertaken post-custodial archival projects in collaboration with partners throughout Latin America and beyond. Post-custodial archival practice encompasses a range of theory and methodology, built on the premise that digital technologies make it possible for collecting institutions like LLILAS Benson to provide access to archival collections from Latin America without taking physical custody or removing them from their original contexts of creation and use.

The Fondo Real de Cholula digitalization team in Puebla, Mexico. The team creates checksums for all files before sending them to the Benson for processing and preservation.

Through these post-custodial projects, LLILAS Benson staff and partner repository staff work together closely to identify collections of interest, select appropriate digitization equipment, and build metadata collection strategies. The materials are then digitized and described on-site in Latin America by partner repository staff. The digitized collections are then transferred to LLILAS Benson, where they are processed, preserved, and in most cases published online. Because the original collections are often vulnerable or sensitive, frequently touching on delicate human rights issues, long-term preservation of their digital copies is especially important to LLILAS Benson staff and partners in Latin America.

A digital photo of a 1607 document from the Fondo Real de Cholula collection. Digital preservation begins the moment each photo in the collection is taken, to protect the integrity of the digital collection.

In recent years, the LLILAS Benson team has integrated file fixity checks in all post-custodial projects. When launching a project at a partner site, LLILAS Benson staff now teach project team members the basic principles of digital preservation and the importance of fixity checks, which verify that files have not been altered or corrupted over time. The project teams are taught to create and verify checksums prior to transferring a batch of files to LLILAS Benson, using free software available in Spanish or Portuguese.

David Bliss and Dylan Joy, of LLILAS Benson, join scholars, government officials, and others at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla for the launch of the Fondo Real de Cholula digital preservation project. Photo: Revista el Arca de Noé, June 26, 2018.

These checksums now accompany all file deliveries from project sites, and help the LLILAS Benson team identify corrupted or missing files immediately. These checksums speed LLILAS Benson’s processing and preservation work, allowing the files to be published online and preserved long-term more easily. The checksum workflow also encourages each partner to include fixity checks in any future digitization projects they undertake, thus contributing to the partners’ own digital preservation capacity.

Equipo poscustodial LLILAS Benson

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi (@jenniferisve)

@llilasbenson

Durante la última década, LLILAS Benson ha emprendido proyectos de archivo de tipo poscustodial junto con socios a lo largo de América Latina. La práctica de archivo poscustodial abarca una serie de teorías y metodologías basadas en la premisa de que las tecnologías digitales hacen posible que las instituciones colectoras como LLILAS Benson provean acceso a las colecciones de archivos de Latinoamérica sin su custodia física o su eliminación del contexto original de su creación y uso.

A través de estos proyectos poscustodiales el personal de LLILAS Benson y sus colaboradores trabajan en estrecha colaboración para identificar colecciones de interés, seleccionar el equipo de digitalización adecuado y desarrollar estrategias de curaduría de metadatos. Los materiales son digitalizados y descritos en Latinoamérica por parte del personal de cada archivo para luego ser transferidos al equipo LLILAS Benson, quien procesa, preserva y publica los materiales en la mayoría de los casos. Debido a que las colecciones originales son a menudo vulnerables o con contenido delicado, y frecuentemente tocan temas relacionados con derechos humanos, la preservación a largo plazo de sus copias digitales es especialmente importante para el personal y los socios de LLILAS Benson en América Latina.

El equipo de digitalización del Fondo Real de Cholula, en Puebla, Mexico. El equipo crea sumas de verificación para todos los archivos antes de enviarlos a la Benson para su procesamiento y preservación.

En años recientes, LLILAS Benson ha añadido verificaciones de permanencia de archivos en los proyectos poscustodiales en curso. Con el inicio de cada proyecto en el archivo de los colaboradores, el personal de LLILAS Benson enseña a cada equipo los principios básicos de preservación digital y la importancia de añadir verificaciones de permanencia, que verifican que los archivos no han sido alterados o dañados con el tiempo. Los equipos de los proyectos aprenden a crear y verificar sumas de verificación usando programas gratuitos en español o portugués antes de transferir un conjunto de archivos a LLILAS Benson.

Una foto digital de un documento de 1607 del Fondo Real de Cholula. La preservación digital comienza en el momento en que se toma una foto, para proteger la integridad de la colección digital.

Estas sumas de verificación ahora acompañan todas las entregas de archivos desde el lugar de los proyectos de digitalización y ayudan al equipo de LLILAS Benson a identificar archivos dañados o faltantes de inmediato. Esto acelera las tareas locales de procesamiento y preservación en LLILAS Benson y anima a cada colaborador a incluir controles de verificación en cualquier otro proyecto que puedan emprender en el futuro. Esto a su vez contribuye a la capacidad de preservación digital propia de los colaboradores.

David Bliss y Dylan Joy, de LLILAS Benson, en el Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla para el lanzamiento del proyecto de preservación digital del Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junio de 2018.

Equipe pós-custodial da LLILAS Benson

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

@llilasbenson

Durante a última década, a LLILAS Benson empreendeu alguns projetos arquivísticos pós-custodiais, em colaboração com entidades parceiras espalhadas pela América Latina e outros lugares. A prática arquivística pós-custodial engloba uma gama de teorias e metodologias assentadas na premissa de que as tecnologias digitais possibilitam a instituições recolhedoras de coleções, como a LLILAS Benson, disponibilizar o acesso a coleções arquivísticas latino-americanas sem necessidade de obter custódia física ou a remoção das mesmas de seus contextos originais de criação e de uso.

Equipe do projeto de digitalização do Fondo Real de Cholula em Puebla, México. A equipe cria checksums para todos os arquivos antes de enviá-los para a Benson para processamento e preservação.

Por meio desses projetos pós-custodiais, as equipes de profissionais da LLILAS Benson e dos repositórios parceiros trabalham em contato estreito para identificar coleções de interesse, selecionar o equipamento de digitalização adequado e criar estratégias de coleta de metadados. O material é então digitalizado e descrito pela equipe de repositório da entidade parceira em cada local específico da América Latina. Em seguida, as coleções digitalizadas são transferidas para a LLILAS Bensonm onde são processadas, preservadas e, na maioria dos casos, publicadas online. Devido ao fato de muitas coleções originais serem vulneráveis ou sensitivas por causa de referências frequentes a questões delicadas de direitos humanos, a preservação a longo prazo de cópias digitais é especialmente importante para a equipe da LLILAS Benson e entidades parceiras na América Latina.

Uma foto digital de um documento de 1607 da coleção Fondo Real de Cholula. A preservação digital começa no momento em que cada foto da coleção é tirada, para proteger a integridade da coleção digital.

Em anos recentes, os profissionais da LLILAS Benson vêm integrando verificações de fixidez de arquivos em todos os projetos pós-custodiais. Agora, ao lançar um projeto em local parceiro, a equipe ensina às equipes do projeto os princípios básicos da preservação digital e a importância das verificações de fixidez para constatar se os arquivos não foram alterados ou corrompidos ao longo do tempo. As equipes de projeto aprendem a criar e verificar as checksums (somas de verificação) antes de transferir qualquer lote de arquivos para a LLILAS Benson, usando software gratuito disponível em espanhol e português.

David Bliss e Dylan Joy, da LLILAS Benson, no Arquivo Judicial do Estado de Puebla, México, para o lançamento do projeto de preservação digital do arquivo Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junho de 2018.

Essas checksums já acompanham todas as entregas de arquivos oriundos de locais de projetos e ajudam a equipe da LLILAS Benson a identificar imediatamente arquivos corrompidos ou faltando. As checksums aceleram o trabalho de processamento e preservação da LLILAS Benson, permitindo publicar os arquivos online e preservá-los a longo prazo com mais facilidade. O fluxograma de checksums também incentiva cada entidade parceira a incluir verificações de fixidez em qualquer projeto de digitalização a ser empreendido no futuro contribuindo, assim, para a própria capacidade de preservação digital de cada entidade.